Photo Cascadia Blog
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Last Fall myself and a handful of my Photo Cascadia peeps headed down to the desert southwest region. I had only been down that way a couple times before, the only longish trip before I had the knowledge and desire to create art like I do today. Needless to say I was very eager for the trip not only to travel with great friends but also in hopes coming home with a few images for the portfolio and experiences to last a lifetime.
Although this time of year normally consists of chasing scenes with yellow, red and other similar hues that are planted in the ground, this was not that trip. In fact I came home after 9 days with over 2,300 files and no fall color in any of them. Beyond that it was likely one of my most productive trips of this length that I can recall. What I have in this post is a healthy dose from that trip yet it’s a series of folders I will dive into periodically to find more nuggets to process for years to come.
David Cobb and I touch down in Las Vegas. Grabbed the rental car and headed to eat. I am always hungry for those that don’t know me well. David tells me if we were stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean he would throw me over before he started to look like my next meal. I can’t blame him. We scarfed down lunch sitting outside right next to the sports car race track. Damn those cars are loud in this setting. After raising our voices just to talk over lunch we get on the highway, we leave behind Vegas in search of tranquil nature scenes.
We meet up with Chip Phillips and Zack Schnepf as they were just wrapping up a couple days in Zion National Park. After a quick pit stop for supplies in St George we decided to make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We planned to camp on the back roads outside the park yet seeing many of the backroads with head lights for the likes of hunting season, we opted for the modern day comforts of a hotel. We will camp this trip, just not here.
We head out before day break because well that is what we are here for. It’s a long haul from where we lodged to the rim but sunrise doesn’t disappoint. We stand along the edge at Cape Royal. I don’t really care how amazing the sky is or isn’t, it’s simply a great feeling to stand here. The warm light hitting the rocks and first time in over a decade to the area was a reminder why it was worth coming back to. After the sunrises we stop in a turn out along the road and eat a tailgating breakfast of champions.
After a few hours back at the hotel we cruise back to Cape Royal for sunset. This is a beautiful spot and conditions prime that evening with dappled light and showers rolling through. Complete with colorful rainbow and moody storm clouds, and of course among great friends. The light fades away into darkness; the photos will be here to keep the memories in the light.
I am thankful for this time of year with less daylight and more opportunities for zzz’s between sunset and sunrise. This morning we head to Point Imperial. We pull in to a quiet parking lot. We are the only cars here. Any noise we hear is us and a gentle breeze.
As we setup the sky and steep jagged cliffs glow every shade of red I can remember seeing in nature over the years. We tell stories, we shoot, and we laugh. We shoot some more and more laughs. You don’t want it to end. Until for some reason while I am packing up I open my wallet and realize I am missing my credit card. Doh!
I didn’t mention it earlier but we are here for the last few days the North Rim is open for the season. The droves of tourists have long departed and the visitor center’s shelves look like a department store that had long been out of business, empty. It’s the right time to be here for photography, except the warm monsoon summer season which is too warm for me.
When we get back Zack walks out from the restaurant holding my credit card in the air. Whew! I had left it at the restaurant the night before. The cars are packed and it’s time to head to the next location.
After a decent drive we make it to a location of Grand Staircase Escalante that we had hoped to get to. There were a couple water crossings that fortunately were running low for David’s new favorite vehicle in the whole world could make it through, our rental Jeep Compass. And to think it didn’t even have a compass. Huh.
We do some scouting and find a good place to put our tents down to call home for the next couple nights. All we see is openness and desert cliffs from camp. It’s a great place to park it.
The next couple days here are an all you can eat buffet of scrumptious light, flavorful skies and delicious scenes. I told you my mind can revolve around food.
This day brings more good times, good shots and good camp food. By the afternoon we see a trail of dust off in the distance slowly barreling our way. Erin has joined us for a few days of this desert adventure.
We leave Grand Staircase Escalante behind for a bit to check out another spot. The Coal Mine. With no camping nearby we find a hotel to crash at after visting the location for sunset. We cross the street for dinner. Here we learn time is an hour forward from where we stood across the street. What?! It’s hard enough that Arizona doesn’t change their clocks for daylight savings yet some reservations do recognize it while others don’t. In this case the restaurant was on the reservation land and the hotel was not. We almost missed sunrise one day having our heads flopping back in this mini time warp.
After peaceful and majestic sunrise at the Coal Mine, back at the hotel we say good-by to Chip and Zack who start their journey back to the Pacific Northwest. David and I had a few more days before heading back home via Sin City.
Erin, David and I make our way to one of many slot canyon options in Grand Staircase Escalante. The day is late and we know better than to hike miles upstream and come out in the dark. We explore enough to know it’s worth a full day.
We come back to the same canyon from the prior day. We arrive just after sunrise. Spending all day exploring, photographing and crisscrossing the water with my water logged boots. We hike out and make back to the car just after sunset. The dim light almost calling for a headlamp, I enjoy dusk and let my eyes adjust instead.
Erin needs to start her long drive back this morning. We part ways and now it’s down to David and me for the final couple days. Being in Page this day we decided to visit this little known place called Horseshoe Bend. Besides visiting The Grand Canyon during the off season with few people around, we have tried to avoid iconic landmarks. I don’t mind photographing them, and I will, yet I don’t seek out trips that I am simply trophy hunting. To me there is no fun in that. A sense of exploring places with few others around is part of the thrill of nature photography.
As you can imagine Horseshoe Bend was not a quiet spot. Mind you I have never been here and I show up in the dark before sunrise. I find what looks like a decent spot (can’t really tell) and setup more to enjoy the scene but do plan to take a photo or two. As dawn breaks on a gray day as if I brought it with me from Oregon, I hear another couple photographers pass behind me on the trail. One of them says “That guy is in my spot” and I turn to realize the only person he can be talking about is me since no one is next to me. Really!? This solidified why I am not drawn to visit the icons on a regular basis.
As I pack up David and I connect again. I realize I lost one of the feet on my Gitzo tripod. I was sure I had it on when I was photographing that morning. I have no extras this trip and thankful we are near the end and I can make do. Hiking the ~1 mile trail out about half way up I just happen to look down and I see a dark object. I bend down and pick it up. It’s a foot that fits my tripod perfectly! Whether it truly fell off my tripod or I picked up someone else’s I can’t say for certain. Either ways it worked out.
David and I start our trek back in the morning. We settle on the last night camping at Valley of Fire. We make it there in time for some brief photography before the ranger comes barreling down the road at dusk ensuring everyone is out.
Up at sunrise we head back into the prime area of the park that is closed at night. We photograph The Wave while exploring other areas until the light is harsh and photography at this point is small scenes requiring the use of my t-shirt as diffuser. It’s November and for my Pacific Northwest body is downright hot outside. How folks living down here deal with this in the summer I have no idea. I love it down here yet my body prefers cold over hot. It’s easier to layer up; you can only remove so many layers before it’s an issue in multiple ways.
We enjoy our nice little camping spot for the morning and head into the city that never sleeps. I know David as our main driver was sad to say goodbye to our gutless and compass-less Jeep Compass.
Leaving I already make plans in my head when I want to return, both for a family trip and photography. I can’t wait another decade without a decent trip down here. If you have not been and wonder why, just try reading the work of Edward Abbey or newer work from Guy Tal. There is much to ponder, dream and explore in this area to fill a lifetime.
“In my mind these experiences are a kind of retirement savings – the moments and memories I will someday recall with the same bittersweet joy and immense gratitude I felt experiencing them, and I will know that I truly lived”
– Guy Tal, More Than A Rock
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Lucky number seven in 2016 for Photo Cascadia. Seven for the first full year with seven team members and seven for the number of years Photo Cascadia has been around. Speaking of luck it was honestly mostly luck in the beginning that this specific team of photographers formed, have become good friends and enjoy sharing experiences and knowledge with all of you for as long as we have. During this time we have seen similar groups form and fold. We hope this seven year stretch is only the beginning of our journey as you join us along for the ride. In the end it’s you, the readers, that continue to provide energy for what we do at Photo Cascadia. For this we are extremely grateful and thankful… thank you!
Where did 2016 take you for adventure and photography? I am sure it was similar to many on the Photo Cascadia team where we spent time in our own backyards, crossing state lines as well as some continent hopping. If you have been watching our blog for more than a year now you will know that mid December is when Photo Cascadia takes a break from our weekly posting until mid January. It’s our time to step back and reflect on the year that has past while winding down with family and friends.
As we reflect on things it’s a good time to remember that all the places we get to visit should be available for those that come after us. It seems 2016 we unfortunately saw a rise, at least in the media if not reality, around people doing permanent damage to places we all want to enjoy and photograph as well as companies and political forces looking to seize locations set aside for long term preservation. Now days, perhaps more than ever, we all need breaks into nature whether some of us realize it or not as the number of us living in a concrete jungle grows. With that I leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
We take this time to provide a year end visual show of where we have traveled with some behind the scenes clips. Take a four minute break and check it out.
May your year close out with many lasting memories and the new year start with a trail full of endless possibilities.
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.
There are a number of reasons I’m drawn to photographing ghost towns. Perhaps it’s something to do for a change of pace, maybe it’s photographing the history of a bygone era, or possibly it’s my fascination with dystopian literature. But mostly it’s just fun. I’ve photographed ghost towns from Alaska to Mexico. Most of them exist from the boom-and-bust of the mining era, while others are from the days of Manifest Destiny gone awry; leftovers from a time when Americans thought if we moved to arid lands for cultivation then the rain would follow.
The ruins these people left behind are in different states of disrepair. Some are preserved as parks, some are not and are left to crumble, and others are resurrected as artist colonies for an affordable place to work and live. Whatever their state, there is always something to explore and photograph.
I’ve explored and photographed the well-known ghost towns (i.e. Bodie) to the little-known towns (i.e.) Farlin. Hell, I even did a ghost town long-distance walk across the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the 221 mile (355km) Canol Heritage Trail, and followed a World War II oil pipeline through the wilderness. The walk past little-used and abandoned autos, pump-house towns, and work stations was fascinating. Additionally, I walked the 33-mile (53km) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia that follows a land of artifacts and relics from the Klondike Gold Rush. But you don’t need to walk long distances for most ghost towns; they’re on maps and a good AWD vehicle will get you to most of them. Just remember that the majority of ghost towns are at a higher elevation and not lowland valleys, so you might need to wait until summer for access.
Upon arriving for the first time, I like to get that establishing shot. Maybe it’s an overview of the entire town from a nearby highpoint, or possibly it’s a shot of one of the more prominent buildings in town like the mine itself. If the light is not right, I’ll come back to that establishing image as the light improves, but at least I’ve found what represents the town as a whole. Once I have the establishing shot, I begin to look for the intimate. Ghost towns are known for what’s left behind. It could be a table setting, an old poster still on the wall, or implements hanging from the ceiling, but I look for those things that might tell more of the story of the place I’m photographing.
Ghost towns usually have plenty of texture and plenty of rust that can create interesting patterns of shape and color. I look at the old boards for details of pattern and rusted old cars with peeling paint can offer a myriad of abstract compositions too. If artists are moving into the area, look for the weird. Near a Nevada ghost town I photographed, there was a whole field of cars planted in the ground grill first. The exposed sections of the autos were covered with graffiti art exploring life, politics, and the exotic.
Since this is a ghost town, also look for the creepy. I had one ghost town all to myself in the middle of Montana. I walked into an old abandoned hotel to look around and then heard something upstairs. When I walked upstairs I just saw a long hallway of light and dark, and thought to myself, “I’m not going down there.” But I did try to capture in a photo the way I felt at the time.
Also when you’re visiting a ghost town look for the cemetery; there is always one nearby. Some can be quaint, others historic, and still others a bit spooky. Any way you capture them, the images can be interesting and will also help tell the story of place. Ghost towns are also a great place for night photography, and light painting the old buildings while photographing the stars overhead can make for a fun evening shoot. If you’re photographing at night, use common sense and leave the steel wool at home. Sparks from these efforts can level a whole town, and enough historic relics from California to Florida have already been lost to photographer’s fire.
In 2017 I’ll be returning to Montana to conduct a photographic loop of the western ghost town locales. I hope you can join me. You can click here for more information.
I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer; I do enjoy photographing wildlife and observing the behavior of animals in their habitat. If wildlife wanders into my landscape image I enjoy including it, and when I photograph wildlife I prefer to include it as part of the environment as opposed to creating a portrait image. Including an animal in the scene gives the viewer a gauge by which to measure the grandeur of a landscape; creating a sense of scale. It also tells the story of their habitat and under what conditions they live, which is far more interesting to me than a portrait. Of course, some wildlife is small, so the landscape adjusts accordingly to maybe a handful of leaves or the grasses of a prairie and entry to the den.
If I plan on photographing wildlife in a landscape, I first increase the ISO of my camera to 400 at a minimum. In addition, consider opening the f-stop up to f11 or even f5.6 for more shutter speed. Obviously this will create a shallower depth-of-field, but photography is always about trade-offs so consider what’s best for the image before you shoot. By increasing the shutter speed, the animal’s movement won’t be blurred. Of course, if you want to capture the motion of an animal with image blur, then keep your ISO on a slow setting and just pan your camera with the animal to capture the sense of movement. (I find this works best between 1/15th of a second and 1/40th, depending on the animal’s speed.) Be careful when approaching an animal, since it is wild, unpredictable, and there is no need to cause it undo stress–all good reasons to keep your distance and capture it in its environment.
As a general rule it’s best to have the animal walking into the scene in order to create a suggested line of site, and to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition. A catch-light in the animal’s eye is also important since it suggests life. Keeping the eye sharp is key, so focus here first and then recompose if necessary. I also try and separate the elements; I may wait for the animals to spread out a bit or shoot before and after my subject is behind that tree and not while the tree overlaps my subject. I also wait until the animal has a clean background. I don’t need branches or sticks protruding from the back of my subject’s head, so I keep it clean and I keep it simple.
When it comes to wildlife photography ethics automatically come into play, and for me I think it’s best to be an observer and not a participator in the scene. I don’t want to stress an animal, I’ll never bait it, and I won’t call out to it for better eye contact. I figure wildlife already has it hard, and I’m not there to make it any harder on them. If an animal changes its course or behavior because of me, then I’ve failed in my approach. If you’re photographing in a group, keep your distance and don’t surround your subject. Always give it an outlet for escape, which will create less stress in the animal, better photographs, and probably more time with your subject. There are enough stupid photographer videos online already, and we don’t need to add to the collection.
Hopefully these handful of tips will better help your photography and also the wildlife you’re there to photograph-enjoy and observe.
Most landscape photography is shot with a wide-angle lens to accent that leading line or capture that vibrant red sunrise. Using a telephoto lens to capture a landscape offers a different challenge and a different way of thinking. The goal now is less about distortion and more about compression to help create patterns or an interesting layering effect. Currently, about one-third of my landscape images are photographed with a telephoto lens.
A few tips to help create telephoto landscape images:
• If it’s windy stay low or find a wind break. As you zoom-in camera shake is accentuated, so to keep things steady cut down on your surface area and get low to create less wind resistance on your tripod and camera–wait for a lull in the wind before taking the shot. If that doesn’t work, use a wall, structure, tree, or something for a wind break. Hanging your pack or a weight from your tripod may help create stability.
• Use the zoom function and live view together for sharpness. If you have a live-view function on your camera it comes in handy for telephoto landscape photography. I check out my scene through the live view and then press the zoom feature to get a closer look and to manually adjust the sharpness. The live-view feature can also offer mirror lock-up which will help with camera shake. If your camera doesn’t automatically offer this feature, turn on the mirror lock-up function when photographing with a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.
• Use a polarizer. Compressing a landscape image over a great distance will also compress all the dust, haze, or fog in the scene. This can produce atmosphere in your image and help to create mood, but chances are more likely it will just generate blur. To cut through this mass of miasma use a polarizer, this will also cut down on glare.
• Use a lens hood. When I’m using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, I’m often shooting into the light for a backlighting effect. Using a lens hood can go a long way towards cutting down on lens flare and unwanted glare.
• Use a tripod. This may be a no-brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. Handholding to take a telephoto image only accentuates camera shake, for the best and sharpest landscape photo use a tripod.
When using a telephoto lens, it’s our job as photographers to simplify an image down to its prime elements—and to pick out order from the chaos. I pay attention to the light, patterns, key features, and leading lines to help me look for subject matter. Overlap and layering helps create depth, and the compression of these features helps create form from this flatter telephoto perspective. When practicing telephoto landscape photography, it’s usually best to take the high ground. By looking across or down on the landscape you’ll be offered a better view from which to pick out your subjects and shoot. If my subject matter is without much depth, I’ll usually use an aperture setting around f8 or f11; but if there is depth to my landscape, then I’ll shoot from f16 to f32.
I hope these tips prove useful and inspire you to take out that “longer” lens when photographing a landscape.
“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.”
By David Cobb
I like variety. When I shoot a variety of images it keeps me on my toes, keeps things fresh, and lets me be creative. If I only photographed landscapes I’d be bored. By changing things up and photographing not just landscapes, but also events, macro, details, people, wildlife, buildings, interiors, food, and in black-and-white I don’t get tired of photographing any one thing. Some might say by doing many things you never get good at one of them. I disagree. I think in photography improving one facet of your camerawork can only help another facet; it’s kind of like photographic cross-training. My detail images help my compositional skills as I photograph landscapes. By photographing small flowers with my macro lens, it’s not too much of a stretch to photograph food. Photographing people lets me be more creative and interact with my subject, (plus putting a person in a scene increases sales potential in an over-saturated landscape market). If I photograph an event, it makes me think quicker on my feet and that helps me set up and get the shot faster when working my landscapes and landscape photography—and lets me apply those skills to my macro and detail images.
Josef Koudelka is one of my photographic heroes, and he stated that he was first and foremost a photographer. Koudelka photographed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but he wasn’t a photo journalist; he photographed and travelled with gypsies for years, but he wasn’t a portrait or street photographer; he spent years photographing Roman ruins, but he wasn’t a historical photographer; the time spent photographing industrial waste and the workings of man didn’t make him an environmental photographer–he was simply just a photographer who resisted any codes or labels. And he succeeded in all areas.
I’m posting some photos I’ve shot over the past few months, as an example of the variety of images I’ve taken in my photographic cross-training.
By David Cobb
The first time I explored Croatia was when I crossed the eastern border through the countries of Montenegro and Albania. Six years later I explored the western portion of the country arriving through Slovenia. Both times I was greeted by friendly faces, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery to photograph. On my first visit I had time constraints so I only made it as far as Dubrovnik, but the second time I was able to explore more of the country along Plivitce National Park as well as some of the towns and villages along the Istrian coast and a bit further inland.
Dubrovnik is a photogenic city along the Adriatic Sea. The old town consists of many ancient churches, and its polished streets make for great reflections during night photography. Climbing the wall of the old fortress you can shoot down into the city and pick out patterns amongst the rooftops.
Along the western end of the country lies Plivitce National Park and its many lakes and waterfalls. Fall here can be spectacular, and there are so many grand waterfalls it’s hard to know where to begin photographing so just start and explore. I recommend you plan on spending more than a day here.
Inland near the Istrian coastline are a number of hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards. The small towns surrounding the ancient castles are more photogenic when you walk the stone streets—and offer views down to the surrounding agricultural fields that make for great pattern photography.
The Istrian Coast is beautiful too, with its beaches and cliff-side views. As always in Croatia, the towns along the coast are most photogenic and are photographed best during sunrise, sunset, and night.
There is still so much for me to explore in Croatia, especially in some of the backcountry river canyons and mountain ranges. I plan on seeing and exploring more when fellow Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw and I join Luka Esenko for a fall color workshop here in 2017. There are still a few spaces available in the workshop for those interested in experiencing this great area.
By David M. Cobb
Over the years I’ve spent a great deal of time visiting art museums, searching out the European masters, the cubists, the impressionists, the Hudson River School, and others. But it wasn’t until I saw Edward Weston’s Pepper #30 that photography entered into the equation. Western art influenced my sense of design and light, and my schooling reinforced those Western perspectives of art.
Later in life other influences came into play, specifically art from Asia. A number of years ago a photographer suggested I read Empty and Full: The Language of Chinese Painting by Francois Cheng. That was the beginning of change for me. I now find myself seeking out Chinese reliefs and Japanese block prints when I roam art museums; their influence helps me incorporate Eastern perspectives into my work. My photography changes but that change can seem frustratingly slow, and sometimes I end up with more failures than successes. With my changing perceptions, the scenes that are more difficult to come by are the asymmetrical compositions—that sense of unbalance that “feels” odd to me. But I’m learning to adapt and must let all that go. There’s now more of a visual emphasis on negative space in many of my compositions, and with that comes an economy of line.
However, it is a struggle. My old eye fights with the new, and the old ways usually win. Some scenes play to my new eye easier than others; for instance a landscape with fog or a mountain shrouded in mist is easier to compose and capture in a new way. With a complex scene in a forest or a desert landscape, I tend to fall back on my western influences. Thoreau stated “simplify, simplify, simplify” and that is what I strive to do more often than not. My compositions succeed when I’m more open to change in my photography and when I’m compositionally deliberate as I reflect on my Eastern influence. With time, my hope is to make this an intuitive thought process.
Examples of current photographers who excel at capturing this Eastern aesthetic in their landscape photography are John Einarsen, Leping Zha, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Hiroshi Watanabe, and John Sexton. A photographer like John Paul Caponigro uses negative space extremely well, especially in his more surreal images. Symmetry and not asymmetry plays a larger part in his photography. His photos have a spiritual and even mystical sense to them (especially his celestial images), which connects well with the Eastern ideal and the land he photographs.
My struggle and creative journey will continue, but that’s part of the challenge and fun that comes from growth.