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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Reticent Landscape

A career in photojournalism and an affinity for unlikely locales have shaped Chuck Kimmerle into a unique landscape photographer

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Chuck Kimmerle's black-and-white photography shows his introspective approach. He says, "I think that, when trying to improve, to find more meaning, value and emotion, it has to come from looking backward. In my case, I found that, while my early images were technically good, they lacked any stamina. They were nice to look at for a while, but their appeal quickly faded. I wanted to make images that I appreciated as much 10 years from now as the first day I printed them. So, I would often go back and critique my older work—I still do—and try and understand why it wasn't working."

For much of his 25-year journey through a few careers—from photojournalist to commercial photographer—Chuck Kimmerle's love of landscape photography simmered quietly on the back burner. After he found the right place, though, it came roaring to life.

"Throughout my career," he says, "I photographed the landscapes near where I lived. It was a way for me to explore and appreciate my surroundings. I wasn't serious about it. It was, at the time, simply a hobby—a way to relax. In retrospect, I guess you could say there was a small spark of love for photographing the landscape, but it was far from a raging fire."

Since his discovery of photography—before newspapers, before assignments, before the landscape itself—photography always came first. Kimmerle knew above all that he wanted to take pictures, and he worked to develop a personal style even before he really understood that's what he was doing.

Fresh out of high school, while Kimmerle used a Canon rangefinder he received as a graduation present to document his new life as a GI, he quickly found himself unsatisfied with the results.

"The technical quality was fine," he says, "but the subject matter seemed irrelevant and unimportant—as if they could have been taken by anyone. I wanted my voice to be heard, so I began to be much more critical of my images, even before snapping the shutter. Slowly, I became much happier with my work and discovered that I had, without really knowing it, developed my own style."

That propensity for reflection and the desire for improvement are still a fundamental part of Kimmerle's process. It has led to a style that's balanced and formal; he likes to center subjects, craft geometrically symmetrical compositions and ultimately break traditional compositional rules. He also works only in black-and-white.

"With my personal work," Kimmerle says, "I've taken exactly two successful color photographs over the past six years. Aside from those anomalies, all of my work is black-and-white. Even as a photojournalist and commercial photographer, I responded more strongly to the graphic forms of shapes and textures than I did colors. At times, I've tried to broaden my portfolio with color images, which seem to be preferred by the print-buying public, but the resulting prints felt forced and shallow—the latter being the worst possible description of an image.


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