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"Mountain Light" by Galen Rowell

Obregon

New York City, US
2611 posts

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Obregon Moderator Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Charter Member
Fri 10-Jan-03 01:44 PM

The recent death of Galen Rowell led me to read one of Rowell's classic books, "Mountain Light". The book was originally published in 1986 and then a second edition was published in 1995.
Rowell's outdoor photographs appeared as the background for many advertisements, but he was also regularly featured as an artist and adventurer in many outdoor magazines, and often appeared in the National Geographic. For many years he was a columnist in Outdoor Photography magazine, and several volumes of his collected essays have appeared, as well as many books of photographs.

Rowell was both an observer and a participant. Indeed, at an early age, he was a famous mountain climber and only took up photography to document his ascents. His athleticism is famous. The story is often told of one of his most famous pictures taken when he saw a rainbow in the ski in Tibet. He ran a few miles cross-country to photograph this rainbow touching down on the roof of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

"Mountain Light" is two books in one. First, there are a series of "exhibits" that consist of photographs with a description of the circumstances under which the individual picture was taken. Interleaved with the exhibits are chapters in which Rowell tells of life as a photographer, talks about his photographic philosophy, and describes some of his trips.

The pictures are spectacular. There is a feeling that they must have been manipulated outside the camera but Rowell convinces us that they were not by his descriptions of the circumstances of their taking. Moreover, Rowell instructs us about how to find the same lighting effects. He calls these conditions "Magic Hour", "Backlight", "Soft Light", "Sundown to Sunrise", "Artist's Light", "Figures in a Landscape", "Light against Light" and "Unexpected Convergence". If you can keep these conditions in mind, your mountain landscapes will certainly become more spectacular, although I wonder how some of these conditions can be applied by a flatlander like me.

For instructional purposes the discussions of Rowell's life and philosophy, as told in the chapters, and some of the lengthy descriptions of individual photographs, may be more problematic. Some of us will undoubtedly be able to take inspiration from the stories of ascents of Everest. For me, at least, the chance of getting sponsorship for a trip to Tibet by National Geographic is so remote, that I found it hard to make a connection to this great photographer. On the other hand, for those who find travel tales interesting, Rowell's adventures will be entertaining.

If you have encountered Rowell elsewhere you will already either love him or hate him. I myself keep one of his essay collections, "The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography", near at hand to read whenever I feel the need for a quick jolt of inspiration or technique from a rare photographic thinker. If you are a Rowell lover and you haven't read "Mountain Light", read it. If you're not familiar with Rowell this is as good a place to start as any.

G