One of the iconic images of the western plains is this formation – Devil’s Tower. I looked up some of Willliam Henry Jackson’s images of the monument and except for the trees nothing much has changed. (Geologic time doesn’t lend itself to photographic motion unless you’re willing to leave your camera set up on a tripod for several thousand years and who’s going to change the battery?). Call me traditionalist but I like discovering some of my images look very similar to the great photographers of the American west. There’s a connection that spans the technology of photography to realize you have stood where these legends placed their tripods, looked over a scene they would find familiar, and made similar decisions as they about composition and exposure. Using a camera similar to the one they used just reinforces the connection, especially when you’re under the dark cloth staring at the ground glass screen to focus and compose an upside-down image.
One tool I have that the 19th century photographers lacked is a way to portray the human element in the context of the landscape. Long lenses were not readily available back then for a number of reasons – weight, sharpness, exposure times – so you rarely see telephoto images like we’re used to seeing. Long lenses give me the ability to reach out to where people are in the landscape, to portray their interaction and scale as part of the grander scene.
These images were made with a digital camera, not a view camera. Not only is it easier to move around and get the desired composition, but the range of lenses available brings a whole new dimension of possibilities. The image on the right was made using a 600mm telephoto lens, something the 19th century photographers would have probably marveled at. You have to wonder what they could have done with such tools.
Sort of like wondering what Einstein could have done with a personal computer….