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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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"What makes a good black-and-white image depends solely on subject and intention," he says. "Most of my images are presented traditionally straightforward with a wide tonal range and deep depth of field. Lately, however, I've found myself printing darker, moodier, with the intention of introducing a greater emotional feel. Often, a technically beautiful image with a full range of grays simply doesn't convey a great deal of meaning. At those times, I'll make the decision to either create a very high-key image, as with many of my snow scenes, or more low key, as in 'Lone Boat' or my image of a white tree trunk in the midst of a dark woods. The basics remain the same: no blocked shadows and no blown-out highlights. Clipped shadows can sometimes be hidden, but blown-out highlights are usually pretty obvious. I find technical errors like these seriously distracting and detracting."

Adds Kimmerle, "Gear-wise, I'm 100% digital. Prior to the advent of high-pixel-count digital cameras, I used a series of 4x5 cameras for my landscapes and even built an amazing, fully furnished darkroom in the basement. While I liked working in large format, I never loved it. I've never been accused of being patient, and large-format work requires patience. So when digital came of age, I pounced. I currently use a Nikon D3X with the 24mm, 45mm and 85mm PC-E lenses as my primary glass. As these lenses have tilt and shift, and they're manual focus, they force me to slow down. When working digitally, it's all too easy to rush through a shoot. When that happens, we miss things. These lenses help me avoid that pitfall.

"I also rely on the tilt/shift lenses when photographing scenes where there are both near and far elements," Kimmerle says. "I tilt the plane of focus so that I can ensure all elements are in focus—something that's important in my work. The shift, or rise, allows me to avoid converging lines when photographing tall structures such as buildings or hills."

Kimmerle's love of the landscape really exploded when he relocated to, of all places, North Dakota.

"I first arrived in North Dakota in 1996," he says, "and looking at the flat and reticent landscape, I thought I had entered photographic hell. I could find nothing of value in the landscape, either visually or recreationally. It seemed to me the most bland landscape in the world. It took me eight years, but eventually, suddenly, I discovered photo possibilities everywhere. My disdain for the landscape was transformed into heartfelt appreciation. I began again to photograph the landscape, this time with a zeal I had not before experienced. I learned to appreciate that dichotomy and have carried it over to much of what I'm doing today.

"Despite now living in Wyoming," he says, "where there are ample photographic opportunities, I miss it. There's something about the peacefulness of the plains—be it the organized and tidy landscape or large sky or sparse population—that makes it a magical place for me. The eastern half of North Dakota is primarily agricultural, divided up into the mile-square Jeffersonian grid. I think it was a combination of that orderly grid, combined with the formality of the plowed fields—farmers take great pride in straight rows and even evaluate their neighbors' plow rows—and the tree rows, and the peaceful reticence and solitude of the area that finally inspired me. It was all quite relaxing and meditative. As my style of photography has always been formal and balanced, it was a perfect match. I really don't know why it took so long to realize. I wish I had felt the connection sooner, but something like that is really out of our control as artists. It happens when it happens."

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