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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ancient Connections

Three Rivers Petroglyph: When we ride in search of the unique, magic rides shotgun

So it was that I recently found myself at Three Rivers in the predawn hours, lugging my 4x5 view camera around fences, searching by flashlight for that same image on a round volcanic boulder I remembered from a decade earlier. With the sky just coming to life behind the Sierra Blanca Mountains to the east, I found it! The light was changing fast. I exposed for the brighter sky area above the mountains, underexposed overall by about a stop, then experimented by playing the beam of a penlight over the face to bring it up to the same level as the ambient exposure of the dawn sky behind the Sierra Blanca.

I underexposed the overall exposure by about a stop, which would make shadows blend into the night, and varied the percentage of time for playing the penlight over the face. The camera was four feet above the ground and three feet from the rock image. I used a wide-angle lens equivalent to about 20mm in 35mm terms. I wanted to achieve a visual sense of dawning—of placing that Kachina-like face in the context of a new day, a new era, emerging from the blackness of deep time. This image echoes the mystery I felt. It also gave me opportunities to discover new, stronger, different ways of making photographs.

When we work from a place of imagining what we want to say visually, we raise our potential to the highest level and let the power of the landscape move through us and into our photography. It’s another way to approach nature photography, to think about why you’re in a location beyond just making a pretty-light, bright-color image. Of course, I don’t think so much about these things when I’m out there shooting. Then it’s all unconscious response with my camera to the awe and mystery I feel within. When I’m playing with new visual language, I revel in the maybes and possibilities. I’m reaching for something indefinable, in my subject, within myself. That’s key.

The reward for such quests is inestimable. Maybe that’s why this photograph remains one of my favorites, and is in my personal collection of 200 images at The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.

Over the course of some five decades, David Muench’s work has been celebrated in more than 50 exhibit-format books such as Plateau Light and Eternal Desert, as well as innumerable exhibits and permanent installations. See more of his images at www.muenchphotography.com. Muench will present a workshop called The Desert Light at the 2011 Palm Springs Photo Festival in March 2011. Go to www.palmspringsphotofestival.com for more information.


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