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Monday, April 6, 2009

Landscape Masters Through Time

Photography’s greats must find philosophical constants while embracing change

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Jack Dykinga
Reinvention is required for creative success
Jack Dykinga’s career is one of continual rebirth. He was once a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist in Chicago. He left that life to start a new one—pursuing a passion as much about a purposeful life as it was about photography. “If you don’t have a reason for your photography,” he says, “then you shouldn’t take pictures.”

Dykinga’s purpose of preservation and protection has remained one of few constants in his long career. Changes are now afoot, though, bigger than a switch from the journalist’s 35mm to the landscape master’s 4x5 and the incorporation of digital capture into his workflow. Dykinga says the huge change he’s now dealing with is a complete shift in the business of stock photography.

“It’s not like there’s 10 David Muenches out there,” he says of the competition. “There’s maybe a million guys who make one sale a year. If you give anybody enough film and time, they can win a Pulitzer. Everybody in their lifetime is going to get a couple of great shots, but now you can send them over the web. Some people, in their eagerness to break into the business, will do anything. But they don’t realize that this has huge consequences.”

Adds Dykinga, “Professionals can’t afford to just flit around the country as they did before, knowing that they would generate a certain amount of income. Everything is planned carefully: This is going to actually result in a sale.” The business shift has allowed Dykinga to pursue a more introspective path. Instead of working for clients, he can focus on work that resonates personally. Funny enough, in the end, that’s better for business.

“I’m in the process of reinventing myself,” he says. “If you don’t adapt to the changing times... I’m going in a different direction. I think more than ever, if you don’t have a personal vision, a distinctive type of photography, you’re doomed. For me, it’s really always been about the image. I’m increasingly aware of which ones are really good for me and which ones I really like. And now I’m able to just take the chance.”

masters masters masters
A classic Dykinga big landscape that shows his older approach to creating extreme depth with a long leading line through the subject. This newer landscape is an example of his current approach, which is less about a big vista and focuses more on details.
Dykinga’s vision has evolved such that many of his current images like this feel more immersive for a viewer by having detailed foreground objects and an overall feeling of being in the photograph.

With personal work, too, Dykinga’s ecological mission remains. His current project involves the ILCP, the International League of Conservation Photographers (www.ilcp.com), an organization of photographers working to protect threatened wild lands along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Essentially, we’re going to produce a virtual photographic wall that will document why this border barrier is harmful to migrating wildlife in very sensitive areas,” he explains. “It’s cause-oriented—basically photojournalism. A photograph really rises or falls on the number of ways you can approach it. And when you can approach something that’s a work of art, it’s beautiful, it’s well composed, it’s got great color, but then it also tells a story about a place and piques your interest to act in the cause of preservation or conservation, then you’ve really hit one out of the park.”

Dykinga’s ILCP work also represents a new shift in technique—shooting entirely digitally with Nikon’s D3. The camera’s knack for low-noise, high-ISO shooting has opened up new avenues for creativity in the landscape—especially after dark.

“I’m excited about taking the Nikon D3 out into the field and shooting things in the moonlight,” Dykinga says. “For instance, on this project on the borderlands, part of the story is [that] the area is untouched and pristine, and there are these dark and wonderful skies. I’m able to shoot the Milky Way, overexposing it, so I can silhouette cactus. I still prefer film for much of my work, but for some situations, like my ILCP work, this digital camera is proving to be well suited. Nevertheless, there’s a certain vibrancy and shimmering quality to film that I just can’t let go of. I shoot both; it just depends. The right hammer for the right job.”

A long-time 4x5 large-format film and camera user, Dykinga has recently added the Nikon D3 to his bag. He finds that it’s an ideal solution for some images although he continues to shoot film for many of his landscapes.

To see more of Jack Dykinga’s photography, visit www.dykinga.com.


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