Cathie Anderson

Former attorney shows his gentler side in nature photos, new book

The photographer’s wife, Prem Hunji Turner, snapped a shot of Turner with a tripod on his shoulder.
The photographer’s wife, Prem Hunji Turner, snapped a shot of Turner with a tripod on his shoulder.

Nature photographer Richard Turner occasionally speaks to college students trying to figure out a career choice, and he describes how he walked away from a legal career earning $400 an hour to sell greeting cards for $4 a pop.

“They all shake their heads,” he said. “I know what they’re thinking: ‘That idiot.’ They don’t get it.”

If you don’t get it, either, you can meet Turner face-to-face and ask about his decision from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday in the Barnes & Noble bookstore next door to Arden Fair mall. Turner will be signing copies of his new coffee-table book, “I Can’t Always See My Path ... but I Keep on Walking” (Raconteur Press, $35, 80 pages). It’s a self-published compilation of his poetry and photography.

Turner, now 76, discovered photography in 1998 while on a monthlong sabbatical from his law practice in Sacramento. He bid farewell to his wife, attorney Prem Hunji Turner, hopped in his car and left.

“I got a job on a cattle ranch in Montana,” he said. “I got to wear cowboy clothes and wear a hat. It was like being a kid again. When I came back after the month, I told my wife, ‘I quit. There’s another world out there, other than swaggering around in a courtroom, and I want to see it.’”

While on his road trip, Turner ran across a bull moose near a pond in the Idaho wilderness, and he snapped shots of it. He took his photos to Ted Sirlin, a professional photographer whose camera had captured movers and shakers such as President Bill Clinton, grocery magnate Joyce Raley Teel and newsman Walter Cronkite. Sirlin, who died five years ago, told him: “Turner, these pictures are terrible. You’ve got little moose and big pond. You need big moose.’”

It was Turner’s first lesson in photo composition, and stung by the criticism, he decided to take lessons from the best. He approached respected nature photographer John Shaw about private lessons, but Shaw told him he only did workshops.

“I said, ‘Well, John, I’ll tell you what. I’ll pay you what you would have to pay me for a day’s work as a lawyer,’ and he said, ‘You know what? I do one-on-ones,’” Turner said.

Turner’s book, also sold at the Costco stores near Cal Expo and in Roseville, features an image from one of many photo expeditions he has taken with Shaw. It’s a stand of gnarled, twisted bristlecone pines in the Colorado Rocky Mountains at about 9,600 feet. They boast a leafy crown that is not commonly seen on such trees in the Eastern Sierra, and their bark is glistening in the sunlight, having just weathered a snowstorm. In this image, the trees are as menacing as the dark forest of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

“Yeah, it looks like the Headless Horseman should be coming out of there at any minute,” said Turner, who is president of the Sacramento Fine Arts Center in Carmichael.

Hunji Turner managed to get one of her husband’s books to self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer, who sent a personal note. In part, it read: “Richard, I spent hours in this enchanting collection. The words and images touched me at my soul.”

The cover of “My Path” showcases another of Turner’s forest photos, a passage between trees at The Sea Ranch on California’s northern coast, but his book also contains pictures of the flora that fans of his greeting cards so love.

“People buy my cards because of the intense color of the flower that I produce,” he said. “That’s my little niche: intense macro shots of flowers.”

He’s sold 50,000 of his greeting cards. He folds each card himself, attaches the photo to the cover and then signs it. His cards caught the attention of hospital administrators, and his large prints now decorate the intensive-care areas of Mercy San Juan tower in Carmichael and Methodist Hospital in south Sacramento. He recently was commissioned to provide photographs for the Rideout Hospital expansion in Marysville.

Before becoming a photographer, Turner spent 40 years practicing law. He was appointed by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in the 1970s to handle the appeal for Symbionese Liberation Army member Joseph Remiro, who had been found guilty of killing of Marcus Foster, the first black superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.

Turner challenged the conviction because the trial judge had given a so-called “dynamite instruction” to a hung jury, essentially telling them go back, pay attention to each other and come back with a verdict. Turner said he lost the appeal on a technicality.

Turner later spent six years as a deputy state attorney general, then was hired as the personal counsel for then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. Ed Meese, Reagan’s chief of staff at the time, offered the job to Turner even though he declared that he was a Democrat and hadn’t voted for the governor. Turner ended up advising Reagan on his legal options on hundreds of issues over four years.

“The first day I was on the job, the very first day, we called out the National Guard because (S.I.) Hayakawa, then president at San Francisco State, had pulled the wires out of the microphone that the kids were using to protest something. So, that was my introduction to the job.”

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.