Retrospective, A: A Retrospective Hardcover – 1 Sep 2006
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"[This] retrospective of Rowell's work, produced by his long-time publisher, Sierra Club Books, is a fitting memorial to this visionary photographer . . . His remote landscapes, weathered villagers, intense mountaineers, wild creatures, and phenomena of light are vibrant testimonials to Rowell's many loves." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The lengths he went to for his images impresses me greatly.
Beautiful photographs and fascinating text. A must purchase for all landscape photographers.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Even though he was heralded as the natural successor to Ansel Adams because of the vivid landscapes he often captured through his lens, Rowell was actually at his best when he showed the striking juxtaposition of a human element in his nature pictures, for example, showing rock climber Ron Kauk precariously clinging to the underside of a precipice on a Marin beach. What comes across quite clearly is a man who fulfilled his life philosophies every day, a passionate melding of artist, adventurer and environmentalist, who made a pint of anticipating his opportunities while living in the moment. To reinforce this, the editors have incorporated several testimonials from Rowell's colleagues and admirers such as Tom Brokaw, mountaineer Conrad Anker and photographer Frans Lanting, who lends particular insight into Rowell's singular motivation in transcending the reality of what he saw.
Lanting's comments lend context to Rowell's frequent use of the split neutral density filter, which intensified the color saturation in many of his most famous photos, some to a point where the image can look almost artificially enhanced. Case in point, take a look at how deeply orange the skies are in some of his sunrise photos. At the same time, the startling images he captured in Patagonia and the Karakoram Himalayas remain unparalleled, and there is hardly a more serendipitous moment than when he captured the wispy cloud formation over the split rock in the Eastern Sierras. Rowell's vision remains his own, and he leaves a legacy of photographs that resonate deeply in this book. This is a must-have for his admirers.
Rowell's famous photograph, "Rainbow over the Potala Palace" (which appears among the first few two-page-spread images lovingly reproduced in this fine retrospective volume) is, according to Rowell himself, one the great photos of his life. I remember seeing it years ago for the first time, and was then (as I still am now) simply in awe. It is a magnificent Wagnerian-like "epic" photograph; a perfect symbolic synergy of aesthetics and spiritual depth. It is also a quintessential example of Rowell's lifelong practice of participatory creation.
According to Rowell, this image was captured not long after a trekking group (consisting of about 15 people) that Rowell was a part of in Tibet was called to dinner. A rainbow suddenly appeared in a field below them, though not (from the point of view of the trekkers at that particular moment, as they were all settling down to dinner) in the spot that it appears in Rowell's subsequent photograph.
Rowell, relying on his years of experience with optical phenomena in diverse environments, imagined in his mind's eye the precise spot he must get to from which the rainbow would appear to emanate from the roofs of the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace. Dropping his dinner, and running into the fields as fast as he could to get to where he knew he had to position himself, he managed to capture this incredible photograph.
None of the other trekker/photographers budged an inch; although many later "claimed" to have captured the same image. In fact, none of the other images even came close to having the same drama, with the rainbows in other "versions" (having been captured from obviously wrong angles) either badly missing the Palace or invisible altogether. Only in Rowell's photograph does the rainbow rise majestically out from the Palace. Only Rowell had the forethought, intuition and strength of will to get himself, his camera and his "eye" into the right place at the right time.
Rowell's "Rainbow over the Potala Palace" (as do *all* of Rowell's finest efforts!) teaches us that a great natural scene is not always (perhaps even rarely!) enough, by itself, for a fine art photograph. It is not enough to be properly attentive, but then sit patiently, passively, awaiting the right confluence of light, tone, texture and form to present itself; one must imagine the exact space-time-soul point where that magical confluence will arise, and then act swiftly, and decisively, to grab it!
Now go out and grab this magnificent book of photography as practiced by an extraordinary artist/adventurer! You will never again see wilderness in the same way!
As an amateur photographer for 40+ years, I'm familiar with Rowell's work and techniques. To be candid, I find much of Rowell's work a bit unnatural. His mastery of the split neutral density filter, while undeniable, often resulted in many of his photos being a bit "over the top".
While I understand that such filters are sometimes needed to control the brightness range of certain scenes on film, they also sometimes tend to impart tonalities not found anywhere in nature.
The Singh Ray filters that Rowell used are said to be color-neutral. If that's true, I simply don't understand where some of those sky colors originated. I've used several different Kodachromes as well as Velvia and am familiar with those emulsions. Even Velvia's super-saturated colors don't really explain what's going on here.
That said, Rowell's photos are often mesmerizing. That Rowell knew his craft is obvious. One can easily become lost in the sometimes surreal worlds that Rowell could create. The reproductions are superb and the photos are presented here in sizes large enough to appreciate.
Anyone familiar with photography has to marvel at the sharpness of Rowell's handheld shots. How anyone could hang over an abyss and come away with such technically superb results is beyond belief. Yet, Rowell did it and did it consistently.
There are also shots that he obviously made from a tripod. In these, Rowell realized the full potential of his Nikkor lenses. Being familiar with Nikon lenses, the list of lenses that Rowell used came as a bit of a surprise. Several were the Nikon "Series E" lenses which, in their day, were considered unworthy of professional use. So much for that theory.
I'll never be a huge fan of Rowell's photography, at least not the way that I am of John Shaw's or Frans Lanting's. However, fan or not, how can anyone deny Rowell's contributions? Not only as a photographer, but as a naturalist, adventurer, conservationist and, most of all, as a man who left the Earth a better place than he found it.
The world is certainly a lesser place without Galen Rowell.