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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Transient As The Light

QT Luong is a French-born scientist, mountain climber and artist. He’s also a master of landscapes whose passion was ignited by the magnificent scenes of the Sierra Nevada.

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QT Luong counts Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, David Muench and Galen Rowell as key influences. For his equipment, he has added DSLRs to his large-format film workflow. He explains, "In the past, I have carried the large format to remote places, but for those situations, nowadays I enjoy the much lighter digital kit. I guess after trying to combine the spirit of adventure of Rowell with the perfectionism and techniques of Adams and Porter, I now work with the large format mostly roadside, just like Adams. Adams and Porter used smaller-format cameras in their later years. We're lucky that relatively small digital cameras produce much better results than their 35mm counterparts." Above: Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Landscape photographer QT Luong has done something not even Ansel Adams accomplished. He has photographed all 58 of America's national parks. More importantly, though, Luong has spent time in them, explored them, really gotten to know each of the parks. And he did it all simply because it offered the best way to experience the wide variety of natural landscapes available in the United States.

"The diversity of the natural world," Luong says, "and its potential to draw parallels and contrasts has always inspired me. I thrive looking for new experiences."

Luong came to photography after a career as a research scientist working on artificial vision, a subfield of artificial intelligence. He taught computers how to see.

"The kind of mathematics I was working with," he explains, "had to do with geometry, the organization and perception of space, and the relationship between space and the two-dimensional image. So, in some sense, it was a different take on some of the same problems photographers face."

Cliffs near Muley Point at sunset, Utah.
His research background instilled in him a special ability to make sense of structures and patterns. It refined his affinity for organization and systematic comparison, which has clearly benefited his photography. But landscape photography has never been a scientific endeavor for Luong. It's simply a labor of love.

"One of the primary reasons I made the career change," he says, "was so that my job would require me to spend time in nature."

Raised in Paris, Luong has been an outdoorsman since climbing the Alps in his youth. He became an avid mountaineer, and eventually a guide, and he started using a camera simply to show others the beauty of what he experienced. He relocated to the United States as a young scientist, and specifically chose the University of California at Berkeley because, among the top research institutions, it was the closest to Yosemite National Park. He had been hearing a lot about that place.

Yosemite turned out to be even more amazing than Luong imagined. Not only was the mountaineer thrilled, the artist was inspired. He decided to learn large-format photography and quickly set out on what would become a 10-year quest to make a representative photograph of every park.

Ever the researcher, Luong grounded himself in the rich tradition of Western landscape photography by studying the work of those who went before. He was inspired by Adams, of course, but it was fellow scientist-turned-photographer Eliot Porter whose color work especially spoke to him. Fellow mountaineering photographer Galen Rowell and prolific national parks photographer David Muench also inspired him. It's easy to see how he became the product of these world-class influences.


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