Scenes From The 2017 High Heel Race

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica Monochrom and 50mm Noctilux or 35mm Summicron v. IV (no flash, BTW)

The High Heel Race in Washington’s Dupont Circle is a spectacle of joy.  Taking place the Tuesday before Halloween, the 30-year old tradition has evolved to being as much for families as for anyone looking for a walk on the wild side.  It ranks up there with the Funk Parade as an event we enjoy photographing.  After a season of taking pictures at events protesting Trump, all joyous but with an undertone of seriousness, this year’s event was pure delight.

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Kelley Stoltz Keeps Mining Gems And His Latest,”Que Aura,” Gleams Like A Diamond

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 19, 2017 by johnbuckley100

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}The cover photo of what Kelley Stoltz calls his “proper new album,” Que Aura, looks like something you’d see in a Kusama Infinity Room, all dots of light in a psychedelic space.  Like Kusama, Stoltz for the most part works alone, assembling true solo albums with painstaking craftsmanship, each track capturing an instrument played only by him.

Unlike Kusama, who resides in an asylum, Stoltz gets out of the house to play with bands, including touring as a sideman with his heroes Echo and the Bunnymen.  But in his own studio, over the past decade, he’s created an eccentric but exceptionally important and delightful body of work. As a recording artist, he deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with the Beatles, David Bowie, Alex Chilton, and Ray Davies. Que Aura, released in August, is his best album since 2008’s Circular Sounds, which we would nestle alongside Rubber Soul, Radio City, and Lodger in the Go Bag that, one step ahead o’ the apocalypse, we’d take to the proverbial desert island.

Listening to Que Aura back-to-back with Below The Branches, the 2006 album that was our introduction to him, is instructive.  Back then, Stoltz was like a one-man version of the Fab 4 + George Martin, crafting intricate pop classics on acoustic piano and guitar, backed where needed by steady bass playing, what sounds like a Rickenbacker 6-string, and solid, unobtrusive drumming.  This was an era in which Stoltz says he was using a microphone propped in a sock drawer for wont of a proper studio and equipment.  The music is gorgeous, thrilling, inspirational, the seeming influences all from the ’60s.

A little more than a decade later, Que Aura sounds like it was recorded in a German studio with this generation’s George Martin twiddling the knobs.  As a singer, Kelley’s affect is effortless, but here he sounds like he’s fronting a really fantastic band whose rhythm section can swing.  And of course, it’s all him — an incredibly difficult trick to pull off.

Over his previous three albums — 2010’s To Dreamers, 2013’s Double Exposure, and 2015’s In Triangle Time — Stoltz has moved away from the delicacy of his earlier work to bring in New Wave influences, to thicken the sound a bit with horns and synths, and clearly Will Sergeant’s guitar sound (Echo + Bunnymen) and mid-period Bowie have inspired him in recent years. Like a craftsman who, after years of creating one-of-a-kind designs… pushing his needle and thread through fabric under a solitary light bulb… who has succumbed to such labor-saving devices as the sewing machine, Stoltz has rolled a bank of electronic keyboards into his atelier.  Keyboards have ruined many a solo practitioner’s studio work, from Prince to Tame Impala, but even though we miss the Rickenbacker and acoustic piano sound of yore, on Que Aura, he makes it all work. He’s still creating gems, but much as I love the pre-2010 work, these shine brighter.

The songwriting as a whole is stronger than on any album since Circular Sounds.  “I’m Here For Now” ranks with Double Exposure’s “Still Feel” and the most infectious rockers of his career.  “Tranquilo” is the closest thing Stoltz has produced to a hit you could see coming out of the Motown basement, and it has the quirks and charms of his greatest songs before culminating with psychedelic panache.  On “Same Pattern,” it’s clear that Kelley has had a conversation about synths with his label, Mr. John Dwyer.  Out of 11 songs, there are two we don’t think we’ll be listening to a decade hence.  This is a glorious clutch of songs, rendered with enough analog guitars, bass, and drums to prevent the electronic keyboards from ever smearing the delicacy, like a surfeit of Hollandaise on poached eggs.

Speaking of John Dwyer, there’s a reason why the progenitor of Thee Oh Sees, not to mention Jack White, would be the “label heads” putting out Stoltz’s most recent work.  In days of yore, some A&R chap at Warner Bros would have figured out how to slide a Kelley Stoltz contract past Mo Ostin.  But without a generous label afloat on a pontoon of CD sales taking a flyer on a talent like his, Stoltz is embraced by his fellow artists who know brilliance when they hear it.  Just as, gentle reader who has journeyed this far, we know you do too.

We already have raved about Kelley Stoltz a time or two, given his records the highest marks on our 2010 and 2008 Top Ten Lists.  Somehow, even with all our raving, we have failed in getting him to perform at Madison Square Garden.  We’re not done trying.  And based on Que Aura, Kelley Stoltz is not done appearing at the top of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List.

Wand Brought Their Sweet “Plum” To DC9, And Played The Most Exciting Show In Memory

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Wand 2017All images Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summicron v. IV

The D.J. was playing Television’s “Marquis Moon” when Cory Hanson climbed up on DC9’s stage last night and strapped on his Stratocaster.  He played along for a moment, which makes sense when you consider that our early warning on how powerful Wand’s new album Plum would be was when Hanson told Uncut, “I was reading about how Television wrote Marquis Moon and they’d go into their rehearsal space five days a week for four hours a day.  So I decided to go in six days a week for 10 hours a day.  We pushed harder to see what would happen.”

Wand released “Blue Cloud” a few weeks before pushing Plum out the door, putting us on notice that not only was Wand ready to rehearse like Television, they wanted to beat them at their own game.  And from the moment last night that Evan Burrows furiously kicked into “White Cat” and Hanson and new addition Robbie Cody began trading guitar lines like Verlaine and Lloyd, it was clear they had.  As great as Television were (and are), Billy Ficca is no Aynsley Dunbar, and Burrows is unquestionably the greatest drummer playing in a band today.

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We feel like Wand has grown up before our eyes, from their 930 Club debut in 2014 opening for Ty Segall to their stunning show at the Black Cat in 2015.  From the release of Ganglion Reef to Plum, they’ve grown from songs with titles like “Flying Golem” and “Reaper Invert” to becoming surely the only rock band extant to write a poignant song called “Charles De Gaulle.”

On their first two albums, born like Catholic twins maybe 10 months apart, their early roots showed the influence of mentor Ty Segall, with Black Sabbath chords played at speed metal tempi.  But Hanson’s always had a melodic grounding, and any band that could put “Growing Up Boys” on their first album was destined for great things.  With Plum — with shows like the one they put on last night — their destiny has arrived.  We can’t think of a better album released this year, nor a better show than we saw last night.

Since they were here last, Sofia Arrequin was added on keyboards and vocals, and with her arrival Wand’s sound has shifted from synth-heavy support for Hanson’s fluid guitar and pretty voice to a band playing with the fluidity of White Denim, the guitar interplay of the Soft Boys.  They’re a unit built around the core propulsion of a breeder reactor, but could only be riveted tighter if they rolled out of the Boeing factory.

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Cory Hanson has the preppy good looks of a Kennedy, and he came out in similar garb to what he was wearing last year when he and Burrows – for a few months putting Wand aside — toured as part of Ty Segall’s Muggers.  Since then, Hanson’s released a solo album as distant from Wand in it’s delicate sound as fellow Angeleno Shannon Lay’s Living Water is from her punk band Feels (also once produced by Ty Segall).  Taking a vacation from the thunder of Wand’s first two albums, and the ambitious prog-pop of their third outing 1000 Days was clearly good for the band, as were the additions of the two new members.

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Wand is at the height of their powers, but writing that we know they still have plenty of room to grow.  Some strong albums have been released this year by both Ty Segall and West Coast giant John Dwyer, whose Oh Sees made our August.  But among the West Coast’s finest, Wand’s come out on top, the best young band working today.  We stand back in awe at the prospect of what they’re capable of.

New David Bowie Box Comes With A Brilliant Tony Visconti Remix Of “Lodger,” Bowie’s Greatest Album

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 29, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Lodger was the third and final album in what became known as Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, that series of 43cords released between ’77 and the summer of ’79 that he crafted with Brian Eno.  Only Low and parts of Heroes were actually recorded at Berlin’s Hansa Studios, (though Berlin also was the locale of Bowie’s production of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life.) Whether or not this period is accurately defined by the Cold War Berlin milieu, the three albums are of a piece, as Bowie turned away from cocaine and pop fame — or perhaps, “Fame” — and created his greatest work.

Low, like Eno’s Another Green World before it, was as notable for instrumentals and song fragments as it was for full-fledged rock songs.  It was, after Station To Station, a sharp left turn, coinciding with the rise of punk without in any way adopting, or even reckoning with it.  It began the process by which Bowie became as much associated with composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich — and Eno — as he was with pop music.  This was a very controversial repositioning, but looking back on his long and fruitful career, we think this is the moment — the Berlin Trilogy — when Bowie cemented his stature.

Yes, “Heroes” the song, and Heroes the album were hits, and with Robert Fripp joining the party, this was thrilling rock music.  But the first two albums of the Berlin Trilogy were notable, in no small part, for how Bowie went his own way, parallel to punk and what became New Wave, even as, with his ties to and influence over Iggy Pop, he helped shape a reformation of rock that somehow combined avant garde elements of the Velvet Underground, the proto-punk of the Stooges, with the Krautrock of his adopted home.

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When Lodger came out in the summer of ’79, it was, to these ears at least, the culmination of what had come before it.  It had Eno’s trademark synth figures.  Adrian Belew was the poor man’s Robert Fripp, but he was nonetheless a fantastically unconventional guitarist added to the band Bowie had slowly assembled.  And while the Stones, the summer before, had on Some Girls bowed in homage to the punk rock designed to replace them, Bowie’s new record still ignored it, instead presaging World Music which was still really a decade away.  We had only weeks before returned from a post-college, around-the-world trek, and an album-based travelogue with a post card on its cover — and an English rock star depicted as smashed up from his journey; the cover photo, at least, was true to the punk rock ethos — became the perfect soundtrack to our entry to adulthood in a small apartment in Manhattan.

It’s important to note that in ’79, rock’n’roll music was in full ferment, especially in New York.  The CBGB bands were now the new establishment, with Talking Heads putting out Fear of Music, records by bands like Joy Division, Magazine, and Wire’s brilliant 154 washing up on shore, and Manhattan bands like the dBs and Fleshtones coexisting with Eno’s No Wave discoveries and their offshoots like 8 Eyed Spy.  Lodger put Bowie completely in alignment with a wide array of younger artists in New York and Britain, and even as at age 32 — along with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop — he was a revered elder statesman.

We thought Lodger was completely brilliant, and we had been a diehard Bowie fanatic since first hearing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in ’72.  Not everyone thought so. Greil Marcus could sniff in Rolling Stone, Lodger might have been an event, if only as a record we would someday look back on as work that mapped the territory between past and future. Instead, it’s just another LP, and one of his weakest at that: scattered, a footnote to Heroes, an act of marking time.”  Freshly minted as a rock critic, our work beginning to be published in New York Rocker, we knew Marcus was a square, not even as hip as the Voice’s Robert Christgau, who seemed uncharacteristically confused when he wrote, “Musically, these fragments of anomie don’t seem felt, and lyrically they don’t seem thought through. But that’s part of their charm–the way they confound categories of sensibility and sophistication is so frustrating it’s satisfying, at least if you have your doubts about the categories. Less satisfying, actually, than the impact of the record as a whole.”  He gave it an A- anyway.

For us, there was just one problem: the album sounded pretty terrible.  Presaging the miseries of ’80s production techniques, in which synthesizers and tinny mastering of the new CD format made the sound of all records suck, Lodger was brittle, claustrophobic. Too many instruments clogged the output.  The album was jarring, but we thought it was supposed to be that way.  We were wrong.

We actually had no idea just how bad Lodger sounded until this morning, when upon the release of the Bowie box celebrating his output between ’77 and ’82, a new Tony Visconti mix of the album came out.  We’ve been smiling ever since.

Listening to the Visconti mix of Lodger is like seeing the Sistine Chapel after 500 years of smoke and grime has been removed from its ceiling.  It breathes.  The instruments are warm, and his voice hangs upon the songs like a comfortable jacket on a cedar hanger in a capacious closet. There is space between instruments, and like wine properly decanted, fruit at room temperature, its bearing is natural, all flavors easily explored by the tongue.  Visconti has taken a 1979 polyester suit and rendered it in natural fibers.

We have always thought Lodger was Bowie’s greatest album.  Eighteen months after his death, the remix by his longstanding friend and producer Tony Visconti finally proves it. The Bowie estate surely understands what it has here as the only way you can access it is by purchasing the whole box set.  We hate moves like this, but is handing over the dough worth it?  Unquestionably, the answer is yes.

 

The Found Abstract Art Of Yellowstone

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 28, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 ASPH

If you visit Yellowstone National Park and drive up the eastern side of its crazy-eight loop, the world is precise, rectilinear, even as it is, of course, wildly gorgeous and gorgeously wild.  A gorge in fact, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, shows how the park got its name, and if you are a photographer, you are drawn to take certain pictures, year after year, each time reveling in the precision and sharpness of your lens capturing every facet of the rock faces in the plummet to the water.

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Ah, but after you’ve spent time crossing Dunraven Pass and seeing the movement of the animals in the Lamar Valley, when after a day or so it is time to head back down the west side of the park, things get weirder.  This is the land of the fumarole, of the geyser, a steaming, smoking remnant of the volcano underneath your feet. You leave the world where the sharpness of your lens is what matters and enter a place where the art that’s thrust before you everywhere you turn has become unmoored from familiar geometry.

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Once you’re in the Norris Geyser Basin, you are in a completely unfamiliar place, mystical in many ways.  And before you know it, you’re surrounded by pure abstraction and found art.

Yellowstone AbstractYellowstone is sublime, an environment worthy of Rilke.  As you work your way further down its western road, it becomes nothing short of magical.  The herds of bison you’ve seen earlier in the day seem as far away as the grid pattern of Manhattan. Things get very strange.  And found art, nature’s Jackson Pollacks, is everywhere you look.

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Fountain Paint Pot, a perennial stop on our visits there, is different every time, the bacteria pools a completely different color then when last you were there.  Which makes sense, since they’re piping hot and exist in a fierce environment.

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You begin to wonder how the surface of the Earth would look as a giant photograph hung on a large living room wall.

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By the time you get to Grand Prismatic Spring, you know that no human could possibly compete with the caldera of Yellowstone in creating non-representational beauty.

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The Earth is a beautiful place, but the Lower Geyser Basin is more than simply beautiful.  It is, in its own way, terrifying, even as you marvel at it, jaw agape.

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Lurking behind the question of how nature determined its design is, of course, the world’s greatest mystery.  Where did this come from? How did it happen to be here?  Answer that and millions will follow your words down the centuries.

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And when you leave, and head back to your safe existence, you do so determined to come back to this repository of glorious natural art.  And you do so, year after year, like visiting the Louvre, or in this case, Nature’s MOMA.

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For more images of Greater Yellowstone in color, go here.  And if you’d prefer black and white, go here.

On “Orc,” Thee Oh Sees’ 19th Album, John Dwyer Makes A Statement

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on August 30, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Orc is, if you can believe it, Thee Oh Sees’ 19th album.  Though it’s their first album under the name “Oh Sees.”  Whatever this is, however you count it or categorize it, John Dwyer has by now built such a confounding, amazing, gorgeous, pulverizing body of work there should be a monument to him just outside the Temple of Real Rock’n’Roll.

Less than four years ago Santa put a lumpa coal in our Christmas stocking with the news that Thee Oh Sees were breaking up.  It was particularly disheartening because the gang at Tulip Frenzy had just voted Floating Coffin the #2 album on that year’s Top Ten List (c). Lo those many years ago, we wrote, “You have no idea what Thee Oh Sees are going to come out with next!  A No Wave rock opera.  Speed-metal yodeling.  Eddy Cochran backed by zithers. We are completely serious: this is a band that through sheer dint of trying proves every mother’s maxim that if only little Johnny puts his mind to it, he can do anything.  If little Johnny is John Dwyer, the answer is yes, yes he can.  And you would be well advised to catch up.”  Have to say it, that was good advice then, and now.

If John Dwyer had thrown in the towel then, he would have assumed his rightful place in history; that here we are, four years and five albums later, and his replacement unit from the Oh Sees classic of the early part of this decade has now fused into nothing less than a machine and you can see why we are so thrilled that Orc has joined the party.

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Here’s all you need to really know, if you are not someone whose large ganglia have twitched to Dwyer’s yips and the propulsive drumming of his 100-horsepower twin tyros lashed to the back of his guitar work.  The big question about punk rock was always what it would turn into when the primitives learned to play.  You know, not every band could be the Clash and by Sandinista be playing Mose Allison covers and pushing at the forefront of what was then called rap.  But at least three recs ago, Dwyer showed he could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix.  That he could compose complex rock songs with a power and beauty that rivaled anyone who’s ever admitted to participating in the genre.  That he seriously could, on the same album, mix punk, prog rock, garage, psychedelia, and pop.

Last year, on the matched pair albums of An Odd Entrances and A Weird Exits we really could see adding jazz and Krautrock to that list. He is the magpie’s magpie, but that implies a lack of originality and in fact he’s the opposite.  A guy who as recently as 2011 was playing punk rock at high speeds is now capable of anything.  Here’s an example: on Orc‘s “Keys To The Castle,” we start out on a light jog, John Dwyer singing harmony with (we hope) once + future Oh Sees singer Brigid Dawson, and ‘fore ya know it we’re traversing a steeper pitch with some classic punk chords as the song intensifies.  And there there is a pause… and we come back at slow mo’ speed with cello and organ and synth, in a lovely electric piano chordal half-walk, the sounds of space wrapping your face, and for the next four minutes, you are in a dream.

We’d say he does that on every song, but in fact, “Keys To The Castle” is both a standout and also, if you’ve been paying attention, just exactly what we’ve come to expect from the impossible-to-pin-down Mr. Dwyer and his morphing set of musicians and band names.

For the past six or seven years, we have lived in a Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll due to the presence of John Dwyer, Ty Segall, and White Fence’s Tim Presley.  If the advance word on Wand’s new rec is right, add Cory Hanson to the list of West Coast genies making life worth living.  John Dwyer’s band(s) have pushed forward a 60+-year old genre in part by reconciling all its best pieces.  On Orc, he makes a statement.

And did we mention that just yesterday came word that Thee Oh Sees’ 20th album will be released in… November.  It is said to be coming out under the band’s original name, OCS, and will be “pretty, pastoral, folky, with string arrangements by Heather Locke and brass arrangements by Mikal Cronin.”  We cannot fucking wait.

On Trying To Capture An Iconic Image

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , on August 26, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

The other night, my family and I were driving to the north end of Grand Teton National Park for dinner when the sky put on a show. “Jesus light,” my son called it, those cathedral shafts of heavenly luminance sweeping the ground below it.  Better than 15 years after first spending time in Jackson Hole in the summer, I seldom stop at the Snake River Overlook to take a picture — you know the spot because you’ve seen Ansel Adams’ iconic image of it 1000 times — but this time I did, because the light promised it would be worth it.

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

And it was worth it, stopping and taking a picture captured a million times or more by every photographer worth his salt who comes to this spot, slightly higher than where Adams set up his tripod back in the 1940s.  In fact, the very first image ever posted on this site was the above view, only taken on a freezing cold morning in 2008, when the bright sun highlighted the snow that had fallen on the Tetons.

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Last night, when processing my most recent picture of the Snake River Overlook, even referencing the iconic Ansel Adams photo for inspiration and comparison, my son saw what I was doing and, as only a 19-year old can do, laughed at his old man.  He’s reading White Noise by Don DeLillo, and he quickly found the riff about how we all take pictures of things that have been immortalized in photographs which, over time and multiple exposures, no longer are seen in their own right, but are viewed as “photographs.”  We take pictures of pictures, DeLillo says.  Which is true enough, when it comes to iconic images that we are drawn to photograph over and over again: the Half Dome in Yosemite, the Moulton Barn in Jackson Hole.

Spending time in Jackson Hole is both rewarding and frustrating for a photographer, because as a friend of ours once said, it’s hard not to take a good picture here.  But at the same time, with so many thousands of wonderful photographers having come before you, it’s hard to take an original photo, and harder still to take an iconic image.

There is a photographer named Ed Riddell whose work I urge readers to check out, because to me, his lovely photography of the Tetons comes closest to being truly iconic.  So much so that, like a lemming following DeLillo’s playbook, I found myself earlier this summer trying to imitate one of his best-known images, which you can see if you click on the link to his site.

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm

I certainly found out where he’d taken the image from, which had always been a mystery.  And I came close (though no cigar) to recreating his angle of view.  His image is, of course, better, because of that wild kismet of his having found the right angle, the right lens to use, and because there were both rain clouds and bright sunshine to illuminate the shot. He was in the right place at the right time, with the skill to get the image — something to which photographers as disparate as Joel Sternfeld and Henri Cartier-Bresson can attest.

Still, going out in search of where he’d taken the image from, and yes, trying to imitate it, is as valuable an exercise as something I know writers other than me have tried doing: typing a paragraph or a sentence from a favorite novel, just to feel what it is like to have written, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”  When you do that, you aren’t Joyce — I’m neither Joyce nor Ed Riddell — but I am a better writer and photographer because I have reached for the greatness they inspired.

It dawned on me recently that — and I say this with the modesty of someone who has taken thousands of pictures in this valley, among which a handful have merit — I have taken an image or two that could be added to the Jackson Hole iconography.  Two years ago, I was in the Elk Refuge on a night when the clouds rolled in and the sun was shining, and I took this image:

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Leica Monochrom, Typ-246, and Vario-Elmarit-R 70-180

In my humble opinion, this is an image that, were it to have enough exposure, could help define the Sleeping Indian that sits across the valley from the Tetons as being at least the equal to the Grand Teton as an object of photographic interest.  The picture is original, which is to say, I don’t know others who had the same luck to be where I was, with the right tools in hand, and clouds behaving just as they did, the light so perfect.

But let’s go back to the other night as we were driving to dinner, and by chance, the Tetons were illuminated wondrously while I had a camera in the car and a patient driver (my wife), who let me exclaim, “Pull over here!” understanding that the light — and the opportunity — were special.

We first took the image that is at the top of this post, which I quite like.  But over the next few minutes we also took this:

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To us, this is as good an image as we rightly ever can expect to take here.  We can see it printed on a large scale, can visualize it on a wall.  It is our picture.  We didn’t take it in imitation of Ansel Adams or Ed Riddell.  We were blessed to have been in the right place at the right time with the right tool and opportunity.  It is a picture of a thing: the Tetons bathed in “Jesus light.” It is not a picture of a picture.  We humbly add it to our own roster, our own portfolio.

The search for an iconic image — a picture that defines something well known, but in a unique way — is a goal that can motivate a photographer surrounded by a multitude of photographers.  (Though if we are being honest, the first ingredient in making an iconic image is simply showing up, camera in hand, when something wondrous unfolds before you.  Garry Winogrand famously said that he liked taking pictures to see what things looked like as a picture; getting out of the house and going to where a good picture might be taken is at least equal in importance to having the skill to capture the image when you see it.) It is a pursuit that allows us to move forward even as we look at Instagram and, on a daily basis, have our breath taken away by the brilliance of so many others.

If you would like to see other such images of Jackson Hole in monochrome, here is a link to our black and white portfolio.  And if you would like to see our approach to color photography in the Tetons, perhaps you will go here.

 

 

 

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