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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Off The Beaten Path

Third-generation landscape photographer Marc Muench talks about his career, his latest book and what drives him

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Gates of the Valley in moonlight, Yosemite National Park, California.Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon EF 24mm ƒ/1.4 II, Really Right Stuff tripod with BH-40 ballhead
An understated moment, perhaps, but it’s also one of those flashes that when Marc looks back on how his career unfolded, he points to it as an experience that helped shape his drive to become a photographer. He shoots today with the same motivation as he did 20 years ago when he was fresh out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and looking to make his mark.

Like his grandfather and father before him, Marc’s inspiration to shoot is driven by places. At the start of his career, his focus was on photographing sports such as skiing, surfing and rock climbing. But his interest wasn’t in taking close-up shots of athletes; rather, he wanted to show how the person, in this case an athlete, interacted with the landscape. Later, when he realized that photographing sports would be difficult to do all of the time, he started mixing it up with landscapes.

While in school and later as a sports photographer, Marc didn’t give much thought to his family legacy because he was doing something different. When he started shooting landscapes, he and his father often would submit to the same assignments so he was motivated by the place, but also to make an image that would be acceptable next to one of David Muench’s transparencies.
I always tell people to incorporate TWO OR THREE OR MORE THINGS BEYOND JUST THE LANDSCAPE that will motivate the viewer.
“The fact that he allowed me to do that is remarkable because of how competitive this industry is,” says Marc. “As a landscape photographer, you’re always putting yourself on the line and you want your photo chosen. I knew I needed something that could stand up next to him.”

Marc Muench’s latest book is called
Exploring North American Landscapes: Visions and Lessons in Digital Photography. The first part is inspirational while the second half delves into the more technical aspects of shooting a great photograph. Above: The Three Gossips are shown on the left at sunrise, Arches National Park, Utah. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5 L, Slik Pro 614 CF tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-30 ballhead
In the book, Marc recalls a conversation with David in which he was describing places that he would go to with Josef, rattling off names like Hunts Mesa, Rainbow Bridge, Capitol Reef and Monument Valley. The photograph David took of Hunts Mesa made it into his recent collection of 200 images. When Marc first visited Hunts Mesa with a camera in hand, his experience was reminiscent of what Josef and David had done. While he had already visited many of the same locations they had photographed, Hunts Mesa left him with a different feeling. In the book, he says he “could feel a calling to the place like no other.” For some unknown reason, Marc decided to take an 8x10 with him on the trip, something he’d done only a few other times because of how bulky the camera was to carry around. Although he had visited plenty of places that his grandfather and father had photographed before, this one left him with a special sense of familiarity even though it was his first time to the area.

In creating images, Marc is always looking for what’s going to make viewers connect to his photographs. When asked how he would describe his work to someone who has never seen any of it, he says that “sophisticated” is the word he hopes others would use, but not in any kind of elitist or haughty way. “In the sense that there’s something more to look at and that keeps you captivated for longer than just the first two minutes of looking at a scene,” he explains. “I always tell people to incorporate two or three or more things beyond just the landscape that will motivate the viewer.”


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