Friday, August 11, 2017

Galen Rowell | Mountain Photographer


Exactly fifteen years ago on this day celebrated mountain photographer Galen Rowell and his wife Barbara Cushman Rowell died in a tragic plane crash. Rowell was 61 years old at that time.

A multi faceted personality he was a photographer, a mountain climber as well as a writer.

Though Rowell was primarily a landscape photographer, he was not averse to other forms of photography as well. He spent long hours waiting for the right light for his photos. Living in California, the nationals parks like Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon were his back yard  including Owens Valley in the Sierra Nevada and  it is here that he did some of his most splendid work.

A Rowell photo has a distinctive stamp on it and if you are familiar with his work you would probably recognise the photographs.

He pioneered a photo technique using a filter called the split neutral density filter in varying strengths to lift the shadow detail in a high contrast landscape shot. Rowell was so successful at this that the boutique filter company called Singh-Ray developed split  ND filters based on what Rowell had pioneered!

One of his most famous images is the rainbow over the Potala Palace in Tibet. The story goes that when the rainbow appeared in the sky Rowell was no where near the Potala. He ran to the Palace and positioned himself in such a location that the rainbow seemed to emanate from the roof of the Potala an amazing shot which has become a signature Rowell print as well.

Some of his great photographs which has inspired and will continue to inspire generations of photographers all over the world are reproduced below:






Some of Galen's best remembered quotes are below:

You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn't waste either.

When the magic hour arrives, my thoughts center on light rather than on the landscape. I search for perfect light, then hunt for something earthbound to match with it.

My advice for climbers or photographers is to really tune into your own passions and not just what other people are doing or aren't doing. Figure out what works for you, what turns you on, what gives you the greatest amount of energy and feeling of satisfaction. 

“Galen Rowell was a man who went into the mountains, into the desert, to the edge of the sea, to the last great wild places in the world to be absorbed by their grace and grandeur. That is what he did for himself. For the rest of us, he shared his vision with—click—the release of a shutter, creating photographs as timeless, as stunning, and as powerful as nature itself.”
Tom Brokaw, from the foreword of Galen Rowell: A Retrospective

For details of Galen's work and the gallery he established in Bishop,  do visit www.mountainlight.com  and for an essay from the Sierra Club archives do visit  http://vault.sierraclub.org/books/photos/rowell/ 

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