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Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Dream Chaser

Michael Routh finds inspiration in the solitude of the less-explored backcountry

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OP: How did you end up becoming a nature photographer?

Routh: I was 40 years old and looking for unconditional love, so I got an eight-week-old Rottweiler named Maggie. After three or four months with this puppy, I started hiking with her in northern New Jersey—it's a beautiful area, close to the Appalachian Trail. The hikes inspired me to go to Brooklyn and buy a film camera. Often on a Sunday, I wanted to lie on the couch and do nothing. But Maggie would come and sit right in front of me and stare at me, saying with her eyes, "We are going hiking today." So, in a sense, it's because of her that I became a photographer. I then obviously became obsessed with the art of it and did everything I could to become good at it. A year and a half later after I moved to California, I got another eight-week-old Rottweiler I named Rocket. My collection of imagery isn't as big in the national parks because if they didn't welcome my dogs, then I wouldn't do a lot of photography there. In a place like Death Valley, you can take your dogs way into the backcountry and share the experience.

OP: So you owe your career to your four-legged camera assistants. Perhaps the solitude aspect of what you do is important because you were surrounded by so many people in Manhattan for so many years.

Santa Cruz Mountains, California.
Routh: I feel my soul in nature. It's as simple as that. It's not that I'm a hermit or a recluse. I love the camaraderie. I was in Glacier National Park last summer and did an eight-mile hike with one of my friends—I love that, too. But I find, as a photographer, I'm much more creative when I'm alone. I'm floating and feeling where the shot is. And if it's not there, I'll run to get to the right place. I learned early on about how Galen would run in nature. I'll run two or three miles if the sun is going down and that's where the picture is. I'll climb up a 900-foot rock shale in Anza-Borrego Desert to get to where I need to be.

When you go to a place like Glacier National Park or any of these iconic locations, you can't go there and not shoot the classic shots, but you have to be willing to make the investment of time and effort in your own instincts and your own skill. "I know there are other shots out there." And maybe in the end there's not. You go out on a 10-mile hike and didn't even take a shot. Scouting is a big part of nature photography. I do more of that when I'm alone than when I'm with someone else.

OP: In interviews with Galen Rowell, he told the story about how he chased a rainbow in Lhasa, Tibet, to get to the perfect angle to line up the end of the rainbow so it seemingly arched into the palace.

Routh: That story has motivated me. I think, "Oh, I'm not going to do it..." Then I think of that story, that five percent chance. Being in nature is a gift, it's a dream. I can still wear a two-piece suit and do a stand-up presentation in a corporate boardroom as well as any person you'll meet. But my heart, soul and spirit is being in nature and doing photography. When I see a mountaintop in the distance, my thoughts are, "How do I get to that summit, and what will I see when I get there?"

You can see more of Michael Routh's photography by visiting his website at www.dreamchaservisuals.com.


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