Ansel Adams: conservation under Reagan and Trump

It’s somewhat surprising, but not entirely, to see similarities between the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, particularly in their respective Secretaries of Interior, James Watt and Ryan Zinke. Another controversial appointee in the Reagan cabinet was Anne Gorsuch (mother of now Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch) who was the head of the EPA and acted to reduce the budget and staff of the EPA as well as lessen regulations on pesticide use. Watt and Gorsuch were the prominent anti-environmentalists (other than Reagan) in that administration, and luckily did not have broad support in the government for their agenda. Thus, the damage they were able to accomplish was relatively limited. However, other than Zinke in the Trump administration, there are several cabinet and cabinet-level members, in addition to Trump himself, hostile to the environment that, together, along with Tea Party Republican sentiments, form a stronger force for change than was possible in the Reagan era. These current members are Administrator of the EPA Scott Pruitt, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

I’ve steered away from politics on my blog with the intent to maintain a purely art-centric dialog. However, as with Ansel Adams and Ronald Reagan, so with Trump and his administration. Many artists, as well as anyone who visits public lands, whether a National Park, National Monument, National Forest, National Wildlife Refuge, or Bureau of Land Management, depend on, enjoy, and receive countless economic and non-economic (non-quantifiable) benefits from those visits and the experiences gained. In addition, surrounding communities benefit from the trade visitors from all over the world engage in while they are in the area. Lodging, all forms of general retail, equipment rentals, guide services, restaurants, grocery stores, auto repair and rental, airlines, buses, travel agencies, art supply stores, camera stores, outdoor and hunting supply stores, all local or at some remove from the particular area benefit from the establishment and maintenance of public lands. A much greater and sustainable benefit than resource extraction which, when completed, disappears leaving behind an economic and environmental wasteland. In the 1980s, with the appointment of James Watt as Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan, public lands came under fire for exploitation and privatization. Ansel Adams, who was by that time nearly 80 years old, became very active, politically, to address the very serious threat to our public lands. Throughout his life, Ansel was always in contact with his representatives and president. But when Reagan was elected and Watt appointed, he embarked on what opponents would call today a liberal rampage or a snowflake campaign. In letters to the editor, to conservation organizations like the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society, in interviews, and in letters to his representatives (I don’t know if he ever wrote to Watt or Reagan directly) he engaged in what he called in a 1981 letter to then Wilderness Society director William Turnage a “…TOTAL IDEOLOGICAL WAR ON SECRETARY WATT AND HIS COHORTS” (emphasis from the letter).

He was very concerned about the future of public lands, in particular National Parks, which were being considered for resource exploitation and privatization. In a letter to the San Jose Mercury News (1981), Ansel wrote (notice the similarities with the concerns of today, though today’s concerns I believe are even more real than they were then):

I have spent a good part of more than 60 years working with many others on the problems of conservation and the environment, beginning in 1919 as the summer custodian of the Sierra Club’s center in Yosemite. I do not intend, at the age of 79, to now stand back and observe the destruction of our environment and all that has been accomplished to appropriately preserve and manage the resources of the earth – the physical, recreational, and aesthetic qualities of the world in which we live…The present administration’s endorsement of free exploitation of our basic resources will have tragic consequences for the well-being of our people and the amenities of continued life on this earth. These dangerous new policies are expressed through Secretary of the Interior James Watt. I address my critical remarks directly to him as the spokesman of these dire policies…The impact of the fearful concepts and intentions expressed by Watt is not fully realized, except by a few experienced conservationists…Indeed, Mr. Watt acts ignorant about the park system that he now controls (and)…can do great damage just through ignorance of the facts of what our public lands represent…It is common knowledge that Watt is a religious fundamentalist. He has his right to embrace any religion or creed he desires, but he has no right to impose his religious philosophy on the management of his department and the future of the American People. I have heard that he justifies his program of using our land and resources now without regard for the future by saying, in effect, there will be very little future; the Second Coming is due any time now…The overwhelming problems of our economy and defense have taken precedence over consideration for our natural and cultural resources. I sympathize with the President in his difficult economic and political decisions. I implore him to recognize the important fact that if we lose the essential qualities of our environment no political philosophy and no effort for defense will have validity. Secretary Watt’s values appear restricted to the material, immediate, and profit-oriented mentality of a two-dimensional group with little wisdom or conscience…We are fighting for our life and the future of our descendants. We must stand up and be counted! As a citizen I urge each of us to take on responsibility: write members of Congress, Secretary of Interior Watt, and President Reagan; write or phone people you know and urge them to do the same. Impress on everyone you can that this is not just an “opinion” problem but the most intense threat we have ever faced to the integrity and future of our land.

In an interview with Playboy Magazine in 1983, not long before his death, Ansel Adams issued a quote that I and others have often repeated. The quote is part of a longer statement in response to the question “What is the most critical fight now?”:

To save the entire environment: wilderness protection, proper use of parks, breakdown of Federal operation of the parks in favor of private interests, acquiring new park and wilderness land, unrestrained oil drilling and mining on land and offshore, etc. First on the list now is that all the wilderness areas must be protected. It is very important. With the current Administration, they are gravely threatened. It means that the small inroads this country has made in protecting some areas, both for scenic beauty and for invaluable resources, are threatened.

Here is an important point: Only two and a half percent of the land in this country is protected. Not only are we being fought in trying to extend that two and a half percent to include other important or fragile areas but we are having to fight to protect that small two and a half percent. It is horrifying that we have to fight our own Government to save our environment. Our worst enemy is the person the President designated with the responsibility of managing the country’s environment: James Watt. No wonder it is a monumental battle.

We are experiencing today what Ansel Adams feared would happen in his time. We have already seen the lessening or removal of protections for migratory birds and endangered and threatened species, the allowing of toxic waste to be dumped into our streams and rivers and the spraying of known and previously banned toxic and harmful chemicals on our crops. We’ve already seen the declassification of public land specifically to allow for resource extraction. We’ve seen law enforcement and private contractors enlisted to protect commercial interests when they were clearly in the wrong (and proven so in the courts after the fact). We’re seeing attempts to defund and privatize our public education system which, I think, Ansel Adams would be angry about because education is a foundation for understanding the world, the complex relationships found in the environment we depend on and, thus, the foundation for understanding why we need to conserve and protect these areas. The parallels between the Reagan era administration and the Trump era administration is curious at least, frustrating, and in the end, infuriating, because there are many more in this current administration who previous to being appointed to their positions, were adamantly opposed to the function of the agencies they now control. Trump has stacked the deck in a way Reagan could not have. Back in the 80s, the fight was mostly against Watt and Reagan and, to some extent, Gorsuch. Today, the fight is with nearly the entire administration as well as Congress.

Ansel was able to use his considerable weight as a prominent artist and activist to influence those in power who could do something. We average citizens must rely on our combined weight to inundate our representatives with facts and fact-based opinions. We must use our individual power of the vote to replace those we disagree with with those who support continued progress and economic growth, the conservation of our environment and the protection and proper management of public lands, the protection of human rights and individual freedoms, and reasoned discourse and cooperation with those who have differing opinions and ideologies. These may seem to be disparate subjects, but they are all related and connected. We live in a more complex world than we did in the 1980s. We can’t just let others do the work for us. We have to speak up before it’s too late. Once the land is gone under an open pit, oil field, or resort development, we can’t get it back.

reference: 1984. Ansel Adams: Letters and Images 1916-1984. New York Graphic Society, Little Brown

Review: The Photography Exercise Book

Some time ago I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Bert Krages book The Photography Exercise Book: Training Your Eye to Shoot Like A Pro. Published by Allworth Press in 2016, I’d seen it while browsing in the bookstore. I picked it up and thumbed through it, wondering if it would be a good reference for me and my classes and workshops. At the time, nothing stood out to me about the book other than it seemed to be written for beginning photographers and, at the time, I was working on my own book and there were more advanced concepts rummaging around in my head. So, I put it back on the shelf.

When I was asked to review the book, I remembered looking at it that one time and thought I should give it another chance. Bert Krages is an attorney and photographer living in Oregon with a couple other books in his bibliography; Legal Handbook for Photographers and Heavenly Bodies: The Photographer’s Guide to Astrophotography. I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen and thumbed through both of those books at the bookstore. The Legal Handbook for Photographers delves into an aspect of photography that has many fewer references available than for any other aspect of photography. If you are a photographer interested in your legal responsibilities and liabilities, that book and others would be beneficial to you.

Mr. Krages begins The Photography Exercise Book by describing its purpose and who it is for. In my own classes, I describe three groups of photographers; those who are technically-inclined, those who are not, and the largest group that’s somewhere in between. This book is for people who have at least a comfortable understanding of camera operation, in terms of using the various exposure modes and making exposure adjustments, but it does not discuss exposure settings, focal lengths, filters, flash, the “Rules”. This book is not a “how to use your camera” book, but a “how to explore your surroundings” book. It’s for photographers who are starting out and for those who need a little inspiration for exploring. It is a book of photography exercises after all.

I agree with most of the author’s premises: to become a better photographer you must make photographs, you must pay attention to the world around you, you must experiment, you must keep an open mind and always look for opportunities. The Photography Exercise Book is divided into sections that begin with letting you know you should have a basic understanding of how your camera works, some general tips about composition, and the importance of evaluating your work. The rest of the book includes the exercises. The exercises are a bit open-ended, which is good because it allows you freedom to find subjects and situations at the time you’re doing the practice. You don’t have to seek out a specific situation, wait for a certain time, or amass various props and equipment to do the exercises. This approach may not work for some individuals because the exercises are not “recipe-driven”. This is why I mention the need for comfortable understanding of camera function and photography principles. None of the exercises instruct you to use f8 at 1/125 and ISO 200 with a 85mm lens. You’re given the concept of the particular practice, like photographing people who are in action or light, shadow and shapes when clouds are passing overhead, or revisiting a location multiple times.

The final two chapters are about “photographer vision” and Thinking Like an Artist, with a little history of art and the relationship of photography with other art forms, discussions about defining your own individual approach to photography and what you would like to express with the medium, inspiration, and work ethic. Nothing too deep, but put straighforward and simply.

Some of the exercises, admittedly stated in the introduction, won’t be for everyone. But, like the author suggests, try them anyway. You never know what you’ll learn that will apply to other situations. Overall, The Photography Exercise Book is a useful reference for photographers who are starting out and who would like a little guidance for exploring and improving your craft.

Boise Weekly Fiction 101 entries

This year I entered the Boise Weekly Fiction 101 contest. The rules are to write a story containing exactly 101 words (hyphenated words count as a single word). I entered two stories and neither passed the judges muster. But, here they are for your review. The first is based on my visit to a humpback whale that had washed up on the beach in southern Washington. We were heading to the Oregon Coast and while in Astoria heard about the whale on the evening news and changed our plans. Being a wildlife biologist, I was curious to see the whale and to photograph it, but the trip turned into an observation of human behavior which was incredibly interesting. Some of the photos I made were used in the official report, which was unable to determine the cause of death.

The second is based on a poem I wrote many years ago, but have since misplaced so I only remember a couple bits.

Visiting the Whale
In twilight she rested, saltwater cradling her body. The air still but the sea restless. Thirty years near-weightless, her massive black-gray body rarely felt the pull of gravity. On the surface, three-foot-swells washed over her broad back. A final beat of her heart and slow exhale into the night, her body gave way to the mercy of the current. Under the stars she touched the Earth for the first time where once her ancestors walked on hoofed feet among towering ferns. With the sun they came; to see, touch, poke, gawk, photograph, pose, measure, sample; a funeral procession of Peeping Toms.

Universe
Her universe comes with her wherever she goes, dragged along by her measured pace. Stars and planets, mothers, sons, mountains, and alligators helpless against the pull of her gravity, as she is helpless against theirs. We are here and then; intersecting, obstructing. Bumping amorphous bubbles of existence flow through, encompass, attract, influence, repel. A mountain valley or deep ocean holds more than a tea cup. A river meanders among galaxies. Cool rain splashes on her upturned face. “Your universe is too small for me!” she shouts, defiant as she lies in the dugout canoe, dragging her hand languidly in the sea.

The Fugaciousness of Favorite Things

There are recurring questions photographers are asked when discussing photography: What is your favorite photograph you’ve made? What is your favorite photograph by another photographer? What is your favorite place to photograph? What is your favorite camera/lens? etc. Questions about a photographer’s opinion of things that more often than not have no actual relationship between the photographer and the person asking the question. Sometimes it’s genuine curiosity, but most often these are “easy” questions as a conversation starter, perhaps. But, do you really want to hear why I like a certain photograph or location or piece of equipment? Because, from me at least, you’re likely going to get more than you asked for. Besides, how do I describe a photograph you’ve probably never seen in a way you understand why it’s a favorite of mine? Without the ability to show you the picture you form in your mind from my description won’t be close. Even if I could show you the photograph, my reasoning is probably going to be too long, too short, or lack relationship with your own experiences or expectations. The same for locations, gear, and my praise of another photographer’s work. These and other “favorite” questions are difficult to answer or are even irrelevant because favoritism is temporary, and because we don’t favor THINGS.

Make a list of your favorite things. Do it now in your head or write them down. It’s likely a long list: movies, food, people, events, beaches, music, cars, clothes, cities, countries…the list goes on. Then review your list. What’s missing? I’ll bet what’s missing are some of your favorite things from last year or when you were 40 or 25 or 12 or 3. Why aren’t your favorite things from high school still your favorite? Do you have a singular favorite that has withstood the ravages of time? If so, examine it, analyze for yourself why this favorite thing has persisted. Brainstorm and write down everything you can think of that makes it a favorite. Compare the characteristics with your favorites that have come and gone or are in your “favorite bin” at the moment. Any similarities? What are the differences?

Our favorite thing is not actually a thing, but an experience or emotion. It’s what moves us to feel good, strong, empowered, empathic, safe, smart, accomplished, alive, accepted. The list of favorite things changes with our knowledge, experiences, preferences and skills. How many times have you said on vacation “I want to live here”, only to have that feeling replaced by the next awesome place you visit?

Our favorites can be fleeting or grow in stature over time, like the accumulation of a patina. A favorite dessert of mine is cherry pie. But not just any cherry pie. There are certain characteristics of texture, flavor, intensity and consistency that elevate a cherry pie from simple preference to the favorite bin. The mixture of sour and sweet (more sour than sweet), the consistency of the filling (not thick), the texture of the crust (flaky, not doughy), and the addition of complimentary spices that add an element of surprise, all add up to a pleasant emotional experience that I will return to as long as that experience is maintained. It’s the experience I enjoy, not just that I like sour cherries.

Your favorite location might be the beach, but if you think about it, it’s not just any beach and it might not even be a specific beach. It’s a beach with certain characteristics that can exist at many different locations – a certain slope of the beach, the composition of sand or rocks making up the beach, the sound of the surf, solitude or bustling with activity. And, if you’ve visited several beaches, you likely have more than one favorite type of beach depending on your mood at the time, or your “need.”

In photography, our taste in photographs, equipment, locations, is controlled by similar criteria. Our favorite camera is the tool that is easiest to use and/or gives us the ability to control the factors that allow us to create the visual image we have locked away in our head, that allows us to make a photograph when we need to. In some situations, my favorite camera is my smartphone because of its simplicity and I can make a complete photograph while in the moment, a spontaneous creation inspired by the subject, event, and emotion of the instant. At another time, my favorite camera is my 35mm DSLR because of its flexibility and sometime need for deliberate contemplation, exploring the subject, composing visual elements, choosing the aesthetic appearance of depth of field, shutter speed, focal length, lighting, etc. Previsualization of how I’m going to process the image, it’s final appearance, may or nay not have an influence or relationship with my experience of the moments surrounding when I make the exposure. But there is almost always influence and inspiration from the external and internal environment as I make the many decisions needed to make a meaningful photograph (meaningful to me, primarily. If you as the viewer also find it meaningful – Bonus!)

Our favorite moments are juxtapositions of ideal circumstances – atmosphere, companions, emotions, location, etc. We often try to replicate these circumstances to relive the emotional high produced by these special happenings. But it rarely works. However, there will be other such moments that eventually replace the previous moment as a favorite, and those older moments join the others in the group of favorites we can lovingly recall from memory.

The basis of our favoritism can be complex. A significant object or event is often connected to a significant experience. The favorite thing is a memento mori of sorts, reminding us of our vanity (how good we felt, how good we made others feel), mortality (you can’t take it with you), and the transience of everything (this, too, shall pass). Emotions and memories fade and are replaced, material objects break and decay. A true favorite, though, withstands time, trends, fads, and vanity. It remains because of its influence on you, its emotional importance, and despite negativism and ridicule by others.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote A Theory of Human Motivation in which he proposed a hierarchy of needs. Diagrammed as a pyramid, physiological needs necessary for survival form the base, or foundation. This is where food, space, shelter, and mates exist. Moving up the hierarchy are safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (the motivation to realize one’s full potential). It’s interesting to note that 3 of the 5 levels in Maslow’s hierarchy are emotional motivations – esteem, belonging, potential. The association of motivation and favorite things has been exploited by salesmen and marketers since the dawn of history. Creating pleasurable emotional experiences engages customers, helps control their buying impulses, and retains them as repeat customers. In some circumstances, people will be repeat visitors or customers for the experience even if the product is not considered a favorite.

For photographers (and other artists), our satisfaction comes from creating beautiful, interesting, meaningful work as the result of experiences we have in life and in making art or making photographs for a client. A photograph of a landscape can be as much of a favorite as a corporate headshot or a sporting event. And as our experience grows and our skill set improves our list of favorite photographs and locations and gear will change. Even the much-discussed and promoted concepts of personal style and vision are just the current ways a photographer uses to interpret their world and communicate their message. These, too, change over time.

Favorites are fugacious: transient, temporary, ephemeral, ever-changing. That’s a good thing. It’s improvement, variety, growth. Don’t hold too tightly to favorites. It can be sad to see a favorite go, but the new ones will be just as good, if not better.

White Sands National Monument Photo Workshop & Giveaway

White Sands National Monument photography workshop, March 20-27, 2018

Join me March 20-27, 2018 to explore the beautiful, minimalist landscape of New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument, a dramatic environment of shifting contrasts, lighting, patterns and textures with a backdrop of the rugged San Andres and Sacramento Mountains. Emphasis during this workshop will be your interpretation of the stark dune environment using your senses and perceptions to search for simple, elegant compositions using elements to give depth, graphical design, and abstract impressions from broad panoramics to up close macros. We’ll discuss in a group and individual one-on-one guidance about using light and shadow to create form, improving composition, setting exposure under difficult lighting conditions, abstract impressions, and sensing and perceiving the environment to help find subjects and make meaningful photographs. Each student will also receive a copy of my book The Ecology of Photography.

Also, I’m excited to share that this workshop has been chosen as an Unordinary Trip of the Month by Infohub.com, the #1 portal on the internet dedicated to out-of-the-ordinary, special interest vacations. If you book my White Sands National Monument photography workshop before January 5, 2018, you will be entered in a random drawing among those registered for my workshop to receive a one-year full membership to the GPSmyCity app for Apple and Android, from InfoHub’s sister company GPSmyCity. Since there is a maximum of 8 for this workshop, your odds are pretty good!

The GPSmyCity app features offline city maps, self-guided walking tours, and travel articles for 1,000 cities worldwide. Because the app works offline, there’s no worry about roaming charges when using the app abroad. One lucky person who has registered for my White Sands photography workshop will be randomly selected to receive a one-year full membership to the GPSmyCity app and the over 6,500 self-guided city walks, offline city maps, and travel articles, a value of over $8,000 (includes all in-app guide purchase options).

2017 Workshops

Here are some of the workshops I have scheduled for 2017. Come join me and explore these amazing locations while learning to improve your photography and way of seeing. I’m working on others for summertime and into 2018, including an Antarctica workshop for 2019.

Winter in the Palouse Winter in the Palouse, Feb 9-14

Iceland Twilight Iceland Twilight, March 5-16

Alvord Desert, Oregon Alvord Desert, Oregon, April 14-16

Oregon Coast Oregon Coast, May 14-20

Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park, May 24-30

Monterey & Point Lobos Monterey & Point Lobos, May 31 – June 5

Spring in the Palouse Spring in the Palouse, June 9-14

Washington Coast & Olympic National Park Washington Coast & Olympic National Park, June 16-22

Fall Colors of Iceland Fall Colors of Iceland, September 1-12

Scotland: Here Be Dragons Scotland: Here Be Dragons, September 14-23

Acadia National Park, Maine Acadia National Park, Maine, October 11-15

Portland & Japanese Garden Portland & Japanese Garden, October 17-20

November – January Photography Class Schedule

Here is my upcoming class schedule. Please visit my class page for more details and to register and contact me with any questions you may have. All classes are available as one-on-one or On Request. If you don’t see a date that works with your schedule, let me know and I can work with you to fit it in.

Photography 101
Nov 1 – 21 (first session is on Tuesday, the remaining are on Monday) 6 – 8pm
Jan 3 – 24, 6 – 8pm

Before You Buy (best for new camera purchases and gift buying. Don’t buy what you don’t need)
Oct 26, 6-8pm
Oct 28, 6-8pm
Nov 2, 6-8pm
Nov 4, 6-8pm
Nov 5, 1-3pm
Nov 7, 9-11am
Nov 16, 6-8pm
Dec 6, 1-3pm
Dec 6, 6-8pm
Dec 10, 9-11am

Basic Camera Operation
Nov 2, 1-3pm
Nov 5, 9-11am
Nov 9, 6-8pm
Nov 12, 1-3pm
Nov 22, 6-8pm
Dec 7, 6-8pm
Dec 10, 1-3pm
Jan 5, 6-8pm
Jan 7, 1-3pm

Iceland Hot Springs & Northern Lights special Icelandair deal + one-on-one instruction – deadline July 31

Icelandair Hot Springs & Northern Lights

Here’s a special deal offered by Icelandair: 5 days, 3 nights, hotel, some meals, some activities, and airfare, starting at $685. I’ll sweeten the deal in that if you pay my way (double occupancy or single), I’ll provide you with one-on-one photo assistance during the trip. I’ll pay my own transportation to Seattle as the departure city, meals and other expenses. You pick the dates (for Northern Lights, go with February or March). I will depart from Seattle. Here’s the link with info. The catch is the deadline for booking this deal is July 31.
Icelandair Hot Springs & Northern Lights travel deal

Contact me for more information and to make arrangements.

May, June, July, August Photography Class Schedule

Here is my schedule for upcoming photography classes for the rest of May, June, July, and August, as well as a list of upcoming workshops that still have openings:

For a complete list and to register online, go HERE

Photography 101
June 17 – July 8
June 21 – July 12
June 29 – July 20
August 1 – 22
August 3 – 24

Basic Camera Operation
May 25
May 31
June 20
June 25
July 2
July 7
July 16

Photoshop I: Basic Photoshop & Bridge
June 21
July 15

Photoshop 2: Layers & Adjustments
July 22

Composition 101
June 29 – July 13

Exposure Equation
May 24
June 1
June 20
July 14
July 20

Light & the Light Meter
May 30
July 5

Before You Buy
June 25

Workshops: for complete list and to register, go HERE

Alvord Desert, Oregon June 3 – 5
Oregon Coast, June 7 – 12
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, June 14 – 16
Cyanotype printing, June 18
Oregon Coast, Sept 6 – 11
Scotland, Sept 21 – 28 (only 1 space remaining!)
Iceland, Oct 3 – 14 (only 1 space remaining!)

Acadia National Park Oct 19 – 26 (pending)
Bruneau Dunes, Idaho November (date pending)

2017 Workshops in planning

Death Valley, Feb
Oregon Coast, April
Yellowstone National Park, May
Iceland Twilight, May 16 – 25
Scotland Highlands, May 28 – June 6
Grand Teton National Park, June
Palouse, Washington, June
Palouse, Washington, Aug 13 – 16
Yellowstone National Park, Sept
Acadia National Park, Maine, Oct
Iceland, Oct
Yosemite National Park, Nov
Monterey/Carmel, California, Nov