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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

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More than just deep exploration, though, Lanting’s photographs are the product of rigorous research, scouting and preparation. Even more vital, he says, was his personal approach, developed to organize the rich visual prospects in the region.

"How do you make sense of all this beauty and these extraordinary landscapes as a photographer?" Lanting asks. "To me photography is a process of saying no most of the time so that you can say yes with an exclamation mark a few times. The hardest thing in those places is to say no because everything is beautiful. I try to come up with a narrative for myself so that I can make sense of it.

"I tried to further refine my searching by thinking in very elementary terms" he continues. "The hardest thing for many photographers is always to come up with a point of view. If you explore those landscapes, at least my response was to begin to think in these elementary terms. I’m not the first one to conceptualize it that way, but it really began to shape how I looked for images within larger landscapes that could help visualize these themes. I was really looking for things that would resonate with one another."

Bryce Canyon
Sandstone pinnacles, Bryce Canyon National Park, Uta
Lanting’s guidelines included the essential elements of land, water, light, time and life. Time is both geologic and human; life includes that of plants and animals. And as he finally learned firsthand on this assignment, nothing is more unique in Canyonlands than light.

"The theme light was a real revelation to me" says Lanting. "There’s a unique quality to light in Canyonlands that people before me have probably coined in the same way, but I call it canyon light. It’s both because of the remarkable clarity of the atmosphere in those desert environments—it tends to burnish the reds and oranges—and you also have light that bounces off canyon walls and you get this otherworldly glow. As soon as you step into one of these deep canyons, it’s like walking into a cathedral.

"The light comes from above" he continues, "and then direct sunlight hits one of the canyon walls and then that light bounces back and forth until it reaches deeper and deeper into the canyon, and at the bottom you get an atmospheric affect that is very similar to this spiritual feeling that the builders of the great churches in Europe tried to evoke through very carefully placing windows and using stained glass, but this is all natural. The most extraordinary examples are found in some of the steeper slot canyons, like Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and a couple of others, which have become quite well known and sought out by photographers. To me this was something new. I had never seen and worked with that kind of light before, and now I know. This is something that’s truly unique to the American Southwest, to the Canyonlands region."

Lanting’s guidelines included the essential elements of land, water, light, time and life. Time is both geologic and human; life includes that of plants and animals. And as he finally learned firsthand on this assignment, nothing is more unique in Canyonlands than light.

Lanting found other surprising subjects during his journeys, such as elements of time manifested in the rock around him. More than the geologic time evident in every canyon wall, he found another powerful time stamp.

"Human time" Lanting explains. "There’s another dimension of geologic time that runs through these images; it’s naked geology. Having immersed myself in the "LIFE: A Journey Through Time" project, I’ve become keenly aware of the stratification of time as it becomes apparent in those landscapes. I decided to bring in some images of rock art left by previous human cultures that have all vanished that become another extension of human time in relationship to geologic time. By mixing the rock art with elements of rock or including some components of ecology, I tried to make it resonate a little bit more with the surrounding landscape. These images weren’t meant to make editorial points; they were meant to be reflections, meditations on these landscapes."

Eroding shale, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Eroding shale, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Beyond the broad landscapes, Lanting also found more intimate views. In his search to represent life in the seemingly barren landscape, he turned to more detailed views of his surroundings.

"Life itself has influenced the landscapes in the same way that water has" he says. "I deliberately wanted to stay away from things that were too scenic or too specific because it needed to have a similar feeling of these naked landscapes. So there are some images of lichens, which are very long-lived but are actually transforming whole landscapes. There are some images of vegetation from the air that look like Aboriginal dot paintings, and other really spare and stark plant forms that work together with the other landscapes."

For the dimensions of water and land, no approach presented Canyonlands more distinctively than Lanting’s aerials. This approach was to include all of the conceptual elements of his plan, but none more than the effects of water and time on the landscape. They form a large part of the finished body of work and add a distinct counterpoint to the views from terra firma. They also required an even more intense preparation.


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