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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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Looking west toward Banner Peak and the Ritter Range above Thousand Island Lake, northern Sierra Nevada, Calif.
“My primary goal when capturing an image is to convey what my eye was seeing as accurately as possible with no artistic interpretation,” Riza says. “This is just my personal philosophy and opinion, but I think that when photographs of landscapes are interpreted artistically, it does a tremendous disservice to the universe. When I say ‘interpreted artistically,’ I’m referring to the highly over-saturated looks that I often see in photos— the rainbow inserted after the fact, the full moon Photoshopped over the ridge, the photos where the viewer knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the reality of the scene has been manipulated to conform to the aesthetic opinion of the manipulator— the very definition of artistic interpretation. I don’t think that nature needs such manipulations. I’d rather show people what they would see if they were standing there. I think reality is far more inspirational than art, and I’ve found that capturing that reality accurately is way more difficult than faking it.”

Fresh off the summit of Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, Riza contradicts the serenity and beauty of his many tranquil photographs as he discusses the real-life drama and danger that often accompanies them. It’s then that the perilous reality of climbing, especially those occasions when he’s going it alone, juxtaposes with the beautiful images he creates.

From the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina, 22,800 feet up in the thin air. Riza is quick to credit Alpine Ascents (www.alpineascents.com) with enabling him to make the successful expedition to Aconcagua.

“The more foreboding, hostile or potentially life-threatening the environment,” he says, “the more inspirational I find it. I have to admit that I’m driven by the whole ‘man’s perseverance against nature in the face of imminent death’ thing. When I capture an image of a mountain under a perfect sky in perfect conditions, I feel like I got away with something—the intuitive leap being that many times, most times, the mountain is cold and brutal, inhospitable and unwelcoming. Of course, when I capture a mountain under those conditions, it’s even more inspiring.”

Adds Riza, “I think it bears mentioning that sometimes when a shot looks calm, what the viewer isn’t getting is the cold, the wind, the hypoxia, the nausea, the headache, the thirst... I wish a camera could capture all of that.”

Working to make a photograph under those unbearable conditions is difficult enough for a photographer snapping mementos. Riza, though, prefers panoramas. He’s not content to snap away with a wide lens though. Instead, he stitches exposures together to maintain perspective and minimize distortion—again, maximizing the “factual” feel of a scene.

Riza’s Equipment
Canon EOS 5D Mark II and these lenses (currently): Canon EF 14mm ƒ/2.8L USM,
Canon EF 24mm ƒ/1.4L USM, Canon EF 50mm ƒ/1.4 USM, Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS USM
Sigma 8mm ƒ/3.5,Sigma 15mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS USM

Canon EF 14mm ƒ/2.8L USM

Sigma 8mm ƒ/3.5

“I make heavy use of stitching software,” he explains. “I’ve been experimenting with image stitching for about 10 years now, before it was considered cool and before it was even more shunned than it is now among ‘pros.’ I’ve never really understood the aversion of the photography establishment to photo stitching. I’ve been disqualified from photo competitions and have been given the cold shoulder from galleries because my photos are stitched. I think some guys still complain about digital and how it looks ‘too good.’ I embrace new technology and try to expand upon it rather than clutching to the old school with the attitude that the new one is a fad and not worth serious consideration. I think that’s utter foolishness. I think I’ve come at photography from a non-traditional angle from day one. I’ve just kind of done things the way I’ve wanted to do them, operating in a vacuum of sorts and developing my own methods for my own needs.”


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