For those who have read (suffered through??) my review of Mountain Light are already well aware that I’m a massive fan of Galen Rowells’ writing. For the sake of brevity the gushing is going to be skipped.
This book was purchased shortly after I finished reading Mountain Light as it was recommended by Richard Bernabe. It is another seminal work by Galen Rowell and is a compilation of 66 articles he wrote for OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER between 1993 and 1999. He had previously compiled articles in a similar fashion for Galen Rowell’s Vision: The art of Adventure Photography. Which is another book that will soon be acquired and assuredly devoured.
This book, published in 2001, comes in at a significant 287 pages. The images are split into six sections with notes per article referencing back to the accompanying photographs. The shorter essays made this a perfect lunchtime reading book. Speaking from experience; a reader can pick this up, knock out a few essays, and will be left wondering where the lunchhour went.
He covers topics that are close to my heart: less gear is better, the message is more important than the medium, local places are filled with opportunities for those who look, one should actively pursuing images rather than simply finding them, etc. Future articles will certainly reference additional excerpts.
On a slight down note, I found this book is be less inspirational than Mountain Light. However, don’t let the “less inspirational” comment deter one from purchasing it. This impression was probably due to the short essay format and most articles not being directly built off the last. Don’t worry though, because what is missing in inspiration is more than made up with instruction. Galen discusses his search for understanding of color theory, the best battery types, how to pack your gear while traveling, the best two camera setup, and much more. Some technical knowledge is out-of-date, but the path to pursing knowledge is still valid.
Due to the essay format of the book the highlights might appear scattered. I’ve done a hard edit rather than force the highlights into a structured narrative.
Galen, in his own words:
- I’m actually amused to read about my own lesser, but instant ascension from the lowly doorway of a small automotive shop onto the cover of National Geographic. The process actually took at least seven years. … I’ve given my answer – that no such blueprint exists – so many times that I’ve begun to wonder if the very act of asking for one could have a higher correlation to not having what it takes than lack of photographic talent or knowledge.
- Most of my favorite photographs capture fleeting juxtapositions that will never exactly repeat themselves. Of course there are exceptions, and these “timeless landscapes” that stay static before the lens for relatively long periods tend to become the stylistic hallmarks of nature photographers who work slowly. Those who make a full-time living out of creating only static, evenly lit landscapes are as seldom seen as lone wolves or mountain lions.
- More than 99% of the world’s cameras are capable of taking publishable pictures, yet most of the world’s photographs aren’t of publishable quality. At least half of the problem is due to the basic human error, the kind of “little” mistakes that cause pilots to crash jumbo jets and photographers to shoot unrepeatable moments without film in their cameras.
- Being in the right place at the right time is not chance (as so many novice photographers and art critics assume), but rather the result of following intuitive clues. What critics call style reflects the individuality of each photographer’s search from the heart.
- Only after I came to know the limits of the possible as expressed by those other visual artists, and had tested them by my own experimentation, was I able to evoke the style of photography that had been inside me all along. I could see my way clear toward a career in which making money from commercial assignments was a less important goal than living a life in which the wholeness of knowing and communicating about the earth’s wild places reigned supreme. I judged that Ansel Adam’s emerging immortal greatness was at least as much due to his breadth as a human being – teacher, technician, innovator, environmentalist – as to his images themselves.
- Our best pictures show a less “busy” world than we experienced, a world that bears an uncanny resemblance to the sentimental one held in the mind’s eye that was first simplified through normal visual processing and further idealized through the golden sieve of memory.
- During that weekend, I saw the worst weather in ten years of Rocky Mountain workshops produce the best pictures ever. I know better than to try to pre dice such an event, even an hour beforehand. Because of what happened, I’ll probably be getting up before dawn on more stormy mornings than ever, usually driving or hiking into weather that never breaks. I almost never write about those times, but when they happen, and they will, I won’t consider them as failures. If I had to choose between actively pursuing light that never happens in a wild environment or waiting out the rain in a hotel room until the sky is clear, I’d choose the “bad” weather without hesitations. I’ve found over the years that the value of time spent in the wilds is cumulative, both with and without a camera.
- I broke away from these festivities to try to make interpretive landscape photos at the Pole. I am certain I would not have done this if I hadn’t visualized possible images in advance and written out a list of ideas well before we arrived.
- The batteries that keep my cameras working might as well die in the darkness of my camera bag if my personal batteries are not constantly recharged by the direct encounters with the natural world that first give me the burning desire to interpret that experience in photographs.
- It’s simply that my vision of paradise clashes with forced inactivity. Slowly roasting at the beach more closely matches my mental image of the opposite eternal realm.
- Instead, the experience emphasizes once again that the wildness I seek to represent in photographs and hold in heartfelt memories is less a place than a state of mind.
- I decided to become a full-time photographer and writer.
- This never concerned me much until recently. Photographers are as drawn to previously used terrain as a dog about to lift its leg. Originality is the exception; imitation is the norm. I’ve always thought I knew the difference – and, more important, practiced that difference. Many top pros directly communicate their style and favorite locations in workshops. It’s satisfying when students “get it,” and up to a point, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If things go too far, however, photographers need to know when to blow the whistle.
- While there have always been a few abuses, just as there are always a few counterfeit $100 bills around, our basic trust about what an image printed on paper represents is now open to question as never before. It is up to us photographers to police ourselves and make sure that our work is created and published with moral integrity before others step in an do it for us.
- My pursuit of photography hadn’t failed me after all. I never would have witnessed such an event without my passion to make photographs. And in a larger sense, I remain beholden to outdoor photography for leading me to most of the great visual events of my life.
- Nature photography, among other things, validates that all-important personal experience. To see a nature photograph after the fact is to simultaneously become cognizant of its subject matter and the experience of another human being witnessing a natural event. To succeed, every photograph must tell a story that we accept in the long tradition of the tales our ancestors told around campfires. We only believe a story if we believe in the human being telling it. This is why I feel so deceived if I later learn that a nature image I’ve contemplated with awe doesn’t reflect what the photographer actually saw.
- Each photographer needs to make a personal choice that he or she feels comfortable with. In the end, the future power of photography rests upon the execution of two separate moral interpretations. Photographers should only alter photographs for editorial use to the extent that they would feel comfortable fully revealing in a caption that described exactly how the image was made. Publishers should only print altered photographs or alter them themselves to the extent that their readers would not feel deceived if full disclosure of their method was revealed. Since the power of editorial nature photography is so dependent upon the viewer’s belief that it directly represents something actually seen, alterations need to be kept well below the threshold of controversy where they are not disclosed. Beyond a not-so-certain point, altered photographs need to be described as digital illustrations.
- Photography is not art until it goes beyond mere representation to communicate emotionally and spiritually.
- In its highest form, nature photography as art uses imagery to directly communicate emotional response from one mind to another far more quickly, more powerfully, and more completely than the written word. The images become something more than they appear to depict, rather than being inferior copies of nature.