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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The More Things Change...

Although his techniques and tools evolve, Edgar Callaert’s drive to explore the American landscape remains constant

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Wildcat Beach, Phillip Burton Wilderness, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, Calif.
"It was on the third year back to this location that it was good," he says, "and then for only one exposure as the clouds were flying by. I'll never repeat the mottled cloud lighting. It's totally unique. There always seems to be an element of good fortune that helps the hard work of planning and waiting. I do repeat visits a lot. It's a balancing act at times to avoid getting stale, but it can be a huge payoff in the sense that knowing a place intimately really sharpens the senses and the vision. Desire and determination cannot be underrated.

"As I look through these images," Callaert continues, "what stands out as the common thread is how much they're products of long scouting missions, repeat visits, waiting for the right light or weather, or finding the right moment in the right season where it all comes together, and for that sun to finally appear after doing this for three days.

"Whether it's the mountains, the desert or the coast," he says, "they're all fascinating to me when I immerse myself. It's the involvement, the concentration on the surroundings, the getting away from the comfort zone of routine that makes all the difference. When it gets down to it, it's being out in large, open, impressive places that's the real motivator. Photography comes from that. In some ways, it's secondary. The key is to pick the terrain, be it desert or mountains, at the prime time for the place. Maybe it's the spring bloom in Arizona or fall in the Eastern Sierra, summer in the high elevations when flowers are out and lakes are full. I think the fact that I've lived on the coast and done so much exploring there says that's where my heart lies. I just love Big Sur and have a ton of stuff from there."

Callaert's rich portfolio also reveals his preference for the coast, as well as another spot he admits to admiring especially: the Eastern Sierra. It's because these places offer a perfect combination of diversity and drama, as well as the opportunity to explore remote terrain.

La Crosse Pass, Mount Anderson, Olympic National Park, Wash.
"Both Big Sur and the Eastern Sierra are rugged, varied and visually stunning," he says, "rocky outcrops, sheer cliffs, wildflower gardens. The Sierra has more dramatic and varied weather and fall color, while Big Sur offers the thrill—and danger—of the crashing waves. When I'm out there, I'm looking for emotion and dramatics. I often have to settle for less, but you have to set your sights high.

"Another aspect is the ease and freedom of camping in these areas," Callaert adds. "I'm out for a long time, and paying for campsites is out. I dislike them—noisy, dirty, crowded, away from my goals. The Sierra is wide open and free almost everywhere, and this is important in creating a comfortable environment for exploring."

Such subtle financial considerations aren't to be underestimated. For 25 years, Callaert explored mountains and deserts and coastlines with a heavy 4x5 film camera in tow, but just last fall he began a conversion to digital capture as the costs of film and processing had become too high, while the benefits and quality of digital SLRs skyrocketed.

"I felt a very conscious connection between pushing the shutter and spending money," he says, "and it made me very selective, very diligent. All in all, I think this worked to my benefit. It hones your sense of sight, judgment and visualization of the final image. For a long time it was about $2 per sheet and $1.20 to process. This has gone up in only the last two years to $2.50 per sheet and over $4 to process. That's $14 for every picture as I always do two exposures. I spent last October in the Sierra, was quite selective in my shooting and then spent $700 to process the stuff! That was it. I knew this had to change."


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