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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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Riza’s panoramas are stunning. Looking at the images, you can’t help but want to be there at that exact moment to have witnessed the scene. Autumn birches looking southwest toward Mono Jim Peak and Mount Morrison, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
The scent of adventure is so ever-present in Riza’s images, it begs the same question that might have been asked of a young Galen Rowell: Is he a photographer who likes to climb, or a climber who likes to photograph?

“That reminds me of the comparison people often make between Ed Viesturs and Jon Krakauer,” he posits. “One is a climber who writes well, the other, a writer who climbs well. I would say I go take pictures and I have to hike to do it—but the hikes require me to take pictures. I’m not sure if photography has taken center stage over mountaineering; for me, the two go hand in hand. I can’t do one without the other, and they complement each other unlike anything else. Mountaineering photography has definitely taken center stage in my life as a whole, though, to the detriment of my full-time job.”

Riza’s excitement is palpable. He creates big, beautiful landscapes of the awe-inspiring vistas he encounters as a sort of proof that he has been there. More than just a personal record, though, the photographs are intended to serve as inspiration to those who will get out and see what he has seen, as well as an invitation to those who won’t to live vicariously through him.

Snow squall over the high desert looking east from US 395 at sunset, Indian Wells Valley, Calif.
“I can’t be as presumptuous to assume that I’m motivating people,” says Riza, “but I think a lot of people are unable or unwilling to get out and see these places, even though they enjoy looking at them. And I think that some people wouldn’t take the time to ponder places like these unless they were shown images of them. I believe that life is far more enriching and honest if you know what’s around you. My motivation has remained the same: It’s basically, ‘Wow! You’ve got to see this!’ “I think what screams ‘adventure’ in my photos is the possibility of adventure for the viewer,” Riza continues. “I get tons of e-mail from people using words like ‘inspiring’ and ‘motivational.’ What they really mean is that they can see themselves in that picture, and it makes them want to try to get in it and to take a picture of it for themselves. I feel that way all the time. When I see a picture of, say, the south face of Aconcagua, I think to myself, ‘I have to have that!’ And I have a very hard time sleeping until I stand there and see it for myself and shoot a few good shots of it. That’s what I aim to accomplish by taking a shot: I want people to see it and want to be there.”

Given his excitement, it’s a little surprising that Riza’s photographs remain so sublimely simple and unaffected. Rather than boost saturation, contrast and drama, the photographer lets the natural drama of the place speak for itself. His pictures are highly detailed and devoid of any kind of visual gimmickry.

Images that are so scientific, down to the navigation coordinates that caption them, should be clinical and sterile, and yet for all of that plainspoken straightforwardness, the photographs are anything but dull. There’s something else at play here. Riza’s photography fills a viewer with a desire to be in that place at that time.


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