About the Photographer
I’ve been an environmentalist for 35 years. A Sierra Club leader since the mid-80s, I stir up trouble in my home town of Washington, D.C., and sit on the Club’s national board of directors. By day, I’m an environmental advocate and lawyer, having represented virtually all of the national environmental groups, Lakotah Indians, a number of eco-wackos, and sea turtles on most of the American Caribbean islands. I’ve held senior positions at organizations such as USEPA and Defenders of Wildlife.
About My Photographic Work
Many eco-photographers, such as Rowell and Porter, have described their image-making as a matter of capturing on film the experience they have when viewing certain landscapes. I aspire to this level of skill and sophistication but have yet to attain it.
It’s not that I don’t have those feelings. Few things move me the way dramatic landscapes do. This draws me to wilderness backpack trips once or twice a year, as well as frequent car-based trips. Indeed, it was a single photograph that almost literally summoned me to Monument Basin in Canyonlands National Park in the 80s (followed by more than a dozen subsequent trips to “The Needles” and Cedar Mesa), and ultimately inspired me to become a part-time wilderness guide specializing in the desert Southwest.
Yet I can’t say that when I create an image with a camera I am able to capture my instant feelings. What I can say is that over the past few years I’ve come to appreciate the ability of my better images to stimulate feelings – in myself and others. When a friend or client tells me that a given photo invokes feelings of “happiness” or “freedom,” or when they say “that picture makes me want to be there,” I you can find a handful of such photos on this website, I’m immensely gratified – and somewhat amazed – that my work can have this effect.
My favorite camera is a Nikon D200, though others (including a D70 and a D70S) have generated the images in this collection. I’ll be frank – I spend quite a bit of time polishing images in Photoshop. While most digital cameras are set up to add “just the right amount” of saturation, contrast, and sharpness to the images they produce, my D200 is set to record the flattest possible image, adding none of this to the RAW files it creates. Starting from zero, I restore these values on the computer.
If you think this illegitimate or somewhat so, you should know that there is not currently – nor has there ever been – an objective photographic technology. No camera, and no combination of camera, developer, and print process, has ever produced an image that faithfully reproduces the scene as viewed by the photographer. Indeed, no two people view the same scene in the same way, given differences in our values and biases, as well as our visual acuity and ability to distinguish colors).
“Distortion” of the “true film image” is introduced by (1) filters placed over the lens, (2) the lens itself, (3) the film (the most famous photographers generally use oversaturated films like Velvia and Fujichrome), (4) photographic methods (many “push” their films to enhance saturation), (5) the developing process, and (6) the printing process. Here the variables include finely adjustable gel filters that are placed between the enlarger’s light source and the print paper, a wide variety of inks, dyes and pigments applied to the paper, and the paper itself, including “gelatin silver” and “gelatin platinum” papers, highly complex papers such as Cibachrome, and even metallic papers.
Perhaps the most notorious “distorter” of photographic images was Ansel Adams. Long before it became fashionable, he would spend hours and sometimes days burning, dodging, and teasing a given print, often making as many as 80 versions before he was satisfied with the result. Said he: “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.” This disrespect for the “true image” is apt, as there is really no such thing.
I use Kodak Enduro Metallic paper for 80% of my prints, since it adds a depth and lustre that is striking. On the rest I use acid-free, archival quality, professional print paper by Kodak, and high-quality pigments, rated to preserve the image faithfully for decades. How they make these predictions I have no idea. I provide a guarantee in the event of any kind of problem with print or frame. My framer has a shop in nearby Arlington, VA, has been in business for 18 years and does first-rate work.
On Digital Photography
Digital imaging has transformed my photographic experience and, arguably, aspects of my life. This should not be surprising, given that digital imaging has transformed so many other diverse things, such as the connectedness of physically separate family members, and even the way America conducts war (cite to Abu Ghraib). Within two miles of my desk there are hundreds of digital cameras endlessly scanning the streets of this city.
For me, there is a bit of joy in merely recording images to film or digital memory. Seriously, I get a little zing every time I release a shutter. Digital has enhanced this in many respects. First, it lets me share my better images with so many others. For most of us, the joy in creating images lies in sharing them with others. Before digital, I did this chiefly when I had visitors to my home, and they had the patience to flip through an album or two. Now, thanks to photo-sharing technology, I can send dozens of photos to dozens of people, and I generally do this several times per year. This gives me great satisfaction, as it gives others pleasure and keeps me better connected to them.
Technically, this could be done with film-based images, through the use of scanners. In reality, this almost never happens with film-based images. It’s too much of a pain.
The second advantage of digital is that it has liberated us from the many substantial downsides to producing prints from film. Chief among these is the cost – shooting a roll of 24 kodachromes costs about $15, considering processing/printing costs. Even the most frugal shutterbugs can easily rip off 10 rolls a week on a trip or vacation. Thus, the cost of shooting film on a good trip can exceed the cost of a decent digital camera. And I won’t soon forget the hassle of juggling dozens of rolls of film, and often wishing that I had faster film in the camera as the sunset approached.
Almost as important to extremists like me are the environmental benefits. Making film from petroleum products and print paper from forest products consumes significant amounts of non-renewable resources. Drawers and albums filled with prints are testament to that, not to mention all the stuff I’ve thrown away (not recycled). Film and print processing is probably the worst aspect of this problem. On this, suffice it to say that something approaching half of Rochester, NY (home of Kodak) is a toxic waste zone.
Freed from concerns about cost or environmental impact, we can shoot with abandon. If I want to take sports shots at 5-frames-per-second, I just let ‘er rip. If I want 75 different looks at the same waterfall, it’s not a problem. Two or three good images is the most I can expect from an average photo trip, and if it takes me 700 exposures to achieve that, that’s fine. Mass deletion requires two keystrokes.
Digital has it all over film in another important respect – you get immediate feedback when you record an image. You immediately know how well you framed the shot and – if you look at the histogram that most digicams can produce (you should) – you know instantly if you got the exposure right. This is not just fun – it’s educational. Learning happens much faster if the feedback is graphic and immediate. You can tell from a distance whether a serious photographer is using film or digital because after every shot the digital shooter is quickly bending her neck down at a sharp angle – to look at the histogram and perhaps the framing.
Additionally, every digital image has embedded in it the technical specifications of the image – shutter speed, aperture, ISO setting, exposure compensation, flash setting – even lens zoom length (on advanced cameras). So as you peruse images on a computer – even years later – you can see what worked and what didn’t. Shooting the same shot different ways lets you see how different settings produce different exposures, depth of field, and the like. In the old days we would drag around big pads with at least 24 lines and take detailed notes on every image – and hope that we didn’t lose track of the frame number. It took forever and interfered with the creative and learning processes.
A couple of years ago I would have acknowledged that some films have certain advantages over digital. Advances in digital technology and digitally-oriented optics cast increasing doubt on this. In particular, newer sensors have a “dynamic range” (ability to record both darks and lights) that rivals the best films. Tellingly, all of the old-school film diehards have converted to digital.
Thanks for visiting this site. I can be contacted at:
709 3rd St. SW
Washington, D.C. 20024