Monday Blog Blog: Greg Russell, Ph.D.

January 31st, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Monday Blog Blog: Greg Russell Of Alpenglow Images Raises A Family, Teaches, Grades Papers, Writes Papers, Blogs, Photographs, Photoshops, Shops, Plasticizes And More

Pines, Fog, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, 2009 by Greg Russell.

When I first started Landscape Photography Blogger, many generous photographers and other visitors commented on the blog posts I wrote, but rarely on the blog posts written by Dad that I republished from magazines, newspapers, travel logs, field notes and Dad’s books. For some time, blog posts by my father, though they enjoyed more traffic, did not receive as many comments. Now that has changed.

One day a young man came by and made a comment on Dad’s front notes I had re-published here from my father’s book Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run in the ground-breaking Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series. The series of three blog posts named after Dad’s piece starting with, “Toward A Sense Of Place 1” is especially poignant and illustrative of Dad’s philosophy with which I was lucky enough to grow up. The young man, Greg Russell, also made a comment on my “About The Blog Author” page. His comments were insightful and showed that he himself had a strong conviction about wilderness and a profound connection to the land. I was impressed and I went to Greg Russell’s blog, Alpenglow Images, to take a look at his photographs. His images were beautiful, many of them perhaps a bit too much so in that they looked to me to be similar to a lot of other work I had seen. He had a slightly different twist on “Mesa Arch” in Canyonlands and on the sand dunes in Death Valley, some waterfalls, some sunsets. Regardless, he and I struck up an online friendship based on his excellent comments that make a consistent contribution on this blog.

Photography can in some ways be rife with elitism. Some photographers are the most generous and helpful people you will ever meet. Some are arrogant, cliquish and exclusionary to outsiders. One time I heard the story of an aspiring landscape photographer having a friendly talk with another landscape photographer. The veteran photographer, who claimed to be well-known (I’ve never heard of him) as soon as he found out the newbie made his living from another source other than photography, practically ended the conversation in mid-sentence. This same photographer had gone on and on about how he had first made the plunge into being a full-time photographer. Eventually the listener to these great tales of heroism asked, “Well, how did you do it? What did you actually do to bring in the bacon while you were getting started?” It turns out the arrogant photographer confided that his wife had a rather large trust fund. This is the classic story. Many, many people, more and more all the time, buy their way into being full-time in photography, rather than beginning part-time and working on a shoestring. Yet those who already have their place successfully bought and paid for, have the audacity to look down on those who are still learning. Wait a minute, I thought that was everybody? I guess not. Some people know it all already.

Greg Russell started part-time and built up his photography the old-fashioned way. It started as a hobby and progressed to what his wife Stephanie now calls, “A serious addiction.” Should we all hold hands and look down on Greg Russell because he is part-time? It would be a grave error to do so. Out of all photography blogs I have yet seen, he is the one whose work has most improved over the year that I have observed his photography. His voice and vision are starting to shine and he has a strong one of each, I assure you.

In case you may imagine that his only talent is photography, he also has a family: his wife and a boy of three so far. Besides making photographs, helping with the kid, blogging and processing photographs, he also is completely inundated each evening with tests and papers to grade, lectures to plan, and papers he is working to get published. Greg Russell in his other life has a Ph.D. in Biology with an emphasis in Animal Physiology. He teaches at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Orange County, California. He lives in Riverside. If you know the area, you know that is a bear of a commute too. He also happens to be the director of the Plastination Lab on campus. “Plasti-what?” You say. Plastination is the process of preserving animal creatures or part of them in plastic for further study, research and teaching. He plastinated a group of brains, no joke, for the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. For that display his lab embalmed, dehydrated in acetone and permeated with polymer, a fancy way of saying they petrified the stuff with plastic, a brain from a monkey, a rat, a sheep, a cat and a rattlesnake, whose brain is only the size of a fingernail. So when they say that rattlesnakes don’t bite lawyers out of professional courtesy, it truly is an insulting joke. I guess there is no joke for full-time photographers who look down on part-time photographers. Maybe their brains have already been through Greg’s lab. Greg Russell, Ph.D. and his lab also not long ago plastinated a five foot long Humboldt Squid, one of only a few others in the world.

Go see his photographs. You will not regret it. His blog is loaded with well-thought-out and well-written posts about photography of well, er, um Alpenglow, one other subject I need to clear the air about. I will leave you with a comment I made on Greg Russell’s blog post, “Two Saints.”

These are both beautiful photographs. I like the subtle pinks, blues and purples. I had an interesting conversation the other day with Gary Crabbe about photographer influences, “magic hour” and alpenglow. As you may know, he started as a photographer working for Galen Rowell. Anyway, I wrote a comment that I thought might offend him. I said that I thought his sunset images were more profitable than of high quality like his other photographs. He is a very nice guy and a long-time professional photographer. Apparently he was not offended at all. He did make an excellent point in defense of photographs of Sierra and other mountain alpenglow with just the tips lit up, reminiscent of Galen Rowell’s work. He said that many people became photographers because of Sierra sunsets and sunrises. He also said that while they had been done before, many photographs of high mountain lakes with peaks reflected cause him to feel nostalgic about some of the best memories in his life of being in the high Sierra. How could I disagree either with the logic or with the argument put across with such a winning charm and kind voice? I couldn’t and I can’t because some of my best memories of my life are of mountain sunsets and sunrises when I think about it. So you keep on doing your mountain alpenglow. I no longer consider myself a detractor, especially since I see in much of your later imagery a solid attempt and success at capturing something a bit different and unique. Try to keep doing that too. Best wishes my friend.

Keep your ears tuned and eyes peeled for Greg Russell’s new blog posts. He will probably tell you more about why he called it Alpenglow Images himself. To get you started on Greg’s philosophy, read about his interesting process of how he re-designed his artists statement in his post, “(Re) Alignment,” or read his artists statement itself. For a more complete idea on his approach to photographing wilderness, see his blog post right here on Landscape Photography Blogger, “Moving Past The Repertoire.” Any of his material will drive you on in your own quest for affinity with nature and for the quintessential landscape photograph. Happy trails.



  1. pj says:

    I’ll just take a spare moment here to say that Greg is certainly a worthy subject for your Monday Blog Blog.

    I’ve developed a great respect for Greg, both for his fine photography and for the kind of human being he shows himself to be.

    Good post, and a well deserved one.

    Carry on Greg. You too David…

  2. Hi PJ, thank you for that character reference on Greg. I would have to second your opinion. Some aspects I noticed about Greg right away were his big heart, his openness, “big friendly” demeanor, and kindness. The kind of guy anyone would be fortunate to count a friend, which I do, even though our acquaintance developed all online, much like yours, PJ. I told Greg something along the lines that it seemed like any other developing friendship, even though we only just talked on the phone for the first time yesterday and have yet to meet in person.

  3. Thanks for sharing this info about Greg & his work.

  4. Hi Gary, thank you for being the admirable example representative of full-time photographers and alpenglow photography too. Your work, personality and leadership are an inspiration.

  5. The picture, Pines, Fog, Yosemite is gorgeous. I enjoyed the look at Greg’s work, David! What a talented person.


  6. Hi Sharon, between you and Greg and the others, there are some pretty talented, cool people that I have managed to attract to participate here with the obvious draw of Dad’s great adventures, teaching and photographs.

  7. Greg Russell says:

    Boy, David, reading this makes me sound like I’m pretty busy. I wouldn’t want people getting the wrong impression on the off Saturday I sit on the couch watching college basketball! 🙂

    All joking aside, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this write-up and the kind words. As I wrote you last night, I’m happy to be your friend as well as the opportunity to read about (and participate in) your father’s legacy.


  8. Hi Greg, it was great to find out more about who you are even beyond the photography, which of course is the main subject.

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