What is your name?
When did you begin listening to The Candid Frame?
Looking back through your archives, it must have been right around episode 100. I remember the Jay Dickman interview which was #102, so right about then.
How long have you been shooting and what inspired your interest in photography?
I was a graphic design major and 2D art minor in college, so I took all of the photography classes. My instructor was Jerry Dell, and I didn’t realize at the time that 15 years later I’d have his voice in my head telling me to capture “black blacks, white whites, and a lively range of grays,” but I do. I didn’t do much with it for a while after graduation, but on a 2002 trip to Arches National Park I fell in love with the Parks and photographing them.
Do you have a preferred genre or specialty of photography? Why?
My specially is photographing the National Parks. I was using phrases similar to “America’s Best Idea” before Ken Burns named his documentary that, and he was right to do so. First off, these are our sacred places. The idea to set them aside for all of us equally, and to preserve them for future generations is extraordinarily appealing to me. Beyond that, they comprise a pretty unflinching look at America, from the best and grandest to places like the Manzanar WWII Japanese internment camp where we can learn lessons from our mistakes. Finally, there’s a long tradition of artists using their skills to promote the Parks, which I’d like to think I’m following in a small way, and I enjoy the challenge for showing the Parks though my own vision.
What subject matter, themes, ideas do you like to explore or inspire your photography? Why?
I think my best work is the simplest, not necessarily to make, but in cutting through the clutter to showcase the core of what makes a scene special. Hopefully there’s also some context too, but I’m really trying to sort of beat the viewer over the head with the heart of the matter. Take the photo I’ve submitted of the Tree on Inferno Cone at Craters of the Moon National Monument. The whole scene was appealing, but the one thing that struck me most was the exposed roots clinging to the cinders as the tree leaned with the wind. So I tried a lot of things, but ended up diving in as close as I could to really make the roots the story. Someone who spends any time with that photo is going to see the background for some clues what the broader landscape looks like, but surely they’ll see the roots and the leaning first.
What creative or professional goals do you have for your photography?
I have a full-time job doing graphic design with some photography and videography, so finding the best place for my National Parks photography is and ongoing process. I’m happy to do more and more of it, but I never want that to be at the expense of my enjoyment of what I’m doing. If I turn the thing that I love into a chore, what will have been the point of that?
To that end I’m just finishing up year two of doing some of the local and regional art fairs. I figured I’ve spent all of this time making these photos, and my goal is always the print rather than the screen version of an image, so I needed a venue to show my work. It’s been a very interesting process, and even on a modest scale it brings in a whole business side of things, which is pretty interesting and I’m learning a ton. There’s been some cost, but at the same time it hasn’t been outrageous, especially when you consider the cost of photo gear. My plan is that by the end of three years, I need to know how the shows are going to be financially self-sustaining, and then I’ll re-evaluate where to go from there. I have one more year left of that three years.
Do you have an interesting story or anecdote for one of the images you have submitted in your portfolio?
I have stories for all of the photos, and my number one business goal for the next year is to do a better job of articulating those stories. I’ll use the example of the photo of Orion over Delicate Arch:
Broadly speaking, I love how photography gets me to places I wouldn’t otherwise go, or gets me there at times when I otherwise wouldn’t be there. Using light painting techniques of Delicate Arch isn’t a new idea, but I was compelled to give it a try, and it would get me up to there at night, which was very cool. It was an idea that sat in my head for years, and realizing it started with practicing at home how shooting at night and light painting worked.
On the day I took that photo, I left alone to hike up to the Arch. I had been up there five or six time previously, so I knew the route, but on a previous visit someone was saying something about a mountain lion being in the area. I think the guy was a nut, but here I was now, alone, in the dark, and flinching at every rustling leaf thinking that it must have been a mountain lion stalking me.
Up at the arch I set about working, and it was the most fun to have that space all to myself to play in. It probably took ten exposures to get the camera settings right and the way I needed to use spotlight down. The lucky part was seeing Orion near the horizon. They say luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and because I had spent so much time at the arch, thinking about the arch, and learning how to take the kind of photos I wanted, I was able to take advantage of this opportunity.
I set up the camera in the right spot, kept the lighting of the arch pretty simple, and got a better photo than I had pre-visualized. Better yet, I got back to the car without being eaten!
Do you have any personal projects that you have or are working on that we would find of interest?
I have many more photos I need to add to my website this winter, but in general terms this entire enterprise is a personal project.
What is your favorite piece of equipment, software or accessory that makes a difference in your photography? Why?
I love gear. I love researching it and trying new things. The tech-head aspect of things is something that really appeals to me. At the same time, I’m very much a gear agnostic. All the major manufacturers are making great cameras. I’ve done some teaching and one of my first points is always that a $100 point-and-shoot is a fantastic camera these days.
That said, I sort of feel like I’m in a camera-tech transition now. My first love is my Minolta X-700 and the old Minolta Rokkor manual-focus lenses. I don’t shoot film that much these days, but I inherited that X-700 from my grandpa, learned on it, and I think using the older gear is such a great way to learn and to make yourself think about photography. Those old prime lenses are just works of art. Looking ahead, I think the mirrorless cameras are a revolution, and just recently the tools are emerging where I’ll be able to take a modern body with a modern sensor, adapt the Minolta MD lenses to them, and use them in a way that surpasses what they were created for.
As for now, I’m happily shooting away with a Sony a77 and some excellent lenses, particularly a Sigma 8-16mm ultra-wide that I don’t use all that often, but that I love because it opens up so many new possibilities.
What tip or suggestion has best helped your development as a photographer? Why?
Shoot “black blacks, white whites, and a lively range of grays.” Even if I’m shooting color, and even if the scene doesn’t lend itself to the full tonal range, that’s always in my head. It gets me to think about light, how the light available might lead to a final print, and forms a foundation from which I can make creative decisions.
Which episode of The Candid Frame photography podcast would you recommend to others? Why?
I think the episode that affected me the most was #111 with Aaron Huey. I’ve been through many of the reservation lands in the west, and it always impacts me, but I’m always heading through them on the way somewhere else. The way he approached his work on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and of course the work he produced, has changed me. I don’t know that it changed my point of view on the issues facing the First Nations as much as it brought a depth to that issue that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.