Photographers, unencumbered by a thousand years of process, have shone their light onto new levels of pictorial creativity. Good examples are Galen Rowell and his wife Barbara. Through countless adventure-photography assignments to the Rockies, Tibet, Patagonia, Galapagos, Antarctica — even to a falcon’s nest at skyscraper top, Galen’s eye and brain have reassessed the business of viewfinder seeing. As well as taking spectacular photos, he has written about the process with clarity and charm. Noted for his invention of selective neutral-density filtering, he has also helped re-define other systems. For artists of all stripes, many of his ideas and observations are worthy of naming and claiming.
More than a dozen of Galen’s books expand the artistic potential. In Galen Rowell’s Vision — the Art of Adventure Photography, he takes us into an exhaustive world of the shot list, sense of place, dream imagery, man and scale, conscious visualization, internal messaging, external ideas, event thinking, finding the metaphor, fizzled-plan opportunity, superman mentality, visionary behavior, heightened symbolism, emotional transference, visual drama, image maturity and the science of chaos. Just as in the Eskimo language there are many words for snow, light and its effects in Galen’s universe come to be known by many names. Galen has an intensely curious mind that is able to make remarkable leaps of faith. Imagery, before and after the event, is examined for the emotional and intellectual responses that were expected and achieved.
Galen and Barbara take you with them and leap with you from pinnacle to pinnacle. Like many evolved artists they are at home discussing their favourite film-stock (Fuji Velvia) as well as defining a philosophy for their art. At the base of it all is a courageous heart and the capacity to be forever in a questioning mode.
PS: “Even though failures are certain to outnumber successes, the idea of pursuing a dream image in my imagination and going out to find the place where it actually happens is what keeps my creative juices flowing.” (Galen Rowell) “Chance favors the prepared mind.” (Louis Pasteur)
Esoterica: Tragically, Galen and Barbara Rowell died in an airplane crash in central California on August 11, 2002. The images we have of the Rowells in life were often of them hanging upside down from some impossible escarpment. They thrived on new and dangerous assignments — new vistas seen with new eyes. An adventure-photographer hops between locations. He and she flew down into the volcano and through the circular rainbow. An adventure-photographer does not sit at an easel and stare at his shibboleths. An adventure-painter can learn from this.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Memorial to Galen and Barbara
by Barnaby Guthrie, Comox, BC, Canada
This is the message that I left on page 2 of memorial messages on the Mountain Light website after the Rowell’s tragic death last year. “Thou hast left behind Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies; There’s not a breathing of the common wind that will forget thee; thou hath great allies; Thy friends are exultations, agonies, and love, and man’s unconquerable mind. (William Wordsworth) My sincerest condolences to the Rowell family and the Mountain Light staff.”
(RG note) The Rowell’s website and their remarkable photos are at www.mountainlight.com
by Bruce Stangeland, Berkeley, CA, USA
Thanks for the tribute to Galen and Barbara Rowell. My wife went to nursery school with Galen here in Berkeley. Her mother claimed that Galen was always adventurous, and tried to escape the nursery school by climbing the fence. Galen’s mother was an excellent cello teacher in Berkeley. We went to a recital at her home in the 1990s.
Rock and Ice Magazine
by Mindy Drolet
Your letter regarding Barbara and Galen Rowell was wonderful. As a mother of climbers, I recently read an article on the Rowells in issue #119 of Rock and Ice Magazine. There is a beautiful picture of Galen in Lo Manthang, Nepal, in 1993. He is showing a group of Tibetans his book, My Tibet.
(RG note) The photo was taken by Dan Bailey — see below
Tribute to the Rowells
by Dan Bailey, Fort Collins, CO, USA
Known to many around the world, Galen was one of the most accomplished climbers to ever explore the planet, he completed expeditions on all seven continents and in his forty five years of climbing, racked up over 100 first ascents on rock walls and mountains in places such as California, Alaska, Patagonia, Tibet and Pakistan.
Of course, Galen was also the world’s preeminent adventure and wilderness photographer. His work has appeared in magazines and books worldwide, and his contributions to the world of outdoor photography and his message that we all should work hard to preserve the natural world go unmatched. He is the true father of the modern day adventure photographer, and his ethics, efforts and style have paved the way for me and countless other photographers to make a living photographing the wild lands of the earth and the people who explore them. I know that I speak for a huge number of others when I say that he was one of, if not the biggest influence and mentor in our lives, especially during the time when we were discovering our passions for outdoor photography and entertaining ideas about pursuing it as a profession. Perhaps the quote of his that rang the loudest chord in my soul and inspired me the most comes from his 1984 book, Mountain Light.
“One of the shocking realizations of adult life is that most of us are not fulfilling the most closely held dreams of our youth. Instead of pursuing dreams that were once integral parts of our personalities, we end up in one way or another fulfilling someone else’s ideas about who and what we should be, usually at the expense of our creative urges.”
Galen and Barbara were also my friends. In 1993, I traveled with them to the region of Mustang, Nepal. At the time, I was a budding photographer, and had yet to make the jump to being a professional. I’d always known them through books and articles, but to get to know them as people was incredibly rewarding. After the trip, we kept up a regular correspondence, and our paths crossed a few more times over the years. The last time I saw Galen and Barbara was at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon right after Christmas three years ago. We ate dinner and shared stories in the cafeteria and then Galen and I went out shooting together early the next morning. I cherish the memories that I have of them and will miss the nonstop energy and wonderful contributions that they made to the world.
Look for the exact image
by Susan Spoke, Chelsea, Quebec, Canada
I have been inspired by Galen for many years and was shocked to come to the end of your tribute and discover that he had died.
One thing among many that has directed my photography and painting since I read his books 15 years ago was the observation that he tries to find the image that exactly portrays the “ahah” moment he may feel in a particular setting. Unlike many photographers who take thousands of photos and throw out most, Galen always tried to take the perfect shot every time, the one that captured the moment. He describes scenes of wild dashes in his truck to find the foreground for a sunset or sky that had thrilled him!
And always, he portrayed that personal courage to go anywhere he needed to be to experience life to its fullest. His loss and that of his soul mate Barbara is a loss to us all. But what a legacy… so many unforgettable images and ideas. As an artist he taught me to look for the exact image that has inspired me as I passed by a scene… not just an approximation, but the exact angle and light that caught me in an instantaneous flash of recognition and illumination.
Erotic Art Show
by Catherine MacLeod
I was taken aback by people’s negative responses to the Erotic Art Show letter. I wonder how they manage to express themselves artistically when words and language and thought has to be policed so strongly in order to feel safe. Please keep being your free-spirited self, and let your thoughts pour out. Ignore the naysayers. Shame and guilt are old ideas. Have a wonderful day.
Human passions disgusting?
by Pauline Conn, Bedford, TX, USA
I’m stunned by the reaction to your letter about the erotic art show. I believe that one of the gifts of art is to expand people’s boundaries; to cause them to feel things they have perhaps not felt recently, whether those feelings are love, peace, anger, or passion. I guess the show did its job! I am artist/massage therapist and deeply spiritual person. Imagine my delight when I returned to drawing after several years of being a massage therapist. My pencil and eye translated what my hands so intimately knew- the shape and form and density and fluidity of the human form. I found the examples from the show to be very moving. How can people have a passion for art and yet find human passion disgusting? And yes, your letter about the show had a little different flavor than most. I really enjoy getting to know people; and this was your gift to us — a side of yourself we hadn’t seen before. Thanks for sharing your life and knowledge with the world.
Tastefully draped model
by Glenn Morgan
Last Tuesday night we had an event at our local gallery and it was a great success! Our guild put on a wine and cheese party to improve community awareness of the gallery. Local business people and leaders (about 400 in all) were invited. At this event we set up a studio and had a live model pose while a number of us drew. Our model (Rebecca) was tastefully draped and wore a colorful Parisian hat. The lighting and music added to this atmosphere. Drawings, pastels and paintings from our weekly workshop lined the walls. Many people were impressed and delighted with this event. Many contacts were made and the overall event was a great success. I look forward to being part of another one in the near future.
by Teri Walker Thomas, Sherwood, Oregon, USA
I have really enjoyed your letters, and look forward to them, but since you have revealed your moral (or lack of) views regarding the “Erotic Art Show,” 2/14, it’s harder to take you seriously. I was also surprised that you had no regard for your daughter taking a year-long trip around Europe with her boyfriend, at least there was no evidence that they were married.
Recently I went to the coast of Oregon scouting for more galleries last week and found a very nice one but their explicit sexual art was uncalled for and out of place so I left without considering it a possible place to display my art.
The image of the philandering, morally debauched, alcoholic artist, has got to go! In the middle ages art mainly only expressed religious themes and stories of the Bible to give people hope and reverence for God, our Creator. Now our society worships the pleasures of the flesh and has forgotten God. This verse says a lot, …”If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked wicked ways, then they will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14.)
Amazing and eclectic
by Caroline Jobe
I thought most people had found out that “God” is a loving being. I find it scary that there are those among us who still live as in biblical times, in fear of a judgmental deity. The body and its functions were supposedly created by “God” as was the rest of this planet. I suppose to some “God” is a man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud throne somewhere up there. I guess the “God” that George Bush refers to when he talks about going to war to bring peace is that same fearful being that the artists who are no longer subscribing to your letters, are talking about. Fear is the problem. It is a shame that religious institutions still promote it. I found the erotic show an amazing and eclectic presentation.
Let it all hang out
by Jan Zawadzki
I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘let it all hang out’ laundry view. Smartly done. In one move you got rid of the cretins. I wonder if these would be the same people who allow their children to view the destruction and malignment of the human body as an acceptable avenue of the film industry’s art while censoring those most important images of love and the erotic as the art of things Human.
(RG note) Actually sixteen artists unsubscribed, which is the highest yet. On the same day there were seventy-five new artists joining us. I’ve never tried to please everybody. To curiosity I plead guilty.
by Kim Rody, Stuart, FL, USA
I was AMAZED at the response in the clickbacks… I thought we were a bohemian crowd… well, maybe “bobo’s” now… bourgeois bohemians. You know, where we have the complete freedom to express any kind of art we feel welling from our bosoms, er, strike that, chests (doesn’t sound so good), … er, hearts. There. That would be the correct word. I hope nobody was offended with the full frontal turtle you picked to put with my letter.
Something wrong here
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, ON, Canada
Well, Robert, you certainly “got it” about the erotic art show. To be expected. Surprising that your comment, “Penises were front and center … the show was certainly well hung,” didn’t get you a cyber slap on the wrist. Puns, good or bad, always give me a giggle.
What does this say about your readers? The comments reveal more about the writers than they perhaps realize. What’s all the fuss about? There has been erotic art for centuries; our time happens to be more prudish in some ways than the Victorian Era, and more contradictory. There is nudity, rape, the slaughter of innocents (and innocence), the worst kind of obscene violence, even nude news shows on television, in films, on stage — yet an erotic art show is condemned. There’s something awfully wrong here.
Venus of Willendorf
by Nicola Scott
The Venus of Willendorf is both erotic and spiritual, or do people just think it’s a particularly bad impression by a non-uplifted, depraved ice age bloke who fantasized about fat women in the all-together?
Please just avert your eyes
by Susan-Rose Slatkoff, Victoria, BC, Canada
To the people who were upset by your letter about the erotic art show. I say, “Of course you have a right to your opinion.” But … once you knew the topic, which was clearly stated, why did you not merely choose not to look? There is something afoul when people take a good long look, all the while tsk tsking. If you are insulted by the basic human glory of eroticism, then avert your eyes.
No apology needed
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
First, I was glad to see that you did not apologize for last week’s Valentine’s letter. Those that have unsubscribed for just one letter with which they disagreed, are the ones who have lost a precious commodity; a community that is honest and open; one that is willing to listen to and post a variety of perspectives and points of view. So in art, do they discount all “voices” with which they disagree? Have they no sense of humor? What may seem to be lewd to one, is erotic to another, is just another nude to someone else. Thanks for the continued variety of letters, topics and varied responses. Keep ’em coming.
Try “divine love”
by Alar Jurma, Montreal, Canada
An equal number of people probably would be offended if you mention the idea of spirituality or “divine love” as an integral part of art and humanity. So go figure! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Maybe we artists should just stick to painting pretty flowers in vases. That should keep us out of trouble. In my mental wanderings I have come to see that love comes in three principal octaves of expression, and each octave has importance and relevance to an artist. The first and most basic octave would be physical love and the appreciation for and expression of passion that is ignited between a man and a woman. The second and perhaps higher octave of love would be “aesthetic love” or the aesthetic appreciation of truth, beauty, harmony, composition, color, movement and melodious sounds etc. The third, and still higher or more refined octave, would be the expression of divine love; and I think many great artists focus on that as much, and if not more, than the other two. Rembrandt, Mozart, Dostoevsky, etc. To turn one’s back on any one aspect of love seems to me to be a little myopic and intolerant of our human condition. OK, Bob, back to writing about “underpainting” and not “undressing” for a spell.
We should honour and glorify it
by Maureen Ryan
I am not surprised that penises were front and center when penises are front and center in this potential time of war. And I am also not surprised that you did not hear shouts of love and appreciation of women’s vulvas. Perhaps if we did honour and glorify the beauty, mystery and sensuality of the feminine we would be living in a more equitable, beautiful, and peaceful world.
by Jane Morgan
I was appalled to read the response from Joe Blodgett re the United States and the Iraqi artist’s note in a clickback. First, Mr. Blodgett you don’t know if this was propaganda on this man’s part, as most Iraqis that live here tell a very different story. Don’t always believe what you read. Secondly, you must not be reading what Saddam does to his own people. He has killed thousands and thousands, and is still using them as his weapons, and as his targets. He killed his son-in-law, he has no mercy for those who don’t do things his way. He doesn’t care about his people, he uses them for his own benefit. He has money to feed all his people, provide them with decent living, homes, and with health care and have billions left! He is one of the most evil men in the world and he will do anything for his cause. He flat out “doesn’t care!”
If we used our “brute force” as you call it we would have done away with Saddam a long time ago. How much more do we and other nations have to prove to the UN that this man violates everyday the weapons agreement. The only reason France, Germany, and Russia are holding out is because of the “almighty dollars” that they are receiving from Iraq. They don’t care because they are being paid. The UN is a weak bunch of politicians and as the bible says, people had rather believe a lie, because it is easier. A person would have to be blind not to see this. Colin Powell so eloquently talked for over 30 minutes to the United Nations and those three countries still had closed ears. That man along with President Bush have tried everything to stave off war, and are doing everything possible to keep our people safe.
Have you ever read/looked at history of how the United States has defended all these countries — look at Normandy where thousands of our soldiers lost their lives defending the French! I deplore people who are so liberal and so closed minded that they can’t see the forest for the trees and I resent that you suggest we send a thousand more inspectors — that is a joke. They have broken the treaty, and it is not about inspectors, they are playing a game and you are buying it. Your statement “The nations should take off the sanctions and bombard them with love, medicine and food” is about liberalism and utopia. Get real! Liberals are real good with their mouths but when it comes down to actually doing something, like putting forth their energy and money, they aren’t there. Saddam has and is doing exactly what he wants and he is using his money to funnel money to all the terrorists and I hope you don’t wake up one day and find it is too late for the US to take defensive measures to save “our people” from destruction at the hands of Saddam. If you play into his hands by his threats, then shame on you. I prefer to do what is right, honorable, and for the best of the United States and other nations — we, the US, have come to everyone’s rescue and “no one comes” to ours, doesn’t that show you a picture? Why do you think people dislike us — I think it is very easily figured out. God has richly blessed our country and He does it because we are so generous to our neighbors, even Canadians!
America wants peace, I want peace, but sometimes war is the only thing that brings people back to a sense of peace. If we had taken Saddam out in the Gulf War, we wouldn’t be facing this today, what a shame we didn’t do it then.
P.S. Don’t for one minute think that I don’t feel for all people and their plight, but protecting our country and other nations from people like Saddam is a top priority and things have to be done to stop it; and yes, lives will be lost, but we have to do it and I am one of those Americans that believe we should have already gone in without UN approval to remove the “world” of a man capable of destroying the world as we know it.
And another thing, I don’t think, in an artist’s letter, that political statements should be made like you made, that is why I am responding. This letter should be for artists and what they do, things to help them in their art et al, not political viewpoints/statements! I, as one artist, would prefer that you refrain from your political viewpoints in this newsletter. This was one place I could go and read things about other artists and not have to read controversial political viewpoints — until now!
(RG note) The letter from Joe Blodgett is at Body of work.
by Mariam and Carlos, Tehran, Iran
Being in Iran for the past 5 months has been quite an experience — nothing that either Carlos or I could have really expected when we thought of moving here. Our artistic production has been limited because our whole mechanisms are busy at survival right now. We’re still in assimilation mode. With regard to the potential of war, people here (us included) are oblivious to the whole charade. Except when we turn on satellite TV and get hyped-up by the news broadcasts on CNN and BBC. There’s every kind of joke, political satire imaginable about George Bush and his people, as I expect there is everywhere nowadays, but the population is not really worried about war. The general population is unconcerned, but the best word to describe the thinking people’s (that includes artists) feeling with the situation is “indignation.”
by Bernard Weiner, contributed by Warren Criswell, Benton, Arkansas, USA
Colin Powell goes to the United Nations so that the missile attacks on Baghdad and Basra can begin — and, in the lobby of that grand building, Picasso’s “Guernica” painting, which depicts the horrific results of the Nazi bombing of that Spanish town, is covered over prior to Powell’s arrival. No use embarrassing the U.S. by reminding folks of what’s in store for Iraqi civilians.
John Ashcroft, in his police-state zeal, begins shredding the Constitution’s Bill of Rights with its guarantees of due-process of law, and, early on, has the huge lobby statue of the Goddess of Justice draped and covered over because of her exposed breast. How appropriate to shroud Justice so that she can’t see what’s being done in her name.
First Lady Laura Bush cancels a poetry workshop at the White House because she suspects that a number of America’s high-profile poets, in the sacred grounds of that seat of power, will raise the issue of the coming war with Iraq.
Did you notice the thread that unites these events? In all three cases, symbolic shrouds are placed over art, so that nobody will notice the bad things that are being done in American citizens’ names.
But art knows. Art sees beyond, often before the general public is aware of what’s going on. (Often before the artists themselves are conscious of what they’re revealing.) Art points us in new directions that make us think and question.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.