Posts Tagged ‘mountain photographers’

Ansel Adams On What A Mountain Means

June 13th, 2013

An Excerpt And Commentary On Ansel Adams’ Short Essay, “What Can A Mountain Mean?”

Last Light On Mt. Hough, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 David Leland Hyde.

Last Light On Mt. Hough, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

(See the photograph large: “Last Light On Mt. Hough, Indian Valley, Northern Sierra, California.”)

Within a few years of John Muir’s founding of the Sierra Club in 1892, charter members formed a committee to oversee the writing, compiling and production of a Sierra Club Handbook. The handbook went to all new members as an overall orientation, an introduction to outdoor etiquette and a guide to Sierra Club philosophy. Half a century later, David Brower became the editor of the handbooks, as well as the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director. The 1957 edition of the Sierra Club Handbook included on its Editorial Committee such renowned environmental leaders as Ansel Adams, William E. Colby, Charlotte E. Mauk, Harriet T. Parsons and Blanche Stallings.

David Brower wrote in the introduction:

America’s resources of scenery that we explore and enjoy today are not set aside through accident. National Parks and forests, state and county redwood groves and beaches, wilderness areas and primeval regions—these are not now open to free public enjoyment just through happenstance, just because the country is so big and its resources so limitless that no one has yet got around to fencing them in. These areas, to which millions go each year for escape, exercise, or rest, are available only because people have fought for them. We who enjoy the mountains today owe a debt to generations of those now gone, or now no longer able to be fully active, who have thought in terms of long-range public use and enjoyment rather than immediate development and exploitation.

The Handbook told the reader the story of the Sierra Club, educated about the Sierra Club’s conservation role, provided information on mountaineering, wilderness outings, Sierra Club lodges and lands, winter sports, administration of the Club, trails, the human need for tranquility, the library, scientific background, new films, how to contribute, folklore, directors, chairmen and honorary members, publications, Sierra Club Books, periodicals and the Sierra Club by-laws, but the highlight of the handbook was a signature of 16 glossy black and white photographs by Ansel Adams. The series included such famous plates as Moon Over Half Dome, White House Ruin, Yosemite Valley From Valley View, Old Faithful and The Grand Tetons from Oxbow Bend. The irony is that these locations have now become like treasure map stops on checklists kept by some of today’s landscape photographers.

Accompanying his photographs, and equally as moving, Ansel Adams wrote a brief essay titled, “What Can A Mountain Mean?” This short plea for people to look more deeply at nature applies today even more than when written. The following is an excerpt:

We are seeking a closer contact and deeper understanding of the natural scene in both its vast and delicate aspects. Our ultimate function was never the mere making of maps and the collation of physical data; rather it was to interpret the assembled facts in terms of enjoyment and spiritual experience, and to assist others to seek and comprehend the heart of nature. After all, in the strictly materialistic sense, a mountain is simply an object of inanimate stone garnished with vegetation. It can be measured, weighed, climbed, and even removed or destroyed. Gravity, weather, geologic processes determine its form and the flow of the rivers at its base. These streams posses potential water power, provide irrigation, and contain fish. The timber on the slopes may be salable, and on the surface and inside of the mountain valuable minerals may be found and mined. Obviously the corpus and the spirit of the mountain are two very different entities. A mountain provides an impressive symbol of the wonder and beauty of the natural world, of contact with the primal purities of nature, of the cleanliness and the emotional stimulus of the realities of the earth.

At the time Ansel Adams wrote his short introduction to accompany his photographs in the Sierra Club Handbook, the term ‘landscape photography’ had not yet come into common use. Ansel Adams and his associates called the outdoor photographer who photographed wilderness, a ‘photographer of the natural scene.’ Whatever term you use to describe photography of the landscape, flora and fauna; today many practitioners of it, including myself at times, approach it more like those who are making maps or collecting data, rather than with the intent to impart joy or share a transcendent experience stemming from a more developed connection with the land.

While the internet is a superb tool for showing, viewing and critiquing landscape photography, it sometimes encourages the photographic sport of trophy hunting. Some online photographers objectify nature like pornography and subliminally sexual advertising objectify women and sometimes men. If one photographer has a photograph of a Grizzly Bear, the Aurora Borealis, Antelope Canyon or another trophy that others also have, then we feel we must bring home similar big game to hang on the wall and join the icon club. In contrast, to create photographs with meaning and make a contribution to the art, we must examine our motives. Are we purely profit or recognition-driven? Are we grabbing and bagging moments rather than living them? Are we carving notches in our camera cases? Or are we embracing nature; studying, living and breathing our subjects? Are we getting to know the places we portray, or are we defacing rock art, trampling flowers, stomping on and digging up the mountain, like destructive miners only interested in a payoff?

Until a photographer experiences and imparts the intrinsic values of a natural scene, he or she will not obtain the same long-term satisfaction with his or her images. There is nothing wrong with photographing an icon from time to time, but if they dominate a portfolio, it may be time to re-evaluate. Perhaps the commoditization of landscape photography will continue. Maybe digital photography will be more of an industry than an art, but why be part of the problem? Why not set your own sail, calibrate your own gyroscope by what fulfills you from the inside? Each person sends out a ripple effect. The world needs more sensitivity to nature, not more objectifying of natural subjects. In fact, this adjustment in perspective, this shift in vision, may be exactly what can save us. Photography is much more powerful than many realize. Through it the vision of an entire society is examined, determined and cast. What version of society will we choose? Will future generations see us the way we wish to be seen? What kind of civilization and what kind of people are we?

Relevant Blog Posts:

The Trophy Shot – A Nature And Landscape Photographer’s Dilemma by Gary Crabbe

A Big Light Night – Are You Too Old for Trophy Hunting Photography? by Darwin Wiggett

Aboutness by Guy Tal

What do you think? What is your opinion about exploitation versus inspiration?

Monday Blog Blog: Greg Boyer

May 16th, 2011

Monday Blog Blog: Greg Boyer Photography

Raised on ranches as a boy and now living in Bishop, California in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, Greg Boyer first became serious about photography in the early 1970s. He first began making landscape photographs at age 12 when his father gave him an Argus C3. In 1960, a trip to Yosemite National Park helped spark his creative inspiration. By the time he reached age 13, he had been to 18 states.

Moonrise Over Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2008 by Greg Boyer.

(View the photograph larger Click Here.)

(What in the world is Monday Blog Blog? To find out more read the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog Celebration.”)

Greg Boyer’s father was in the Army Air Corp which became the US Air Force. He later became a safety engineer for a the U.S. government and in the Missile Industry. The family began ranching in California and then moved to Idaho north of Boise along the Payette River. Greg Boyer worked on his father’s ranch while also photographing and hiking the mountains and back country of Idaho.

In the mid 1970s and early 1980s, Greg Boyer worked as a well driller and did construction work building irrigation pumping plants along the Sacramento river in California. At the zenith of Greg Boyer’s early photography life, he recently explained, he dove in more deeply and then faded after a camera catastrophe and other life changes:

I was about the same age as Galen Rowell. He was in all the magazines. He was an outdoor hero. I was doing mountain climbing and some of the same things he was but on a smaller scale. I was always an explorer as a kid. The last year I was very serious about photography was 1975 when I was photographing on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, a wild and wooly place. I was using a Nikon F2. I had a 500 mm lens on and I was getting ready to change the focusing screen. I set the camera down and it fell off the rock perch I set it on at the edge of a deep gorge. I was rummaging in my camera bag trying to find the focusing screen and all I heard was the first clunk of my camera bouncing several times down in the ravine. I turned around and the camera was gone. On the second bounce I saw the body go one direction and the lens go the other. Soon after that my ex wife and I moved back to California in 1975. I was drilling wells and the work was demanding. I didn’t have the time to devote to photography that I wanted to. I was raising a family. I still made snapshots of my kids and family vacations.

Greg Boyer worked for Campbell Soup for 14 years as a maintenance planner. When an opportunity to go back to school came, he took it. He attended UC Davis in Multi-Media Design, where he learned about video production and Photoshop, which he had originally started to learn in 1992. He worked in Video Production from 1997 to 2005. Around that time the video business began to change. The video company he worked for and many others were casualties.

In 2004 Greg Boyer bought a Nikon D2X digital camera. With his extensive knowledge of Photoshop, he also began digital printing. Thus began a whole new experience with photography:

With digital photography I found out how to express the way I saw a scene. I couldn’t do that with film. Digital landscape photography was everything film photography could have been to me but that I never had with film. I never had the tools to do what I really wanted to do until digital came along.  It’s the immediacy of the digital image. You can see right away what you have. You can look at the image and at the histogram and then do something different if it doesn’t work. In the film era you didn’t know what you had until you had the rolls processed. Then you might never make it back to the same place, or you had to get back there in the same conditions.

In late 2005, Greg Boyer was diagnosed with Emphysema. When he told his son, his son said, “Well, you better quit wasting time.” After thinking about it, Greg Boyer realized his son was right. He decided to change his lifestyle and do what he really loved, which meant getting back in touch with nature and taking up photography again. Soon afterwards he moved to Bishop, California to be near the Sierra Nevada in a small-town atmosphere and clean air. Greg Boyer described his experience of connecting with nature and the philosophy behind it:

Krishnamurti was an influence on the way I look at what I’m doing in landscape photography. I go out and get absorbed by my surroundings. When I’m out taking photographs it is a spiritual experience of that moment in time and space when it is all yours. You are it and it is you. Krishnamurti wrote about seeing and not categorizing. His philosophy was that by defining something you separate yourself from it. He gave me a new way of being out and connected to nature. Civilization’s mistake is in separating from the natural world.

In the Eastern Sierra Nevada Greg Boyer now goes backpacking at least twice a year. He still carries 50-60 pounds of gear on backpacks including cameras and lenses. Greg Boyer said he is ‘living the dream,’ but he is glad he doesn’t have to rely on photography for a living in today’s conditions. He has the freedom to pursue landscape photography as he likes:

I’m enjoying life and having a good time. This is the way life was meant to be. I’m blessed to be doing what I love in a beautiful place. At Campbell Soup some people had been working there for 35-40 years and hated every minute of it. I feel bad for people who are stuck doing something they have no idea they can get out of. Many people are not doing what they love to do. I like sharing what I’m doing in photography. I like the interaction with other photographers in the photo blogosphere. Besides, I live a few blocks from Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery.

Take a close look at Greg Boyer Photography and his blog, which offer an inspirational perspective on landscape photography. His blog posts about Photoshop and other post-processing tools and techniques provide an experienced presentation of simple and advanced methods.

Reader Recommendation: Steve Sieren On A Mountain Top

May 10th, 2010

All this talk of mountain photographers brings me to recommend a recent blog post:

<< From the Talus Slopes of Mt. Agassiz >>

By Steve Sieren on his blog called “Thoughts, Ideas and Experiences.” While Steve Sieren is not strictly a mountain photographer, he does it with skill and a has a knack for getting way out in the backcountry in all types of terrain.

Palisades Glacier, Sierra Nevada, 2010 by Steve Sieren. From the top of Mt. Agassiz, the 20th highest peak in California.

I first heard from Steve by e-mail. He wrote to say that he had been a fan of outdoor photographer Carr Clifton and had heard of my father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde through Carr Clifton. He told me he would unfortunately miss the Santa Monica Exhibition but just after it came down when I was in Los Angeles, he offered to show me some little known photo spots around the area. He came across as a genuine, approachable, friendly and kind person. Since then we have kept in touch and he has been helpful regarding many subjects. I still plan to go on one of his field workshops where he takes people out and shows them areas they perhaps have never seen in California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. “Most of the workshops are in the California deserts, mountains and coastal areas,” Steve Sieren said.

One of the reasons I admire Galen Rowell is that he was a self-taught photographer. Steve Sieren is also essentially self-taught, though he took some workshops including one from Marc Muench. He said he did have help from “many friends and mentors along the way…in other fields of photography.” Los Angeles offers some of the world’s best photographers in a number of genres and is one of the up and coming world art scenes.  I admire Steve Sieren because even though he lives in a major metropolitan area, he values wilderness and getting out in it. Also, he is a great story teller. Visit his latest blog post for some real action and excellent images. It shares his adventures on a spontaneous hike and unplanned overnight stay at the top of California’s 20th tallest peak. Hats off to Steve Sieren who is doing today what some of the early pioneer landscape photographers did back in the day, but with a more adventurous and spontaneous twist. Be sure to also scroll down or poke around and find his blog post about snow camping too.