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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Trek In The Wind River Range


David Muench returns to this special area and experiences it anew. The great landscape photographers constantly refresh their vision by exploring familiar places as if for the first time.

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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Deep Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming. Returning to the Wind River Range, David Muench explores the landscape as light transforms it from moment to moment. There's a great lesson to be learned looking at these photographs. The image above and the image below were taken from almost the same spot with similar perspective lenses, yet the photos couldn't be more different. When you pause and take time to watch a landscape change, you may find it yields an unlimited number of unique photos.

Leaning against a block of granite below our tent site at 10,200 feet in Wyoming's Wind River Range, we dawdled over coffee. Sunlight, descending the ridge behind us, moved across us, and down, onto the glaciated rock below. Nothing moved but the light. It was as if Time had stopped.

David was relaxed after an intense dawn photographic session, and he was more introspective than usual. After a long time, he said, "I've never really done this, never really just been in the backcountry. It has always been a question of getting in, getting the images and getting out. I've never just looked at it."

I have. It's what I do. A longtime backpacker and horsepacker who isn't a photographer, it's how I experience wild country. Before David and I got together, I looked at it, felt it, wrote about it. But traveling with David these past 11 years, I've become aware of the urgencies of photographers. Or, at least, this photographer. That moment of light, of clouds, of mood, of time that—for David—must not be missed, I used to notice as part of the whole experience, believing it couldn't be caught, couldn't be possessed. Now I understand a different truth.

What photography does is to capture a moment that will never exist again. The rock, the lake, the tree will look similar in the next moment, but it will never again be exactly the same. This is the magnificence of photography, this capture for all time of a single instant in time. It's also the lie of it. A photograph is less an image of a place than it is an instant of time in that place.

But what I heard in David's comment was a photographer awed by the idea of simply being present to the experience of wilderness, a photographer who, for the moment at least, had no need to capture what he saw. I asked what being in a place meant to him.

"It involves all my senses," he said, explaining that it's that total experience through all his senses that forms his composition. For him, then, the ultimate experience of being there requires a camera. Without a camera, he brings home a memory. With a camera, he brings home a memory to which he can return over and over, a recording of the memory, an image that can be shared, that will outlast him. "Being there," he says, "it happens and it's gone. When you die, the memory is gone.

The impression—the personal experience—becomes more complete through the photograph."

So, while I was watching sunlight move across rock, he was looking for the moment that represents a certain look of the place. Watching what the light is doing, he's thinking about how he'll make a photograph that expresses both how he feels and what he sees.

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