Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Top Rock

Trekking the jagged and often desolate high country, a master of the landscape finds challenge and renewal

Labels: Locations

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Buckwheat blooms. Mt. Timpanogos, North Peak, Wasatch Range, Utah. At 11,749 feet, Mt. Timpanogos is the second-highest peak in the rugged Wasatch Range.
Over time, his need to go to the high country morphed into a desire to save all the living memories through photography. For most of us, the prodigious effort required to gain a high ridge of “fourteeners”—those peaks 14,000 feet and higher in the Rockies, Sierras and other ranges—would present daunting challenges. Yet, though he’s midway through his seventh decade, Muench continues to make the pilgrimage to Top Rock every year.

In recent years, he has worked with a 35mm SLR. Lately, he has been smitten by the spontaneity and instant feedback afforded by digital cameras. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 and other models have brought him full circle, back to a young photographer’s excitements of discovery.

But for decades, his artist’s brush was a Linhof 4x5 view camera with its complement of rails, bellows, tripod and film magazines.

“It was always an arduous undertaking,” says Muench.

When you consider the exacting requirements of 4x5 photography, you begin to understand Muench’s prodigious commitment to his art.

Image Genesis
Over time, Muench, like Moses, has brought back his own immutable laws governing working at the roof of the world.

First, avoid the common. “You can’t help being attracted to dramatic vistas,” he says. “You have to watch that. That’s the ‘postcard’ thing.”

Then there are always the laws of personal limitation.

Muench recalls the trip to the Sierras while a student at California’s Art Center. Driving up from sea level, he camped at Whitney Portal, the 7,851-foot head of the summit trail. Next dawn, he was already partway up the trail, loaded up with a Speed Graphic camera and gear. Somewhere above 12,000 feet, he passed out cold. Coming to, head aching but determined, he pushed on—a bit more slowly—to the 14,505-foot summit of Mt. Whitney—a total climb of almost 7,000 feet.

Another law: Gauge the light.

“I learned early that the light at the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., isn’t the time to do these things!” reflects Muench. “With late light, you’re capturing a mood. It’s a sense—the genesis of an image that the special light pulls out of you.”

These seminal experiences came at the time serious color landscape photography had just begun to make its mark in fine-art circles. But the notion of “golden hour” light was far from today’s ubiquity—the black-and-white world of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston still reigned supreme.


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