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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You Wish You Were Here

Brandon Riza’s spectacular mountain photographs transport the viewer into the place and the moment. They’re invitations to adventure.

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Brandon Riza personifies the spirit of adventure. A computer graphics professional by day, he takes advantage of life in California by spending his weekends exploring the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains and, whenever possible, he treks even farther afield. Mount Muir from Rail Camp at dusk, Mount Whitney Zone, Sierra Nevada, Calif.

Dawn at the base of the 99 Switchbacks, Mount Whitney Zone, Sierra Nevada, Calif.
If a 3D graphics programmer with a daredevil streak and years of digital imaging under his belt ventured into landscape photography, one might expect the resulting images to be a little overdone—perhaps tending toward the “hyperrealism” of HDR, brimming with candy colors and super-saturation. Brandon Riza fits the description, but his photographs don’t. In fact, his extensive visual-effects experience has had the opposite effect on his pictures. He uses digital capture and compositing to create photographs that are immensely real, intensely real and completely factual in tone. Maybe that’s the influence of his technical background.

“I wasn’t trained as a traditional photographer,” Riza says. “I had to use photographic theory as part of my job. And over time, I’ve gotten way more into photography than I am into 3D. The rendering systems we use attempt to mimic the properties of light and the functionality of how devices process that light. Understanding how light works and how it interacts with objects, materials, atmospherics, colors—it’s all just a small part of what I actually get paid to do. In that sense, I’ve been a photographer in training for 16 years.”

Not only has Riza spent years training for photography, but he has trained for adventure as well. During his adolescence in Texas—far from anything he wanted to climb—he dreamed of relocating someplace more conducive to his thrill-seeker tendencies.

Creek drainage from Fifth Lake looking southwest toward Mount Robinson, Big Pine Lakes Basin, Calif.
“I started thinking how geographically lucky some people were,” he says, “and I promised myself that if I ever moved somewhere worth exploring, I’d make the best of it. When I finally decided to move to L.A., I took myself up on the promise and started hiking just about every weekend. Being new to the place, I had no friends here, so I’d go alone with the dog and found that I actually enjoyed it that way.”

Even now Riza’s preferred approach is solo—plus Neutron, the dog, who makes occasional appearances in his portfolio. Alongside the beautiful landscapes, Riza also likes to showcase the fun he’s having, the spectacle, every part that makes up the adventure. So he photographs his canine companion, or his altimeter, or anything else that provides a sense of what the experience was really like. He wants it to look how being there, shoulder to shoulder with the photographer, would feel.

“I started taking pictures to send my friends back in Texas,” says Riza. “It began simply as a way to show them what I was experiencing, but as the next two years went by, I got more and more serious about the photography side of it. The hiking/photography thing addressed many voids in my life: the need for adventure and exercise, the disciplinary requirement necessary to safely hike and climb in the mountains alone. It just so happens that I’m a little crazy and like to do crazy things. And I love taking pictures while I do.”


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