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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Canyon Wilderness


Jon Ortner is based about as far from the landscapes that make up his latest book as you can imagine, and he shows that sometimes the best landscapes come from having an outsider’s perspective

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Bristlecone Pine, Patriarch Grove, Inyo National Forest, California. Pentax 67II, 45mm ƒ/4, Fujichrome Velvia 50, polarizer; North Teepees: Pentax 67II, 45mm ƒ/4, Fujichrome Velvia 50, polarizer

The desert is time, exposed time, geologic time. One needs time in the desert to see.
—Terry Tempest Williams

Jon Ortner isn’t like most Western landscape photographers. For starters, he lives in New York City. Not your average city boy, Ortner has used Manhattan as his home base throughout a career that has included commercial photography of New York City skylines, as well as months-long photographic expeditions to the Himalayas and Southeast Asia. His most recent accomplishment was a five-year project that culminated in Canyon Wilderness of the Southwest, a big, beautiful book of panoramic images of the desert Southwest. And it wouldn’t have been possible were it not for his urban home.


North Teepees, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona. Pentax 67II, 45mm ƒ/4, Fujichrome Velvia 50, polarizer
“For my entire life, I’ve used New York as my base,” Ortner says. “I’ve used contacts and assignments generated from New York to fund my book projects and expeditions all over the world. Whether I’m trekking for a month along the border of Bhutan and Tibet, hiking the sheer Na Pali Cliffs of Kauai or descending into the longest slot canyon in the world, my research and planning always begin in my library of maps and books here in New York. I consider Manhattan my greatest resource.”

Ortner developed a commercial real-estate photography business in New York to fund his projects, which required world travel on a massive scale. He began working with a panorama camera for clients and, ultimately, found an ideal exotic subject, one that worked perfectly with his panorama format of choice. When Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated a National Monument in 1996, he began seeing photographs of the immense, untapped, 1.9 million acres of virgin wilderness—the least-known landscape in the Lower 48.

“My interest in the deserts and canyons of the American Southwest was sparked fairly recently,” he says, “when I first saw images of the sinuous shapes and extraordinary colors of slot canyons, and the majestic rock formations of the Navajo Indian lands. I had traveled extensively throughout the world, but I had never been to the American Southwest. It seemed a lot easier to get to Page, Ariz., than Bhutan or Myanmar. As I started doing this research, I realized that it’s a perfect match. First of all, I don’t have to fly 24 hours to get to Bangkok and then fly another six hours to Bhutan, then take a truck another four hours... Although far from New York, it was a lot easier to access. I wouldn’t have to do 50-day expeditions. And then, as I did more research, I became obsessed with the exploration. I started to see images of landforms in the Grand Staircase and Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness that were as alien and fantastic as anything I had ever seen. They were truly otherworldly. Canyon Wilderness concentrates on these lesser-known areas.

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