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Monday, April 6, 2009

Landscape Masters Through Time

Photography’s greats must find philosophical constants while embracing change

This Article Features Photo Zoom

From Till’s “Eliot Porter” phase. The lighting is flat, and Till was using a 4x5 to create an intimate landscape.
Tom Till
Finding inspiration in the work of others
Tom Till recently shifted from tradition when he moved from film to digital. “Thirty years of carrying a 55-pound backpack finally caught up with me,” he says.

Till doesn’t take such a dramatic change lightly. He feels a direct connection to landscape’s pioneering photographers and he’s proud to continue their tradition. Three innovators have been tremendous influences throughout his career.

This photograph was made from the same place, but this one was shot in 2007 with a digital camera, and Till was able to use Photomatix software to better control the dynamic range. Digital technology has fundamentally changed how Till envisions the landscape.
Created in 1987, this image was shot with a Cokin graduated ND filter to help control the contrast between foreground and background.
“The three landscape photographers who were most influential to me are Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, and David Muench,” he says. “I’m purely a color photographer, and these three, with the addition of maybe Ray Atkeson and Josef Muench, really invented color landscape photography. To me, they’re the creators of our art form. Each one of them taught me a couple of important things.”

Says Till, “From Eliot, I got the idea that ‘intimate landscapes’—not really close-ups, but tighter compositions than the standard big scene—could be powerful statements for nature. His travels around the world inspired me to drag a 4x5 camera all over the planet. From Philip, I learned to try to push the envelope with lighting. He thought shooting just at sunrise and sunset was a cliché, and trying to communicate the feeling of a 110-degree day in the desert had as much value as using magic-hour light on his subjects. Probably most important of all, Philip’s images were always in service of environmental causes. I’ve really tried to emulate him in that regard.

“David is a really imaginative and original photographer,” Till continues of his contemporary. “One of the things I took from him was the idea that bad weather was really the best time to shoot, which is totally counterintuitive but absolutely the beginning of a whole new realm of spectacular landscape work.

Second, David’s work ethic is second to none. Nobody, with the exception of Art Wolfe, has worked harder in the field than David—and it paid off for him. His library is unmatched in size and coverage, and most of the images are magnificent.”

It’s clear that Till carries the mantle with pride. “I think I would have had quite a lot in common with the early photographers,” he says. “I probably have a better light meter, and a better backpack, and better boots, and I have FedEx to get my film to the lab and back, but in many ways, I’m part of a long American tradition, which I’m proud of. I see threads from all these seminal landscape photographers in everybody’s work that has followed.”


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