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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Under The Big Sky


Montana-based photographer Jay Wesler’s black-and-white landscape images are born from the same sense of grandeur seen in Ansel Adams’ iconic work

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Wesler is neither a traditionalist who applies old approaches to new materials nor a Luddite who has condescended to work with the tools the market has foisted upon him. He’s a bit of a technological hybrid because he’s also a pragmatist.

“I bring both,” Wesler says. “Film for the 4x5 is like two bucks a sheet. It’s getting expensive. And in Montana, I have a nice darkroom setup but, wow, no one hardly develops film anymore. It’s all digital. I’ll shoot frame after frame of digital, and if I really like it, I’ll bust out the 4x5 camera and say I need this on film. I send out the digital file and have them developed on 4x5 negative, or I send it out to have it printed. I like to have that chemical reaction somewhere. I like using film because I like the darkroom. It gives that magic.

“Ansel is a big influence on my printing,” he continues. “It’s great to look at an actual Ansel Adams print and compare your own prints and see the quality. I’m a big fan of high-quality stuff, really sharp detail and really high contrast—the impact factor. His earlier stuff is much more subtle in the contrast and everything. Whereas his work in the ’50s, wow, I think you can really tell. He boosted up the contrast a lot more.”

Wesler’s “Bad Moon Rising” image shows the moon rising over the Crazy Mountains, which was shot with a Canon EOS 5D. It’s an image with obvious similarities to Adams’ “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941” that Wesler cites as his favorite. And he knew he was on to something as he was making it.

That brings up yet another influence Ansel Adams had on Jay Wesler: returning to a location again and again. Interestingly, whereas Adams was more meditative, Wesler is more frenetic. When he refers to chasing clouds, he means it quite literally.

Jay Wesler’s Gear
DSLR: Canon EOS 5D, Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L, Canon EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L
4x5: Linhof Technika V 4x5 field camera, Schneider 150mm lens, Nikon 90mm lens
• B+W #29 red filter
• Manfrotto 190 Series tripod
with a compact ballhead
• Kodak T-MAX 100 film
• Sekonic L-758DR DigitalMaster light meter
• Beseler 45MXT enlarger with variable-contrast cold-light and Schneider lenses (50mm and 150mm)
“I’ve read where he used to go back to certain spots that he scouted out,” Wesler says of Adams, “and he would go back over and over again. I think he would approve of me because I do the same stuff. I have little routes that I hit. That being said, I don’t think he would approve of me chasing around scenery. I think he kind of scouted out a place and just hung out. I’ve read he would just sit there and wait for the clouds, whereas I’m kind of like a cloud chaser.”

Skies come first. The land will follow.

“I tend not to go on long hikes or anything like that,” Wesler says. “I like traveling the dirt roads in my truck and just chasing the light. Here in Montana, it’s kind of nice—the weather could change every 10 minutes. Most of the time, it’s sunny. I’ll go online and check out cloud coverage and see where it’s moving, and where the light is. And, yes, if the clouds are in the east, I’ll go east and check it out. I look out my window, and say, ‘Okay, where am I gonna go?’ There’s always something around here.”

Jay Wesler is a fine-art photographer who specializes in black-and-white western landscape imagery. To see more of his work, visit www.jaywesler.com.

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