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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tutored By Nature

Fellow landscape photographer Tom Till describes why David Muench is one of the greatest living photographers and why his work stands the test of time and remains inspirational

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A keyhole perspective in White Canyon, Utah.
As David's work became totally ubiquitous in the books, magazines and calendars of the 1970s and beyond, his other revolutionary contributions to outdoor photography were on full display and included his mastery of color, using backlighting in many images, eschewing bald blue sky days for stormy and dramatic weather, and creating compositions of tight clarity. It soon became easy for editors to spot a David Muench 4x5 transparency on the light table where it stood out clearly from his competitors.

At the same time, a whole generation of Baby Boom photographers, a decade younger than David and raised like him in American national parks, began to notice this new way of expressing their love of the natural world. Did we copy David? The short answer is yes. Certainly, he was the major inspiration for all of us. In my case, living in the small town of Moab, Utah, without a mentor or a teacher, obsessively studying the work of David Muench, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde was my photography college. People like me, Larry Ulrich, John Fielder, Jack Dykinga, Willard Clay and dozens of others took up the 4x5 camera because of him.

Keeping up with David was a challenge. No one worked harder and spent more days in the field, although many tried. He climbed every mountain and hiked every canyon, creating a body of work that most likely never will be matched in size, quality and scope. Not content to shoot just in the West, David traveled and worked extensively east of the Rockies in the Appalachians, the Heartland, the South and New England throughout his career.

And there was no question where David came down on environmental issues. Like Adams and Hyde, he made his imagery available to environmental groups whenever asked, and his written statements deftly express his concern for and dedication to preserve what he was shooting.

This spring, I was lucky to be in the audience for a day-long presentation by David in Salt Lake City. It was his first speaking engagement in the state that he had captured so well both on film and digitally over the decades. Seeing his 4x5 images on a big screen and hearing his stories was the glimpse behind the curtain that inspired everyone in the audience. With great humility and humor, David talked about the subjects he loves: bristlecone pines, rock art, toprock of soaring peaks and narrow slot canyon defiles. Approachable and friendly, if David comes near your city, his program is not to be missed.

It occurred to me that perhaps no American has ever greeted the sunrise and sunset pouring over our country's landscape more often than David Muench. A rough estimate might be over 15,000 such sessions, with the 4x5 Linhof Master Technika standing tall beside him and the stack of film holders ripe with the possibility of captured beauty at his feet. Tutored by nature, this lone figure, the American individualist as artist, is our greatest living landscape photographer.

See more of David Muench's photography at www.muenchphotography.com. You can see more of Tom Till's photography at www.tomtill.com.


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