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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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"Aerial photography is a specialty in its own right" Lanting explains. "There are a couple of layers of challenges to delve into. You’ve got to find the right pilot with the right plane, and that’s not as easy as it may seem. You have to find a plane that’s slow enough, that has a high wing configuration, and there’s actually just a handful of airports or airfields from which you can operate. I really needed a pilot who knew the landscapes, who could get me to certain places, and who would be able to work with me closely. But I found a couple of good pilots, and then it was a matter of hitting the right times."

The right times varied depending on the location Lanting planned to photograph. No season, though, seemed to deliver the beautifully unique visual effects that he found in the coldest months.

"Wintertime is a great time to be out in Canyonlands" he says. "The light is so much purer, the sun is lower on the horizon. Right after a snowfall, you get these amazing contrasts between cool blues and warm reds. It just structures the landscapes in a way that’s really unique. It’s another aspect of Canyonlands that I’d say you don’t find anything like in any other desert region.

Sandstone and snow, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Sandstone and snow, Canyonlands National Park,
"One thing that helped me interpret the landscapes from the air was knowing more about the geology" Lanting continues. "By reading a fair amount about the different eras and processes that have acted on those landscapes, I was able to look at them more knowingly and recognize different kinds of patterns. And those geologic processes could become the basis of certain images. The more I know about my subject, the more cohesive, the more unified my photography becomes because I have a better sense of what I’m looking for and I know what to keep out and what to capitalize on."

Lanting capitalized on the assignments as his chance to stretch his creative muscle and explore a landscape that he had always wanted to.

"What I do gives me an alibi to go out and explore and to discover for myself" he says. "The camera is a way to express some of those discoveries. I’m certainly not the first photographer to photograph those landscapes from the air, but it was a process of personal discovery and an attempt to make the landscapes look a little bit different."

"I didn’t have a good opportunity to sink into those landscapes until this project came along" he continues. "Sometimes magazines are interested in doing stories that intrigue me, and I ask if I can shoot them. Other times they come to me. Of course, certain photographers are tapped for their expertise, but other times they try to do things in a way that’s maybe a bit more novel and assign a piece like Canyonlands to me when the predictable solution would be to ask somebody who has been doing grand landscapes there for 20 or 30 years."

Wintertime is a great time to be out in Canyonlands" he says. "The light is so much purer, the sun is lower on the horizon. Right after a snowfall, you get these amazing contrasts between cool blues and warm reds. It just structures the landscapes in a way that's really unique.

The project was certainly a success for Lanting, both photographically speaking and personally. As much as anything, it was a creative triumph for a photographer working outside of his typical comfort zone.

"To visit the places myself" he says of his success, "and to come up with my own renderings of them and to try and make sense of them in a way that was a bit more conceptual. It was gratifying to me to see that, yes, after a while, I could create images that would have a certain cohesion to them and that it was possible to still make personal statements in a place like that."

Adds Lanting, "One of the things that I learned from this whole experience is just how blessed people in this country are to have this whole region as a place that anyone can visit, and that previous generations have had the foresight to carve out parks and reserves of all kinds. It’s truly part of a global heritage. When I’d visit some of these national parks, a third to half of all the visitors turned out to be from other countries who come on their global pilgrimage. I guess we take this for granted as we always do when we're too familiar with a place. Now I know they’re there and I will be going back many times."

To see more of Frans Lanting's photography, visit www.lanting.com.

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