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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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Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite National Park, Calif.
"What I learned from studying Ansel Adams was that the landscape is not a fixed subject," Luong says, "but something as transient as the light that makes it visible. When I began to study his books to learn more about photography, I understood his contributions to the environmental movement and how important it was to continue those efforts. This provided an added motivation besides just trying to please myself."

Luong the scientist was charged with remaining impartial, but as a photographer he relishes not just imparting facts, but also imbuing his work with his personal vision.

"The main difference resides in the exploration of emotions and the self," Luong says. "There is simply no place for those in science. It is all about objectivity. Although my approach to photography has been fairly 'scientific,' those aspects have allowed me to exercise a different creative muscle.

"My photography is partly based on research," he continues. "I try to gain a good understanding of the places where I work. I look for interrelations and work in a systematic way. My goal is not to make a pretty or even 'awesome' picture. Instead, I try to create photographs with some interesting content that can reveal some truths and teach something about the world we live in. It happens that for the picture to work it also needs to stand on its own as an image."

Though it's the variety of America's national parks that has driven his photographic pursuits, Luong quickly realized that Yosemite, the park that first intrigued him, is special. It's the place where it all began, and the park he returns to year after year.

"Yosemite is my favorite park," says Luong. "I actually like the fact that so many great photographs have been made there before. Rather than hindering me, this creates a benchmark against which I can measure my own images and progress, and see if I can do something new. A lot of photographers do not go beyond the established trails and overlooks. Those overlooks concentrate all the photographic activity. Often, finding new perspectives is just a matter of walking a short distance from the designated viewpoints. For example, my nighttime Lower Yosemite falls image, where you see Upper Yosemite falls above, isn't commonly shot despite the interesting alignment. It is only about a 10-minute walk from the bridge where most shoot. Carleton Watkins photographed many times from that particular viewpoint; I assume that during the 19th century there was no paved trail and bridge and, therefore, he would roam all around the place and happen naturally over this excellent view."

Well-covered photographic ground remains quite fertile. Simple changes of weather and light can transform a place in an instant. Such synchronicity led to one of Luong's most beloved images, a popular scene from Yosemite's Tunnel View at sunset.

"Adams himself photographed many times from this viewpoint," Luong says, "as he felt that it would yield different images. No matter how hard I looked, I could not find a viewpoint that captured the essence of the valley better, so it has become a favorite of mine. I felt that Adams 'owned' the view so much that I consider most of my images made there an homage. Usually, I seek to photograph something I have not photographed before, but in this case I sought to make a photograph that Adams has not made before, yet using his most often repeated composition.


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