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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Something New!

How a trek to the wide-open landscapes and extreme wilderness of Alaska led to a creative recharge for Marc Muench

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Marc Muench was able to find plenty of "dramascapes" on a recent trip to Alaska. The gargantuan state is home to an exciting variety of wildlife, terrain and weather, which, of course, makes it a plentiful paradise for nature photographers. Over the course of several days, Muench and his companions boated, hiked and even crawled when necessary, capturing bald eagles, brown bears and numerous expansive, and occasionally treacherous, scenics. "To cross the glaciers in the high country of Baranof Island," explains Muench, "you need reasonable visibility or you may become disoriented and wander off-course or even into a crevasse."

I know some chase an adrenaline rush by running marathons, sky diving or extreme skiing, but one subtle way to attain that euphoric high is by first sightings of what I call "dramascapes." There may not be the life-threatening aspect to it, nor quite as much actual adrenaline, but the experience is every bit as gratifying—especially when you're a photographer, capturing the moment.

Devil's club and blueberries were everywhere, granite cliffs towering up into the misty clouds, looking like scenes out of the movie The Lord of the Rings. Alder bushes surrounded ancient Sitka spruce and moss draped large boulders the size of houses, with brown bear tracks worn into the forest floor. Baranof Island is part of the Alaska Panhandle, one of hundreds of islands creating a maze of waterways and glaciated mountain ranges that extend over 31,138 square miles from Yakutat to Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska. The small town of Sitka is situated on the western shore sandwiched between glaciated mountains and a volcano named Mount Edgecumbe. At the suggestion of a good friend, Dan Evans, I booked tickets on Alaska Air for myself and my two sons, with whom I was looking forward to spending time in the bush. In addition to visiting Dan and his wife Janet, I was anticipating a great photographic experience, as Dan is also a professional photographer who has published several books on his hometown and is always eager to get out and shoot in his backyard.

My sons Trevor and Connor wanted to partake in the adventure of hiking across Baranof Island, and the man for guiding treks across the island is Dan, otherwise known as "Sitka Dan" by the Coast Guard. Dan trains young cadets by taking them across the island. At the age of 18, he visited Sitka and never left. He married Janet, and his son Logan is a pilot for Horizon Air. I met Dan while teaching a photo workshop years ago, and when he began explaining his backyard, I immediately knew I had to visit. We became friends, and I've been to Sitka several times since, but I had never crossed the island on foot! This type of excursion is exactly what I live for, and in addition to Janet, the reason Dan had moved to Sitka in the first place.

I've been in and around landscape photography my entire life. What I've learned from my experience is that to keep my creative juices flowing, something new is always good. There are many reasons for revisiting my favorite places and reworking something familiar, if not for solving a compositional puzzle, than just for better light. Having said that, the anticipation of experiencing something not only new to my eyes, but that never has been photographed before, becomes intoxicating.

A short boat ride to the beginning of the hike located near a fish hatchery went by quickly as we were enthralled by the sight of bald eagles, breaching salmon and feeding humpback whales along the way. It was bad light for photography, and we were focused on our task, which was a rather grueling hike up 2,000 vertical feet and six miles with little to no trail and heavy rain. Our plan was to leave Dan's boat at the hatchery, cross the island on foot in three days and charter a float plane back to Sitka.


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