Immersion

Bruce Barnbaum once told me that he does some of his best work upon first visiting an area. I envy him that claimed ability. I am, for the most part, the opposite. I need time. Time to reflect, time to consider, time to understand. That time can be either via multiple short visits, or by a single, longer trip. I prefer the latter.

121016_Dinghy_StehekinWALone Boat, Lake Chelan, North Cascades National Park

I recently (earlier today) accepted a month-long artist residency at Glacier National Park, my third such national park residency, the previous two being at Zion and North Cascades National Parks. These residencies allow me to spend multiple weeks in immersive, distraction-free experiences that are difficult to recreate otherwise. There is often no cell service, no land-line, no television, and no <gasp> Internet. Distractions, all. It’s just me and the landscape.

Some of what I consider to be my best work was done during an artist residency, and those images were made mostly near the end of my stay, after I have had time to study and understand the ebb and flow of landscape and to appreciate it’s very existence. To me, it’s like making a new friend. At first, there are simple pleasantries and factual back and forth, followed by deeper dialog which leads to the all important understanding and appreciation which, finally, evolves into a relaxed and comfortable companionship. It is that which I strive for. Only then will I be able to make work that is meaningful and compelling not only to me, but to the viewers.

 

Visualization and the final print

Ansel Adams coined the phrase visualization (or pre-visualization*, depending who you ask) as it relates to photography, which simply means that the photographer should consider the look and treatment of the final print when photographing a particular scene. Such thought has an influence on filtration, exposure, timing and, with film, development. It is a skill that needs to be practiced on a regular basis, and it’s not always easy.

130330_EightBinsInSunlightAs a case in point, whi130330_Montana_0027le meandering along some Montana back roads a couple of weeks ago, I came upon a sunlit row of grain bins against a relatively dark background. I knew that, since the structures were going to be rather small in the frame, that I needed them to really stand out. This was no time for subtlety. When I got home and saw the RAW file, however, I realized that my perceptions of the original scene were slightly skewed. There was too little separation between the bin and the foreground and background, and there was a helluva lot more distracting content in the scene than I had remembered. It was going to take some effort.

Because I already had a final image in mind, getting from point A to point B was made much easier. Each step, each layer, brought me closer to the final print I had visualized. There were mistakes, wrong turns, about faces, and a couple restarts, but because I had a destination in mine, I had a direction in which to travel.

I am not implying that the final image is exactly as I had visualized, but the feeling and the message are the same. It’s very close. Is it perfect? Is it done? Probably not. As I write this I see areas which I might want to revisit (I am constantly reworking images). But it is close.

* the term is a source of contention among many on the Internet. Whenever someone uses the term “pre-visualization”, he is jumped on by others who claim he is a moron and that Ansel said only “visualization.” I do not know the answer, but do know that Edward Weston did use the term “pre-visualization” multiple times in his daybooks. Since he and AA were friends, one can only assume that term is allowable. Gotta love Internet forum photographers.

The Ansel Adams Reality

photo006A few weeks ago I, along with a couple of friends, went to an Ansel Adams exhibit at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana. The exhibit, entitled Ansel Adams: A Legacy, was quite comprehensive, including more than 100 prints, some famous, some I have never seen before. It was beautifully laid out and, despite the lighting in the main hall being a bit too flat, was almost overwhelming upon first sight. It was a wonderful exhibit which was incredibly inspiring for a couple of very important reasons.  First, Ansel’s vision was amazing, and his prints, some more than 50-years-old, were spectacular in their tonality and presentation (I do not mean framing). One cannot help but be inspired by such insightful vision and artistry.

The second reason I was so inspired was that I discovered that not all of his photographs were perfect. As beautiful as they were, some showed attempts to spot out dust, others perhaps slightly uneven development, and a couple had less than ideal depth of field. As the small reproductions I had seen so often in books and magazines looked PERFECT, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, it’s not the first time I had ever seen Ansel’s work, but it has been many years and I was a different photographer back then.  This time, I studied each print longer with more depth of thought and attention. While viewing one of the large prints, it hit me….Ansel Adams, a man many, including myself, have elevated to the level of demigod, was not perfect. There were chinks in his armor. The slight feeling of unworthiness and discouragement I had felt upon entering the gallery subsided. Ansel wasn’t perfect. I mean, it’s not like I thought he really WAS perfect – who is? – but I was witnessing his imperfection, first hand, and it was liberating. Because if Ansel, as amazing as he was, was not perfect, and I sure as hell ain’t perfect, then he and I share a common bond. And what could be more inspiring?

Unapologetic

My name is Chuck, and I’m a landscape photographer…………(chorus) Hello Chuck

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I sometimes feel as if people expect me to apologize for what I do. I mean, landscape photographers are the proverbial red-headed step children of the art world. Our work gets little respect from the larger commercial galleries, most art museum curators cringe when we speak, and there isn’t an MFA program in the country that would allow a student to photograph the landscape, unless to support a purposely controversial and contrived concept which, as often as not, is supported by badly seen and poorly executed imagery.

So why do I do it? Why do I spend countless hours on back roads, often sleeping in my car, looking for compelling scenes which I find meaningful? Why do I suffer the gut-wrenching failures and frustrations which can only be caused by something so deeply personal? I simply do not know. It is something I am driven to do by inner forces I cannot explain, nor would if I could. It’s a compulsion and, should it be examined more closely by those in the field of psychology, most probably a yet-to-be-discovered mental disorder.

It is also something I enjoy doing. A lot. Photographing the landscape brings me inner peace, and is as close to emotional and mental therapy as I will probably ever get. I am sure it’s similar to the effect my wife gets when she meditates. Most importantly, though, above all else, is that it is something I find meaningful, and I hope that, through my unique vision and presentation, I can convey that level of importance to the viewer.

So, in essence and actuality, I do it for….me. For my mental health, for my soul. THAT is what makes what I do “art.” I do not do it for the explicit intent of making sales (although always appreciated, of course), being accepted into juried exhibits or “earning” a piece of parchment.

And I do so without apology.