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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion: Jan. 2018 - Galen Rowell's Split Rock and Cloud

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Monthly Masters' Discussion: Jan. 2018 - Galen Rowell's Split Rock and Cloud

Post by minniev » Mon Jan 01, 2018 4:45 am

Introduction

This month we will critique one of Galen Rowell’s most famous images, “Split Rock and Cloud, Eastern Sierras, California”. Rowell was one of the modern masters of landscape photography. The long list of his awards can be found with his biography in the link to his Mountain Light gallery, below.

Galen Rowell was one of those photographers who immersed himself in the environments he photographed, whether they were near his home or in the distant places he visited to photograph. A well-rounded photojournalist with a special ability to connect with a vast audience through his writings, Rowell influenced countless photographers in multiple genres beginning with rock climbing, wilderness adventure and then eventually landscape photography. The list of current working photographers that have followed in his footsteps reads like a who’s who in outdoor adventure and landscape photography and number too many to list. He was one of the first to utilize 35mm cameras exclusively in outdoor photography and popularized the use of graduated neutral-density filters. His untimely death in a plane crash left us to wonder what else he might have accomplished, and how he might have transitioned into the digital era.

In the foreword of his book Galen Rowell: A Retrospective, Tom Brokow wrote “Galen Rowell was a man who went into the mountains, into the desert, to the edge of the sea, to the last great wild places in the world to be absorbed by their grace and grandeur. That is what he did for himself. For the rest of us, he shared his vision with—click—the release of a shutter, creating photographs as timeless, as stunning, and as powerful as nature itself.”

As you evaluate your response to this image consider the following:

1. (Deep Dive) How much does our affinity for and immersion in our subject matter contribute to our work? Can a drive-by shot of Grand Teton taken by someone who is simply passing through be as impactful as one taken by a photographer who lives in its shadow and knows it intimately? How much intimacy is required? Can one gain this kind of place-awareness while vacationing or is it the sole province of those who delve more deeply or over a longer period of time? How important is the concept of “wildness” in landscape photography?
2. What do you make of the composition? The framing? The colors? Do you like the image? Would you want it on your wall? Why or why not?
3. What do you think about the large percentage of dark-space without detail? Does it detract or enhance the impact of the image? Why or why not?
4. The composition is rather simplistic when compared to many landscape images we see today, and even compared to other of Rowell’s images. Does this simplicity appeal to you? Why or why not?
5. Do you see influences from this type of work in your own photography? If you’d like, share a landscape photo of your own that you feel was made in a similar vein.

Resources for Further Study

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galen_Rowell
http://www.mountainlight.com/news.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/e ... ml?image=5
https://www.naturescapes.net/articles/o ... en-rowell/
http://articles.latimes.com/2002/aug/15 ... v-rowell15
https://photographyconcentrate.com/7-th ... otography/
https://www.outdoorphotographer.com/on- ... en-rowell/
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Split-rock-and-cloud-Eastern-Sierra-California.jpg
fair use: https://www.popphoto.com/sites/popphoto.com/files/styles/1000_1x_/public/import/2008/files/_images/Split-rock-and-cloud-Eastern-Sierra-California.jpg?itok=dmtPztGt

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Post by LindaShorey » Mon Jan 01, 2018 8:33 pm

I don't like the posted image enough to put it on my wall, though I would definitely stop to examine it in a gallery. Why I wouldn't want it has to do, I think, with its nearly abstract feel - but it's not. And it's nearly simplistic, but not.

So on viewing I would stop because of the color contrast and more so for the contrast in soft fluffy above strong solid forms. But in the end I think I might grow tired of it; once past the initial strong notice of light and form, I don't feel much.

I do like simplicity (maybe more in b&w, where shapes and shadows may be the primary story). It has been pointed out elsewhere that minimalism encourages the viewer to find their own special connection to the scene.

The biggest influence of Galen Rowell on me (I owned his "Mountain Light" book and attended a lecture of his at the Smithsonian Institution somewhere around 1987) is the use of light. Golden hour, backlighting, silhouettes, shooting into the sun...I love it all.

(Deep Dive)
I'll get the last question out of the way first. How important is the concept of “wildness” in landscape photography? Of zero importance in my opinion because I have seen (and attempted to capture) so much that is unique and beautiful right from the warmth and safety of my vehicle :)

I think intimacy is necessary for images that attempt to go beyond a postcard shot because of all the nuances and flavors that build with each season, time of day and so forth.

But this may vary with the skill and experience of photographers. I am positive, Minnie, that if you and I were to travel to somewhere totally unfamiliar to either of us, your photos would have more impact because you've trained yourself - through your worldwide travels - to really see. Having said that, I'd be interested to know if you feel your repeated visits to places such as Monhegan Island in Maine have resulted in more complex and emotionally satisfying photos with each new experience there?

Pic - early days with a dslr, always all about the light.
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Post by minniev » Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:57 am

LindaShorey wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 8:33 pm
I don't like the posted image enough to put it on my wall, though I would definitely stop to examine it in a gallery. Why I wouldn't want it has to do, I think, with its nearly abstract feel - but it's not. And it's nearly simplistic, but not.

So on viewing I would stop because of the color contrast and more so for the contrast in soft fluffy above strong solid forms. But in the end I think I might grow tired of it; once past the initial strong notice of light and form, I don't feel much.

I do like simplicity (maybe more in b&w, where shapes and shadows may be the primary story). It has been pointed out elsewhere that minimalism encourages the viewer to find their own special connection to the scene.

The biggest influence of Galen Rowell on me (I owned his "Mountain Light" book and attended a lecture of his at the Smithsonian Institution somewhere around 1987) is the use of light. Golden hour, backlighting, silhouettes, shooting into the sun...I love it all.

(Deep Dive)
I'll get the last question out of the way first. How important is the concept of “wildness” in landscape photography? Of zero importance in my opinion because I have seen (and attempted to capture) so much that is unique and beautiful right from the warmth and safety of my vehicle :)

I think intimacy is necessary for images that attempt to go beyond a postcard shot because of all the nuances and flavors that build with each season, time of day and so forth.

But this may vary with the skill and experience of photographers. I am positive, Minnie, that if you and I were to travel to somewhere totally unfamiliar to either of us, your photos would have more impact because you've trained yourself - through your worldwide travels - to really see. Having said that, I'd be interested to know if you feel your repeated visits to places such as Monhegan Island in Maine have resulted in more complex and emotionally satisfying photos with each new experience there?

Pic - early days with a dslr, always all about the light.
Thank you for this thoughtful reply. I do feel that the concept of intimacy is important, but maybe it is not impossible to catch the spirit of a place quickly if you connect with it. I've visited a lot of beautiful places, but sometimes I feel an enormous connection with a place almost immediately. I feel that in those special connected moments I come away with images that have more meaning than when I'm just taken with the prettiness of a place. Some of those places I find a way to return to, as I did to Monhegan, to develop that connection further.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Charles Haacker » Tue Jan 02, 2018 4:55 pm

I think Linda nailed it: Rowell's astonishing picture looks abstract but it's not. It looks simplistic but it's so not. I on the other hand would would have it on my wall and look at it often. I genuinely love the picture, the more so because of its backstory. When first scrolling down into it I thought I was seeing a closeup of a comet. WHAT a cloud! (Serendipity plays a role as well.)

But we can analyze the straight-up leading line in the rock all day, the depth of the colors (Kodachrome, the god of reversal films), the negative space (I don't think there really is any), and of course THE LIGHT! ...but what I really want to talk about is the very first question:
Can a drive-by shot of [for example] Grand Teton taken by someone who is simply passing through be as impactful as one taken by a photographer who lives in its shadow and knows it intimately? How much intimacy is required? Can one gain this kind of place-awareness while vacationing or is it the sole province of those who delve more deeply or over a longer period of time? How important is the concept of “wildness” in landscape photography?
I think absolutely one can drive by and be immersed, intimate, gobsmacked, place aware. I think it is essential:
DSCN5829.EMlr.jpg
"Rain Shadow," Les Tétons Bleu, August, 2010, Idaho State 33, 20 miles from the "back side" of the range
DSCN5855.1.EMlr.jpg
"Bucolic," Les Tétons Grandes, August, 2010, Idaho State 33, 20 miles from the "back side" of the range
These two pictures are not the usual touristy view of Les Tétons Grandes (I have them too). These were shot in 2010 a day apart from the Idaho or "back" side at pretty long range. They have (sadly) artifacts owing to being made with a tiny P&S Nikon P5000 that didn't even offer raw output, but they remain among my favorite pictures. They were each made in 2 minutes or less from the shoulder of the road. I didn't stay in the car but I suppose I could have. Understand that I am not trying to compare these P&S pictures with a Galen Rowell or any other master landscapist. I am saying that when I tour I am immersed. I am sensitive not only to the surroundings but the weather and the light. I am looking for the shot. So can I drive by and find it? I think so. Do I need to live in its shadow? I do not think so. In fact, how often do we note that we drive hundreds of miles to see someone else's spectacular views, hardly noticing that folks from "there" are driving "here" to see ours? :D

I've joked forever that "ya takes yer pitcher wiv the light (or whatever) ya gots." The Great Weegee (Arthur Fellig) said "f/8 and be there." Galen Rowell was THERE, scrambling over boulders searching breathlessly for that foreground. He saw the cloud (that nearly unbelievable cloud) scudding along on the wind and knew he had very little time to find the right foreground. He's at what? 8,000 feet, the light is waning (part of what makes the shot), but he's also 35, prime of life, fit, able to git'r'done. When I made those Teton pictures I was 68, Daphne was 71, neither of us could get far off trail any longer, so we immersed ourselves as best we could. I'm not suggesting my shots are exceptional, but I've always thought they were pretty good, taking maximum advantage of the light and cloud and foreground. Was it the wrong time of day? Wrong light (they are backlit but not really dramatically)? Wrong camera? Wrong focal length? I dud-oh, but I know that I shot what I SAW, when I saw it, because it was there and beautiful. I did my very best with the scene and tools at hand. The two of us were not just looking at a pretty scene; we were seeing it, place aware, and recording it with what we had.

I think immersion is a mindset. Intimacy is a mindset. I think it gets back to the discussion we often have about seeing as opposed to looking. Linda finds, sees, and makes a lovely picture with crepuscular rays literally mirror-imaging the ridge lines below, and includes a light standard for a frame-stop.
Linda wrote:I think intimacy is necessary for images that attempt to go beyond a postcard shot because of all the nuances and flavors that build with each season, time of day and so forth.

But this may vary with the skill and experience of photographers. I am positive, Minnie, that if you and I were to travel to somewhere totally unfamiliar to either of us, your photos would have more impact because you've trained yourself - through your worldwide travels - to really see. Having said that, I'd be interested to know if you feel your repeated visits to places such as Monhegan Island in Maine have resulted in more complex and emotionally satisfying photos with each new experience there?
I'd be interested as well. Linda, did'ja get out of the car? It doesn't matter. I tend to assume you weren't scrambling over boulders trying to get to that exact spot, but so what? You espied something you thought was beautiful and determined to stop and make a record of it. I submit you were engaged, immersed, intimate with the scene. It was a mindset. I think it's a photographer's mindset; an artist's mindset.

We could go off on a tangent wondering about Timmy Tourist and what his mindset is when he raises his selfie stick and makes pretty much the same picture only with him grinning in the foreground (apologies to ya Timmy but I seen ya do it!). I think Timmy's mindset is pretty much Kilroy wuz here. He can Snapchat or Instagram the thing to announce I'm Here And You're Not (neenerneener). Timmy may not even especially care where he is or how breathtaking the scenery because his mindset is on Timmy, not on the scene. The photographer cares about what s/he is seeing, beyond looking at but see-ing. If the photographer is disappointed in the resulting photograph s/he takes the next step to understand why the picture was disappointing, what would make it better, so on.

Don't imagine for a minute that I am in any way denigrating the masters such as Galen Rowell scrambling over rocks to get to the Right Place, but sometimes the Right Place can be on the shoulder of the road shooting out the window before the light changes. It involves a lot of things, but it starts with WOW THAT'S AWESOME I GOTTA GET THAT! :)
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Post by LindaShorey » Tue Jan 02, 2018 8:36 pm

Chuck, the composition of your second one is so different from any of the "usual" views that I've seen time and again. What depth and use of layers of landscape!

As for my posted image, you aren't going to believe this one: I shot it from the parking lot of a restaurant where I'd had dinner and a glass of wine :)

I don't remember why the camera was in the car, maybe I was carrying it more often back then or had been out shooting earlier or was planning to go shooting after the meal. I also remember I was so engrossed in composing that I wasn't aware I was blocking the lane so my friend, in a separate car, had to wait for me to finish (most definitely preferable to running me down!).
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Post by minniev » Tue Jan 02, 2018 9:38 pm

Here is a shot that was taken in response to Galen Rowell though not the Split Rock image, but instead it was taken on Buttermilk Rd near Bishop CA, a location near his home where he took several of his best known images. I had seen his photos from Buttermilk road at his Mountain Light gallery the day before.

I was oddly unsettled by the images in the gallery, with the exception of a few. But the reason had nothing to do with his captures, and everything to do with the "modern" reprocessing of his images which made them into more of an HDR effect. I was in the company of two professional photographers, Jack Graham and Guy Tal, at the gallery, and was relieved to find that both of them were disconcerted by the modern revision of the images, too.
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Post by minniev » Tue Jan 02, 2018 9:43 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 4:55 pm
I think Linda nailed it: Rowell's astonishing picture looks abstract but it's not. It looks simplistic but it's so not. I on the other hand would would have it on my wall and look at it often. I genuinely love the picture, the more so because of its backstory. When first scrolling down into it I thought I was seeing a closeup of a comet. WHAT a cloud! (Serendipity plays a role as well.)

But we can analyze the straight-up leading line in the rock all day, the depth of the colors (Kodachrome, the god of reversal films), the negative space (I don't think there really is any), and of course THE LIGHT! ...but what I really want to talk about is the very first question:
Can a drive-by shot of [for example] Grand Teton taken by someone who is simply passing through be as impactful as one taken by a photographer who lives in its shadow and knows it intimately? How much intimacy is required? Can one gain this kind of place-awareness while vacationing or is it the sole province of those who delve more deeply or over a longer period of time? How important is the concept of “wildness” in landscape photography?
I think absolutely one can drive by and be immersed, intimate, gobsmacked, place aware. I think it is essential: DSCN5829.EMlr.jpg
DSCN5855.1.EMlr.jpg
These two pictures are not the usual touristy view of Les Tétons Grandes (I have them too). These were shot in 2010 a day apart from the Idaho or "back" side at pretty long range. They have (sadly) artifacts owing to being made with a tiny P&S Nikon P5000 that didn't even offer raw output, but they remain among my favorite pictures. They were each made in 2 minutes or less from the shoulder of the road. I didn't stay in the car but I suppose I could have. Understand that I am not trying to compare these P&S pictures with a Galen Rowell or any other master landscapist. I am saying that when I tour I am immersed. I am sensitive not only to the surroundings but the weather and the light. I am looking for the shot. So can I drive by and find it? I think so. Do I need to live in its shadow? I do not think so. In fact, how often do we note that we drive hundreds of miles to see someone else's spectacular views, hardly noticing that folks from "there" are driving "here" to see ours? :D

I've joked forever that "ya takes yer pitcher wiv the light (or whatever) ya gots." The Great Weegee (Arthur Fellig) said "f/8 and be there." Galen Rowell was THERE, scrambling over boulders searching breathlessly for that foreground. He saw the cloud (that nearly unbelievable cloud) scudding along on the wind and knew he had very little time to find the right foreground. He's at what? 8,000 feet, the light is waning (part of what makes the shot), but he's also 35, prime of life, fit, able to git'r'done. When I made those Teton pictures I was 68, Daphne was 71, neither of us could get far off trail any longer, so we immersed ourselves as best we could. I'm not suggesting my shots are exceptional, but I've always thought they were pretty good, taking maximum advantage of the light and cloud and foreground. Was it the wrong time of day? Wrong light (they are backlit but not really dramatically)? Wrong camera? Wrong focal length? I dud-oh, but I know that I shot what I SAW, when I saw it, because it was there and beautiful. I did my very best with the scene and tools at hand. The two of us were not just looking at a pretty scene; we were seeing it, place aware, and recording it with what we had.

I think immersion is a mindset. Intimacy is a mindset. I think it gets back to the discussion we often have about seeing as opposed to looking. Linda finds, sees, and makes a lovely picture with crepuscular rays literally mirror-imaging the ridge lines below, and includes a light standard for a frame-stop.
Linda wrote:I think intimacy is necessary for images that attempt to go beyond a postcard shot because of all the nuances and flavors that build with each season, time of day and so forth.

But this may vary with the skill and experience of photographers. I am positive, Minnie, that if you and I were to travel to somewhere totally unfamiliar to either of us, your photos would have more impact because you've trained yourself - through your worldwide travels - to really see. Having said that, I'd be interested to know if you feel your repeated visits to places such as Monhegan Island in Maine have resulted in more complex and emotionally satisfying photos with each new experience there?
I'd be interested as well. Linda, did'ja get out of the car? It doesn't matter. I tend to assume you weren't scrambling over boulders trying to get to that exact spot, but so what? You espied something you thought was beautiful and determined to stop and make a record of it. I submit you were engaged, immersed, intimate with the scene. It was a mindset. I think it's a photographer's mindset; an artist's mindset.

We could go off on a tangent wondering about Timmy Tourist and what his mindset is when he raises his selfie stick and makes pretty much the same picture only with him grinning in the foreground (apologies to ya Timmy but I seen ya do it!). I think Timmy's mindset is pretty much Kilroy wuz here. He can Snapchat or Instagram the thing to announce I'm Here And You're Not (neenerneener). Timmy may not even especially care where he is or how breathtaking the scenery because his mindset is on Timmy, not on the scene. The photographer cares about what s/he is seeing, beyond looking at but see-ing. If the photographer is disappointed in the resulting photograph s/he takes the next step to understand why the picture was disappointing, what would make it better, so on.

Don't imagine for a minute that I am in any way denigrating the masters such as Galen Rowell scrambling over rocks to get to the Right Place, but sometimes the Right Place can be on the shoulder of the road shooting out the window before the light changes. It involves a lot of things, but it starts with WOW THAT'S AWESOME I GOTTA GET THAT! :)
Thank you for a thorough exploration and sharing, Chuck. I like the "backside" of Teton as well, and have some favored images of it that way, and some other favorites of it with the lake completely dry. The iconic views are so often presented that it takes some exploration, whether for an hour or a lifetime, to find the keys that unlock the magic of a place.

The right place can be anywhere, I agree. The right mindset for acquiring intimate understanding of a place is requisite, in my view.
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Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Jan 03, 2018 1:43 am

LindaShorey wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 8:36 pm
Chuck, the composition of your second one is so different from any of the "usual" views that I've seen time and again. What depth and use of layers of landscape!

As for my posted image, you aren't going to believe this one: I shot it from the parking lot of a restaurant where I'd had dinner and a glass of wine :)

I don't remember why the camera was in the car, maybe I was carrying it more often back then or had been out shooting earlier or was planning to go shooting after the meal. I also remember I was so engrossed in composing that I wasn't aware I was blocking the lane so my friend, in a separate car, had to wait for me to finish (most definitely preferable to running me down!).
Thank you, Linda! But again, the scene was there. I love those rolling waves of landscape, and I am so glad they were there and the light was what it was and yada yada, but I would have shot it regardless. I guess my photographic philosophy is shoot first... That's it. Shoot first.

I am glad you were carrying your camera because it is a lovely picture, well composed (it shows). Maybe we should have a series of parking lot pictures because I bet other folks have them (I do). The scene is there, the light will change, you need to grab it now or lose it forever... what's to lose? Even if you are shooting film, what's to lose? The worst that can happen is it's terrible and you hide it forever. The lesson is, carry a camera everywhere. Almost everyone has a phone camera now. Maybe a big heavy camera is a nuisance but a wise feller once said, ya can't take no pitchers wifout one.
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Post by LindaShorey » Wed Jan 03, 2018 1:48 am

minniev wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 9:38 pm
...were disconcerted by the modern revision of the images, too.
Gorgeous golden light and composition Minnie! So, the prints you saw were not Rowell's own vision of the final look?
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Post by minniev » Wed Jan 03, 2018 1:50 am

LindaShorey wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 1:48 am
minniev wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 9:38 pm
...were disconcerted by the modern revision of the images, too.
Gorgeous golden light and composition Minnie! So, the prints you saw were not Rowell's own vision of the final look?
I heard that they were revisited after his death.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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