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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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Why go through the work to get miles away from roads? Does something else happen to and for the photographer when he or she leaves the roads? Why do some photographers spend days in remote wild country to capture what often amounts to a single moment? Is it a need to connect with the landscape itself that impels a photographer to negotiate miles on foot or horseback, often through inhospitable terrain and weather? Does dealing with whatever the elements may send make for a better image beyond just having a dramatic sky? Does knowing you've traveled miles with a heavy backpack or a loaded mule, then camping through however many sunrises and sunsets, get you a better shot? The energy to get to these places is a big part of the experience. When you feel in your feet and legs and heart every step you take, you understand the land differently than you do from the road. Does the photograph have more meaning for all that? Does it become more precious when there's a price in energy and commitment for that image?

Does putting effort into getting into the wild landscape allow for an understanding of how the land itself offers the shot? Is the photographer who makes this kind of effort more apt to be supportive of protections for wildland than the photographer who never leaves the road? Are there ethical considerations for the photographer of wilderness, the photographer in wilderness, that are different from those getting a shot from the road? Perhaps the Leave No Trace motto, "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs," was written by a photographer.

Because I write about wild country, I'm often concerned my writing can bring more traffic into little used areas. I try writing about places without giving them away, especially remote places where few people visit. Do photographers feel the same obligation? I'm pleased every time I see a photograph that doesn't name the place (no matter how much I want to go there!). Yet, how often I see endless photographs of one place by multiple photographers. Is the oft-photographed place sought after simply because it's oft-photographed? Is the place everybody goes the place everybody else wants? Do photographers gathered in front of some roadside icon feel a responsibility toward the land itself? Or is the icon merely to be used?

There is, perhaps, a precedent here. Artists through time have used nature to create their work and the landscape has always been a lure. Painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson, using nature as their subjects, were essentially responsible for the creation of our national park system, their work convincing the U.S. Congress that Yellowstone was worth protecting. Much later, Ansel Adams photographs helped create Kings Canyon National Park.

Recording with passion and intensity the heart of wildness, presenting to other people the earth's beauty so they may make their own decisions about the necessity of its protection is, as David thinks, an obligation. His work is his statement.

See more of David Muench's photography at www.muenchphotography.com.

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