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“There’s just no such thing as a ‘drive-by shooting’ in landscape photography. In other words, you need to put in the time on the ground.” – Jack Dykinga
A few years ago, Jerry Seinfeld wrote a posthumous post about comedian George Carlin and his accomplishments with the line “Carlin already did it.” Seinfeld wrote: “And he didn’t just ‘do’ it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian.” You could take that line and replace comedian with photographer, and it would apply to Jack Dykinga. From his images “Saguaro in Bloom” in Saguaro National Park to “Stone Canyon” in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument– the very much alive Dykinga already did it.
In his new book, A Photographer’s Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer (2017 Rocky Nook, Inc.) Dykinga reflects on his life after a near-death experience and a lung transplant, and shares with us stories of his successes, failures, faults, and thanks. He thanks those photographers who offered help along the way, including Chuck Scott (photo editor at the Chicago Daily News) to landscape photographers Philip Hyde and John Shaw. He also offers thanks to his comrades-in-arms at the various daily papers in his early career, his photography friends and influences such as Patricio Robles Gil, and the writers who were his friends: Chuck Bowden and Edward Abbey.
His photography is certainly an influence on mine, especially the intimate portraits of plants in the desert southwest. So in this book I enjoyed the stories of how he got the shot. Bringing us behind the scenes for images such as “Sisterhood” and “Saguaro in Bloom” is fascinating, and these photos show his dedication to his craft. I own a few books of Dykinga’s photography, but in this one I found his images from Mexico particularly inspiring. I also appreciated viewing the images which earned him the Pulitzer–their impact has not diminished over time.
A Photographer’s Life covers a lifetime of brilliant photographic work, and the images excel. (One note: the book needed a proofreader to catch a few missing words and typos.) For anyone interested in photography I recommend this book, for this is a life of a great photographer with boots on the ground and a life well-lived. Dykinga’s presentation of his life of photography is ultimately a story of his legacy—a difficult achievement in this field. From his Pulitzer Prize in 1971 to NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 his body of work is of the highest caliber, and it is here through the lens that Jack Dykinga did it all.
Over 20 years and 300 visits, photographer and author, QT Luong, explored each of America’s 59 national parks. His decades-long project culminated in his book, Treasured Lands, A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. Both an art book and a guidebook in one, it is a masterpiece and a fitting tribute to our most treasured landscapes. Released in the summer of 2016 in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial, it now is even more important and timely in light of the recent political environment which could put our national parks and other public lands at risk.
Reviewing books is not part of my typical skill set, but this book has made such an impression on me that I am honored to share it. Unfortunately, there may not be much value I can add considering the New York Times already declared it to be the “most glorious” book to come out of the centennial of the National Park Service and the accolades of Ken Burns already grace its cover.
I first became familiar with Luong’s photography while researching photo locations in the Western United States and Mexico more than a decade ago. Time and again, the most comprehensive photographic coverage and the most inspiring photos I found were in his collection. It seemed he had been everywhere and always under the most favorable conditions for photography. Later I had the pleasure of meeting Luong and attending one of his presentations at a North American Nature Photography Association summit. Over time we have corresponded on a variety of photography topics. His eye for light and composition is inspiring, his determination for finding exciting vantage points is remarkable and his appreciation and knowledge of our planet is heartening. However, nothing could be a more fitting testament to his artistry and tenacity as an explorer, scientist and photographer than this book. At over 450 pages, 500+ images, 130,000 words and 60 maps, it is definitive in its scope, content, and beauty.
The mind has a hard time grasping the enormity of such a project. To merely visit all 59 national parks in one’s lifetime would be an accomplishment to take note of. To spend the time, over multiple visits, to find and photograph so many locations in so many nuances of light, weather and season is remarkable. To do it with such quality, attention to detail and obvious admiration and love for the land is exceptional. The layout of this large format book is gorgeous. It is printed on heavy art paper with great attention to color and image quality. Each chapter begins with an overview of the particular park, followed by several stunning page-filling images, completely unfettered by text. At the end of each park’s chapter is additional information about the park as well as details for each image, a map, seasonal tips, locations, and suggestions for photography.
Tuan’s photography showcased in this format combined with the historical and ecological information, maps, visitor suggestions and photography tips truly make this an art book and a guidebook in one. But who is going to lug a seven-pound book along with them on their explorations of the parks? In order to make Treasured Lands “more useful than a coffee-table book, and more inspiring than a guidebook”, he has also created a companion e-book that is formatted specifically for mobile devices. This makes it possible to bring the guide aspect of the book along with you in your pocket. For a nominal price, book owners can access the e-book from a link found on page 13. If you only want the e-book version you can purchase it separately on the Treasured Lands website.
A sign of the times, purchasing large art books isn’t as common these days as it once was. But if there ever was an art book to have as your own or give to someone else, this would be the one. It is an important book on many levels; as a tribute to our national parks, as a tribute to a 20-year project of passion, as a monumental body of artwork, as inspiration to enjoy, admire and take care of our public lands, as a photography resource and a travel guide and perhaps most importantly as a reminder of what a treasure our National Parks are and how important it is that we fight to keep them safe.
You can find the book Treasured Lands at treasuredlandsbook.com.
QT Luong is a full-time photographer from California, known for being the first to photograph all 59 US National Parks – in large format. Ken Burns featured him in “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009). His photographs, published in dozens of countries around the world, have been the subject several magazine profiles, solo gallery and museum exhibits. You can see more of his work at www.terragalleria.com.
Sean Bagshaw is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
American Dreamscapes – Book Review
By David Cobb
I’ve been friends with Christian Heeb for a number of years. An immigrant from Switzerland, Heeb first got his photographic start in the U.S. photographing the Native American. His wonderment in the American myth of the Wild West led him to a variety of places including the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and Route 66 among others. During his career—which includes over 200 published books—his assignments have taken him to every corner of the states and also around the world. His newest venture isn’t for a U.S. or German publisher however, but a personal project titled American Dreamscapes.
American Dreamscapes is the American dream not as interpreted by Horatio Alger, but maybe one closer to the vision of film director Quentin Tarantino. Coming of age in Switzerland, Heeb’s photography has certainly been influenced by fellow countryman Robert Frank; but Heeb also has influences in the surreal imagery of Gregory Crewdson, and the more voyeuristic photos of David Drebin. His settings also remind me of the more banal locations of photographer Stephen Shore.
Many photographers of the lost America like Anthony Hernandez, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams show the blight of American expansion and decay, and those who have been left behind or forgotten. Heeb photographs the edge of American life in a Hopperesque way: from the wayward hotel to the diner, with guns, girls, cars, and sex being common themes. This is the dark side of “when America was great again,” and this is the America that would give Dorothea Lange nightmares.
These people are not only on the fringe of society, but also on the fringe of daybreak. These are the hours when the neon glows brightly, and the hours when folks are desperate enough to commit a crime as seen in his images “The Hold Up” or “Stolen Car.” His models pose with cold distant looks, disconnected from each other and reality. In the photo “The Fun Center,” they’re having anything but fun. These people inhabit a lurid world, and they’re all trying to hang on to make it through another day.
American Dreamscapes is a limited-edition book which may be purchased in both print and digital versions from the Christian Heeb website. The book is in the dual languages of English and German.
Here is a link to download your digital copy here at his web site.
Book Review by David Cobb
“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.” Sally Mann
Sally Mann photographed what she loved: her land, her husband, her children, herself; but where does her creativity come from? In her new memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015 Little, Brown, and Company) Mann gives us insights into this world by exploring her life, family, friends, death, and sense of place. She never writes directly about her creativity in this memoir, but it exudes from the pages; like the oppressive humidity from one of her summer Virginia landscapes.
In the chapter ‘Hold Still,” Mann goes through the process by which she photographed her children, from the mundane to the disturbing. Her likes, dislikes, successes, and failures are all there to see. The images from this time period brought her celebrity status and with it controversy, and that fame and contention added a creative temperance to her psych. She sums up this thinking with a quote from writer Adam Gopnik, “When we hit pay dirt, we often find quicksand beneath it.”
Mann seems to credit her mother’s side of the family for not only her work ethic, but also her romanticism of the land, her love of place, and the land which she inhabits. If it’s her family and her own life on the land which built a foundation for her landscape images, perhaps it’s photographer Michael Miley and her artist friend Cy Twombly who helped shape and inspire her landscapes. She photographed Cy Twombly’s art studio in her early years and noticed by doing so her work “changed from documentary to evocative.” Mann’s landscapes aren’t the usual fare you might be used to seeing on the internet—they can be dark, moody, and claustrophobic, while also being timeless or by hearkening back to a bygone era.
Maybe her landscape images changed because of her father’s influence. His life-long fascination with death and his own stoic demise appears to influence her last chapter of creative energy. After a death on her land, she wondered how the land had changed for her with that incident and set about capturing it with images. She writes that “It’s not that we southerners are exactly in love with death, but there is no question that, given our history, we’re on a first-name basis with it.” For me, her photography at this time goes to another level. Before my workshop in Florida this year at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden, a professor sent me an email question about “how to capture kami (spirits) of the garden?” I could now point him to the ending chapters of this book as a guideline.
From the death on her own land, she travels to Civil War battlefields such as Antietam to represent the landscape and death that took place there over 150 years earlier. These chapters are well-covered in the documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. The film also mentions the irony of her collodion process in the creation of these prints, and that collodion was also used to hold wounds together for the injured on the Civil War battlefield.
Her work changes from the metaphorical to the literal, as she photographs at the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility known as the Body Farm. The program records decomposition and decay of the human corpse. Her work here for the New York Times Magazine added to her closing chapters and furthered her creative exploration of death.
Overall, Sally Mann’s Hold Still is an outstanding book on many levels. Intellectually interesting, whimsical, and humorous; and at times it carries the shock value of a who-done-it novel. Ultimately for me this memoir is about creativity, and it’s a look into the soul of an artist. By taking a page from Sally Mann, I wondered how those around me and the land I hold dear influences me and contribute to my artistic process–and that’s the kind of thinking that can help artistic creativity and growth.
“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.” –Soren Kierkegaard
Guy Tal is not most men; his photography is deliberate and so is his writing. In his new book More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life (2015 Rocky Nook Inc.), Tal conveys his thoughts of being an artist through a series of essays. If you’re familiar with his blog you’ll find Tal’s signature style of writing here; if you’re not familiar then get ready for your creative mind to expand. Tal is a deep thinker, intellectual, artist, and critic with the logic of a lawyer. Citing influences such as Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White, (perhaps he is photography’s new Minor White or art’s new John Ruskin) with some of his “artist as critic” themes. More Than a Rock isn’t a “how-to” book on photography with a list of tips and tricks – far from it. This is a book on photography learned through reading, thinking, creating, or osmosis.
His essays are broken into four parts: Art, Craft, Experiences, and Meditations–with the section on Art being the most interesting and well thought out. In his essay “Contemporary Oligarchy,” Tal sometimes takes on the Sisyphean task of dragging one-by-one (not pushing) those in the “landscape photography is not art” camp into the “landscape photography is art camp.” He writes that art’s elite is “placing too much power in the hands of the few, and so I believe the time is nigh for another (peaceful, intellectual, and creative) revolution.” I’m not sure what that revolution might entail, but it did inspire me to pick up Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word and give that scathing satire of art a read.
Along the way, Tal refers to familiar master writers of the desert southwest such as Wallace Stegner, Joseph Wood Krutch, John Wesley Powell, Edward Abbey, and Charles Bowden. Tal lives in Utah’s Colorado Plateau, and like writers Wendell Berry or Rick Bass, his writing provides the reader with a lay of the land, a sense of place-home. He alludes to and quotes from some of the deep thinkers of the last two-centuries too, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Thomas Merton. Not something you encounter in most books about photography out there today. He’s also not a fan of the derivative, the trophy hunters, or those out to “get the shot.” In his essay “Finding the Needle,” Tal believes that next level of self-expression is much more complex than that. And whether you agree with him or not, you’ll admire his conviction.
During the reading of this well-written and beautifully photographed book, I thought more deliberately about what my photography, art, life, and purpose in this world means. I also thought more about my sense of place living in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon, in that transitional land between the Pacific’s wetter clime and that of the high desert of the Great Basin. My photography takes me to a lot of different places, but I’m looking anew at that region I call “home.”
One of the presents for my birthday this year my wife and girls got me was a great hardback book by Ed Cooper “Soul of the Heights – 50 years Going to the Mountains”. If you have a love for being in the great outdoors especially in the Pacific Northwest and don’t know who Ed Cooper is, it’s worth your time to check out his work and stories. This is only one of several books he has. I am sure the others are a feast to read and view as well.
Ed does a superb job taking the reader through a journey of what it was like being one of the early climbers in Pacific Northwest, pioneering many routes. What drew me to his work before I even got the book is a photo of his I happen to see online taken decades ago. Growing up in Oregon on large property with forest and creek I have almost always preferred to spend my time outside. Although I did not get to experience a wider variety of outdoor areas until I was older I enjoy the time travel of Ed’s photos taking me back to when I was a kid (or before in many cases) on what some areas looked like since places can and do change whether by human impact or natural occurrence. Getting back to the photo I first saw it was Mount Saint Helens… before the eruption. I was a very young kid when the mountain blew yet I still remember standing on a ridge near the Columbia River Gorge watching it erupt. His before and after series of the mountain is a reminder of the power of Mother Nature and the power of what photos convey.
After seeing the Mount St Helens photo I started looking through more of his work which has been equally enjoyable. Beyond the photos in the book are stories that start to paint a picture of how much easier we have it today in many cases. By this I mean the advancement of gear and technology to lighten our backs. I decided it was becoming too much to lug my “large” DSLR and accessories for long hikes and backpacking. With the recent quality improvements coming in smaller packages I bought a mirror-less camera setup to lighten my load. Yet here is Ed many years earlier exploring places high up, covering long distances and carrying his 4×5 or 5×7 camera and equipment that is most certainly more weight and bulk than my backpacking setup at the scale crushing weight of 8 lbs. or for that matter less than even my DSLR setup. What I am getting at is giving credit to early photographers like Ed that went the extra mile with all the right equipment to get great photos in the earlier days of photography.
Back to the book. It’s stated in the forward how Ed Cooper is a cross between Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. I would definitely agree and was thinking along these lines before I even read that part simply from going through his work online. I would say most people reading this post have either Ansel or Galen on their list of inspiring photographers, and if Ed isn’t already I would highly suggest adding him. The stories in the book cover peaks not only in the Pacific Northwest, others across North America include Yosemite Valley and Bugaboos in Canada to name just a couple of them.
Reading stories in this book and within his social media pages is a stark reminder of what increase in population has done to restrict our freedoms in many locations we love to visit. Many of his photos captured decades ago when we had less people enjoying outdoor adventures allowed greater flexibility with less rules and regulations where and when you can go. Today many outdoor places from parks to wilderness we visit are not a free-for-all. I certainly understand why we need to have most of these limitations in place yet makes one think how enjoyable it must have been for adventurers like Ed.
If you want to buy one of his books I would suggest buying it directly from him like my wife did. Doing this you can get a personally signed copy should you want one. Here are links to his social media where you can view more of his work and follow him for future posts.
Mini Interview – Although the primary purpose of this post is mentioning my thoughts around Ed’s book and work he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me as well.
Adrian: I read that you have moved over to digital. Can you tell me when that was and what you feel the advantages or disadvantages it has compared to film?
Ed: I made the complete shift to digital (after experimenting with it for two years) in May of 2007. There are plus and minus features.
On the plus side It relieved me of the burden of carrying heavy packs and time consuming set-ups with a view camera, and it allowed me to shoot many more different images in a set period of time than was otherwise possible. It was also a lot less expensive. At $2.50 of more for each 4×5 film exposure, and my shooting at least 4 to 5 sheets of film at each subject, to make sure one of them was the perfect exposure, costs added up quickly (My record was about 130 sheets of 4×5 film in one day in the Tetons some years ago). Also, in order for art directors and others to view the images, we had to send them out by mail or courier, a time consuming process.
On the minus side, the digital image lacks the control features of a view camera. With swings and tilts you can correct for foreshortening without having to use features of advanced digital imaging and editing programs such as Photoshop. Further, using a view camera, the user has better control of depth of field, enabling one to bring both flowers close at hand and mountains in the distance in focus in the same image. And lastly, only the most expensive digital equipment available can match the resolution in a 4×5 film image. When I scan a 4×5 image at 2400 dpi I get an image size of about 280 MB. This is enough to make a print of 30×40 inches and still have it at about 300 dpi. A sharp image indeed!
Adrian: You have been photographing professionally for many decades, seeing it change and grow. Do you have any thoughts on what the future holds for photography?
Ed: Now, with digital cameras and smart phones, everybody is a photographer. This, of course, makes it much more difficult for someone to become a pro. The use of cams in vehicles, sports helmets, and even in drones has expanded the range of what is possible. I personally don’t like drones as it really invades one sense of privacy. Can you image being on a difficult climb in the backcountry and having one of these things coming with a few feet of you to check you out? They are also quite noisy. We had one buzz our house earlier this year, and if I had a shotgun handy I would have blown it out of the sky. Selfies have become the rage now. My wife and I were on a photo trip for almost 3 weeks this June, and a growing percentage of the photos we saw being taken were selfies, many with selfie sticks as long as 3 feet. One thing is for sure. More images are being taken, both in still and video fashion, and where it will end I do not know.
Adrian: I am sure it’s virtually impossible to pick one trip or photo as a favorite. That said what is one of your favorite photos and or adventures and why?
Ed: There are quite a few images I would pick as my best, but for purposes of this blog I will pick the cover photo of the book “Fifty Years Going to the Mountains”, the east face of Bugaboo Spire in the Bugaboos in Canada, taken August 16, 1964.. Much of my early work was in B&W, and I developed the ability to “see” in B&W. I could look at a scene and immediately vision it in B&W. This was taken from a nearby peak in the Bugaboos. Having climbed this peak several years earlier, I knew the best time of day to be there to get the result I had pictured in my mind at that time. I arrived at the summit of this nearby peak, carrying a 5×7 view camera, at the proper time, in early afternoon. I used infrared film with a red filter. The side lighting on the face from the opposite direction provided the “shine” or glowing effect. I, together with Art Gran, made the first ascent of this face in August on 1960.
Chances are you would rather be out exploring and enjoying outdoors whether curb side view, hiking miles into the woods, paddling majestic waterways or the myriad of other options instead of reading a blog post. I can relate, seeing amazing places in photos and videos is rarely enough.
Not long ago I was having lunch with someone that said something I could not relate to at all. He said seeing amazing places in videos and photos is good enough for him and he doesn’t need to go see them himself (obviously he is not a photographer or outdoor enthusiast). For me it’s the exact opposite. When I read, see or hear about locations that offer great adventures or fantastic photo opportunities I want to go. It whets my appetite for more. I may never get to a particular location I am viewing photos of or dreaming about yet it certainly fuels the fire to simply get out. Being an armchair adventurer is not the goal. Getting out is and that is exactly what happens!
One way I get inspired is watching flicks that make me think about places I have been, where I want to go, how I take my photos. Below is a short list of movies that makes me excited about getting out for the next outing or capturing the next spectacular photo.
One Man’s Wilderness
Few of us will ever attempt (or even desire to attempt) what Richard (Dick) Proenneke does for many years of his life. After spending decades working in the rat race around age 50 he decides to leave it all behind for year-around living of solitude in the Alaskan Wilderness. He creates his cabin, tools and more documenting his journey in writing along with some video and photo work.
I first heard about the story when someone gave me the book as a gift and since then I have also received or purchased multiple documentaries on his story. I will likely never make such an extreme change in lifestyle yet it’s a great reminder to me how important alone time is outdoors for photography, for rejuvenation, for simply reflecting on life and escaping the hustle and bustle daily life brings for many of us.
If you are picturing Angelina Jolie as a Russian spy right now chances are you are on the wrong blog. During the summer of 2010 I was getting ready to head for bed one evening when I figured I would watch a few minutes of TV before calling it a night. There are not many shows I watch and considering our TV gets less than 20 stations (mostly CSPAN and community access) you can tell our family is not big tube watchers. That said a couple stations I do enjoy from our wide assortment includes OPB and Discovery. That night I clicked on OPB and was immediately engulfed with what was on…which I found out afterward was the short film SALT. I subsequently took the time to watch the full video less than a week later.
Murray Fredericks as a landscape photographer documents his numerous solo adventures on Lake Eyre in Australia. Besides stunning video and photos he talks about what he is thinking while spending weeks alone on this vast open lake including SAT calls with his family. I place this in the must-view-category for any landscape or adventure photographer.
Baraka and Samsara
Anyone that is serious into time lapse photography knows of the movies Baraka and it’s recent sequel Samsara. When I first met my wife over a decade ago she mentioned a movie Baraka playing at our local independent theatre that I would likely enjoy. Entering the theatre filled with mostly empty red velvet seats I had low hopes. Walking out I was in awe. 96 minutes of amazing footage with no words other than a few tribal chants.
Since then I have purchased Baraka and earlier this year my wife bought me the sequel which I have also watched and enjoyed just as much. If you have not seen either of these you are missing out. They are worth your time.
The Other Side of the Ice
There are two kinds of people, those that gravitate to the ocean and those that gravitate to land. I am naturally drawn to spending my time on land with a little water sprinkled in for good measure. I have full respect for those that can spend many weeks and months on a ship and little time ashore.
In The Other Side of the Ice a family successfully navigates the infamous Northwest Passage over a five month journey. It does not happen without amazing views, emotional struggles and close calls. I will say this is the only title in this post that I have not seen the whole movie. I read the book which I feel was very good yet all the reviews and trailers for the movie don’t excite me as much as the book. If you are not a book reader then the movie is an option.
There are very few of us left on planet Earth choosing to live without most of what the modern world offers… smartphones, high tech cars, piped heat/water, online ordering, the list goes on. This documentary shows the life of trappers and their families living in Bakhtia, the heart of Siberian Taiga. It’s a reminder that we don’t always need all the fancy gadgets of the modern world to survive and be happy. When I leave the house and forget my iPhone, and I wonder how I will do a few hours without it I need to remember and think of folks in this film. Although not the life for me to live day-in-day-out, they obviously do quite well with very little. What can you do without?
At home sick one day roaming Netflix streaming I came across this movie. I remembered hearing about it yet hadn’t taken the time to watch it until this point. Amazing documentary, plain and simple. If you are in search of adventure, good stories and amazing visual feasts look no further. It’s hard to watch and not want to back your bags the next day for exotic lands. When thinking of travel and adventure documentaries, 180 South is first to come to mind.
I leave you with a quote from another movie about adventure, Into the Wild. I love the book and movie yet it’s more main stream which is why I left it out of this post.
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”
– Christopher McCandless
What movies get you excited about getting outdoors for photography or fun?
Book Review of Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher
by David Cobb
In early American photographic history there were a handful of giants, including Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, William Henry Jackson, and Edward Curtis. To improve and learn more about one’s own photography, I believe it’s important to learn about photographers who came before. So when I picked up a new book about Edward Curtis (1869-1962) I was eager to learn what it had to say.
Curtis’ life was a Horatio Alger story in a way, with more of a rags-to-riches-to- rags twist. He hobnobbed with the Seattle elite as a photographer of the rich and famous, he photographed the family of President Teddy Roosevelt, bargained with America’s richest man J.P. Morgan, and met and photographed the famous Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. But for his life-long work (a 20-volume set depicting the North American Indian) he was never paid a dime.
In Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, author Timothy Egan delivers an insightful biography of this great American photographer. The book covers Curtis’ early childhood on the plains of Minnesota, his years of back-breaking work along Seattle’s harbors, his time as Seattle’s famous society photographer, and his interest and obsession with photographing the vanishing American Indian. It was this latter project that brought him his fame, and also his financial woes.
The direction of his photographic career took shape on a climb up Washington’s Mount Rainier. While photographing glacial ice, Curtis befriended a group of men descending the mountain who were some of the leading scientists of the time. They were so impressed with Curtis’ knowledge and confidence they invited him to be expedition photographer on a trip to Alaska. Not only did Curtis earn the respect of his peers on this expedition he also made important contacts that would further his quest to photograph the endangered Native American. From there his career took shape and his legacy changed.
Curtis himself had little formal education, so support was hard to come by and his projects were met with skepticism, especially from institutions such as the Smithsonian. But Curtis’ knowledge of the lives and plight of the American Indian was vast. The real so-called experts of the time seldom strayed from their ivory towers; comparatively Curtis lived constantly in the field gathering hands-on knowledge. In one odd meeting in the book, a leading “expert” on Native Americans asked Curtis what it was like to meet a real Indian.
Today his 20-volume set is valued by collectors, with a collection recently selling for 1.4 million dollars. Curtis’ images continue to fetch high prices in galleries as well. Native Americans also value his photographs as a way to reconnect with their heritage, and his sound recordings are sometimes used as an aid in relearning their languages.
In this beautifully written and well-researched biography, Egan covers not only Curtis the photographer but also Curtis the human being—faults and all. He delves into the photographer’s friendships, financial woes, marital difficulties, and blame of the U.S. Government and Christian missionaries for the treatment of Native Americans. Using letters and diaries, Egan explores Curtis’ friendships with longtime friend Ed Meany (who always supported Curtis through thick and thin) and Alexander Upshaw (his Native American interpreter and right-hand man). Egan tracks Curtis’ upheavals in life through letters exchanged by Curtis and Meany, and details his frustrations with racism through his recorded observations of Upshaw’s difficulties as an educated Indian in a white man’s world.
Author Timothy Egan (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award) portrays the life and work of Edward Curtis with insight and compassion. As a photographer, I found Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher not only fascinating, but also a page-turner. This book on Edward Curtis is for anyone with an interest in photography, and also with an interest in great people of American history. If you’re a photographer it’s important to study what’s come before, and Egan’s Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher comes highly recommended.
David Cobb Interview on the “Back Page”
By David Cobb
Last March I sat down with Jody Seay for an interview on “The Back Page,” to talk about my images in the book “Quiet Beauty: Japanese Gardens of North America.” Her show is distributed to various PBS affiliates around the nation, and the following video is the result.
I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.
Vincent Van Gogh
While night photography presents certain challenges, photography is all about capturing light. Even the darkest night is not completely dark. I find that the light at night often allows me to create fresher, more mysterious and more captivating images than daylight. Night lighting that I find particularly exciting are the twilight hours, moon light and even artificial urban light. Photographing at night presents certain challenges and requires specific knowledge, equipment and techniques. The current generation of digital cameras and digital image developing software have made it possible to “see” the night through photographs in ways that weren’t possible before.
Recently I have enjoyed books by two fellow night photographers that proved to be very well written and extremely content rich: Seeing The Unseen by Alister Benn and Photographing The 4th Dimension-TIME by Jim Goldstein.
Seeing The Unseen is a complete handbook for the most up to date techniques in night photography using a digital SLR camera. If you are a creature of the night, or at least captivated by images of silky surf, sweeping stars capes and otherworldly lighting and want to learn how to take such images then this book is a great companion. Alister takes you through his entire process including understanding the different types and phases of night light, preparation, equipment needed, evaluating the scene, focusing, camera settings, use of ISO, field techniques, dynamic range considerations, composition and much more.
In addition to being very complete and easy to understand, the book is worth owning simply for the writing and images. Alister’s writing is far more poetic, contemplative and inspiring than one would expect from a how-to guide and his beautiful, imagination capturing images illustrate every page. Seeing The Unseen can be purchased at HarvestingLight.net and until October 1, 2012 you can get 25% off the price (which was already an extreme value) by using the code ALINEW1.
Photographing The 4th Dimension-TIME by Jim Goldstein isn’t specifically about night photography, but rather the techniques and equipment used for manipulating time in photography. It is one of the most extensive, user friendly and elegant guides to the subject. A big part of understanding night photography is related to manipulating the time variable in low light exposures. Jim leaves no stone unturned, carefully explaining how cameras perceive time differently than we do. He spends a good portion of the book on long exposure night photography including techniques, equipment, technical considerations, light painting techniques and photographing star trails. In addition to the night photography specific content he also covers other time related topics such as time sequences, time lapse video, stopping and accentuation action with strobes, and even video techniques. Everything is well cross referenced and supported with clean illustrations and charts. It even includes links to online content and videos as well as printable field checklists and reference charts. The price of this book is also an extreme value.
Jim also now offers a Mastering Star Trail Photography video course with six hours of video instruction on the current techniques of star trail photography. People who purchase the video receive a free copy of the book Photographing The 4th Dimension-TIME.
Finding good learning and reference material can be a challenge these days with so much low quality content to sift through on the web. I have a lot of respect for the talents of both of these gentlemen as photographers, writers and teachers. For those looking for solid and well presented information on night photography I can recommend both of these books.