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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Matter Of Perspective


Frans Lanting takes to the skies to give a different look to Canyonlands

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
First light, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Frans Lanting is best known for his work documenting the world’s environmental issues, but the photographer recognized for his wildlife photography showcases his skill with landscapes in two recent assignments photographing Canyonlands from the ground and from the air.

"It’s extraordinary," he says of the experience. "It’s like hearing Beethoven in your ears when you’re flying over those landscapes. The genesis of this body of work was two assignments I did for National Geographic. The first was to provide an aerial view of the Colorado Plateau as a whole, and I followed it up with the ground perspective that was published as a separate story. These two separate assignments take the opportunity to examine landscapes that are justly world famous and have been covered by many photographers over the years. It was a fantastic opportunity to see these amazing landscapes for myself."

Lanting experienced the landscapes for the first time as a photographer in 2003 when he commenced the aerial assignment. He spent months in the field over the course of three years, returning at least six times during different seasons. Most surprising is that the Dutch-born photographer had lived in the United States for decades without ever photographing Canyonlands.

Aspens in Dixie National Forest
Aspen trees, Dixie National Forest, Utah."I use the term Canyonlands," says Lanting,"not just to refer to the park, but to the whole region. If you want to draw a circle around it, the region goes by various names. Geologists call it the Colorado Plateau, and that's probably the best reference. But it's really a region that's made up of canyons and mesas and buttes and flatlands, etc. Parts of it are called the Four Corners."
"Even though I’ve lived in the U.S. for half of my life," Lanting says, "I had never focused seriously as a photographer on these landscapes. The last time I made pictures there was when I was traveling through the national parks of the American West when I was a student visiting from Holland. I knew these landscapes mostly from admiring the work of some of the great photographers; people like Jack Dykinga and David Muench, who I greatly admire, are some of the great landscape photographers of the American West. I had often looked at some of these images and said, 'My gosh, this quality of light isn’t something that I’ve ever experienced myself."

Though Canyonlands is a photographer’s dream, Lanting was in search of something more than pretty pictures. He didn't want only to remake great photos; his goal was to define the region in his own terms.

"It was quite a challenge," he says, "because it’s not like going to some remote part of the world that has never been documented before. To come up with a new perspective, it wasn’t easy to avoid the overlooks and the other vantage points and the great panoramas. Many of the classic images have been made from overlooks and parking lots in national parks. They’re grand scenes, but I wanted to get a little deeper into the landscape, and with the aerial views, I tried to come up with landscapes that were more like patterns than recognizable landscapes. On the ground, I tried to do that by looking for more intimate views than the overlooks or the so-called scenic views. That gave me a perspective that helped me to organize my own thinking and discard a lot of beautiful scenery because I was looking for something else."

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