I was interviewed by Kah Kit Yoong, a very successful Landscape Photographer for the ‘Mountain Light’ group on Flickr.com
Here is the text of the interview:
You have one of the most amazing portfolios around in terms of sheer quality. Of course composition, great light and technical expertise are a given at this level. However one aspect that sets your work apart is the sense of adventure in each image. How do you capture this unique quality so consistently?
I’ve had some great opportunities to travel these last few years and I’ve made it a goal to see the places I always dreamed about growing up. Places like Tibet, Patagonia and the South Pacific. These spectacular locations conjure up images of adventure in most people’s minds purely by their history. So I am riding a bit on that history. And believe me, these areas have earned their legendary standing in the collective imagination. I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I was by the scale and beauty of these areas when I first arrived. I mean seriously overwhelmed. Like, ‘how can I possibly do this place the justice it deserves through a two dimensional photograph’ overwhelmed. Patagonia in the autumn is a prime example. Two of the most legendary mountains in the world, Fitzroy and Cerro Torre were glistening with fresh snow and ice and the twisted and weathered Lenga trees were glowing in autumn’s red splendor. Blue icebergs drifted on most of the lakes. The place exuded all of the classic qualities of wilderness. Where do you position yourself for sunrise or sunset when every scene is a killer photograph? So I would close my eyes and try and decide what my inner child imagined the place to be like. I spent days hiking every trail looking for just the right combination of elements that would capture the feeling of being there but also be true to my imagination of what I expected to feel there. ‘Autumn in Patagonia’ brought those elements together for me. The towering spires piercing the clouds covered in fresh ice and gleaming with blue glaciers , the famous wind whipping the surface of the lake, the twisted trees glowing with red leaves, and the unique sepia tonality of that sunset giving it a sense of timelessness and legend. That’s Patagonia to me. I love the idea that I can share those rare enriching moments from the far edges of the earth with people who may never see them but may feel comforted just knowing they are there. Or better yet, inspire people to live the dream and go there. Life is short and as an ER doctor, I see that it is sometimes shorter than people imagined it to be. I don’t want people to have regrets in life. Ultimately I think I want my images to inspire people to realize their dream trips as much as I want them to be successful as art.
Your new website is pretty special and seems to really synergize with your photographic style. Can you share the ideas behind the development of www.MichaelAndersonGallery.com ?
I wanted my website to feel like it was a special book handed down to you by your great grandfather with images of wild places full of adventure waiting to be discovered by anyone with the will and desire to experience them. A book of secrets with just enough information to get you started but enough left unsaid to preserve the adventure and sense of discovery. Sometimes we get the feeling that world has been thoroughly explored and all of the great photos have been taken. I’m here to tell you that there are icons all over the world on the scale of Yosemite’s famous Valley View waiting to be discovered by any photographer that has the imagination and drive to get off the beaten track. I wanted to show people images from places that they have never seen or heard of before in the context of adventure travel. I spent several months developing my concept for the site and purchased a few stock images like the lantern and the map. I wanted the feel of ‘exploration’ to come through on all of the pages. An old world map partially hidden under the sand under the light of a lantern seemed to best capture that feeling. I wanted to make sure there were large blank sections on the map to remind people the world is a big place to explore. Then I contacted Jesse Spear from WideRange Galleries to put it all together into a cohesive graphic. We scanned copies of immigration stamps from my passport into the background to emphasize the ‘travel’ part. Then I wanted the individual image pages to appear like they were being dimly lit in a dark gallery. Jesse took all of these ideas and created the special ‘glow’ over the old world almanac you see as the background on the image pages. Then Jesse’s partner Jack Brauer wrote the code and optimized it for web searching. Working with Jack and Jesse was wonderful and I would highly recommend them for anyone contemplating a website overhaul.
Congratulations on your win in Outdoor Photographer’s Iconic Photo Locations. Can you tell us about what we are seeing in this image and how you set it up?
Thanks! That was quite a thrill for me. When I first saw a photograph of the karst peaks of Guilin thirty years ago, I couldn’t believe a landscape like that really existed. The area remained at the top of my ‘life list’ of places to see since then. When I finally found the opportunity to visit, I wandered alone on the riverbanks and met a cormorant fisherman who showed me his traditional methods. They fish at night and the lantern attracts fish toward the raft so the cormorant can dive in and catch them. The fishermen tie a loose string around the cormorant’s neck so they can’t swallow it completely, and the men pull out the fish and store them in a basket. This method of fishing has existed for over a thousand years here. I decided to call the image ‘Timeless’ in honor of the men and their tradition. I met the fisherman during the day when he was cleaning his raft on the banks of the river. Using a Mandarin phrasebook I carried in my pocket, I asked him if he would be out fishing that evening. He said yes, and I asked if I could watch him from the shore and photograph him. He agreed and seemed genuinely interested in my camera. He understood what I wanted to do and stayed fairly still on the raft as the best sunset of my trip unfolded around us. I used a fill flash to keep the wing detail in the black Cormorant. Suddenly it spread it’s wing wide open. And then the most amazing part happened. It held it’s wings open and remained still like that for about 2 seconds. It was getting pretty dark and my shutter speed was slow at 1/30 second. That single moment, where the cormorant held it’s wings perfectly still was the key to the entire image. The cormorant was tack sharp in the dim twilight during the best sunset of my entire trip.
I’m always interested in how Galen Rowell influenced other photographers. I believe you met him on a workshop. Could tell us about your time with him – what was he like and how did he influence you?
I think Galen Rowell single handedly inspired an entire generation of photographers. I feel extremely fortunate to have met him in person, not just for a few minutes, but an entire week in the backcountry on one of his first workshops. Workshops weren’t common back then and he was a pioneer in blending backcountry adventure with photo teaching. We stayed at the isolated and rustic Rock Creek Lodge (In the Eastern Sierra) in the middle of winter and cross country skied to all of our photo locations. We reviewed and critiqued each days images in the afternoon next to a fireplace. He had set up an express E-6 processing deal in Bishop so we could get daily feedback. He gave very insightful critiques on the mechanics of photography, but he was also a very philosphical man. In the evenings he told great stories and spoke a lot about his views on wilderness and the politics in Tibet and how photography is intimately tied to our experience. He did not believe we could photograph in a vacuum. Photographs influence the world they are taken in. And the world is experienced in a more intimate manner when you are photographing it. I seem to remember him saying that it was ‘The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Photography’ a reference to a law in physics stating that you cannot simultaneously measure something without changing it. From the perspective of history it’s clear he was right. His photography ended up changing the world he was photographing. He left a lasting legacy by inspiring millions of other photographers including me. He helped preserve the wilderness, created a fund for the people of Tibet, and donated his time and images to many charities around the world. He was much more than a photographer. I hope I can follow his lead in some measure. To show people a world beyond their imagination, inspire them and at the same time protect some of the things that matter most to me.
You say that you want to ‘protect some of the things that matter most’ to you. Can you elaborate? What’s the next step for Michael Anderson?
Great question. A lot depends on my success as a photographer. I can eventually see myself giving my photography more time than I give it now. If all goes well, I would like to add a journalistic component to round things out and meet some of my other life goals. I’m very interested in the idea of preserving the identity of cultures that are intimately connected to the land. I feel we have much to learn from people that still follow ancient traditions rooted in an appreciation and reverence for their environment. I’ll give you an example. Yading National Park in Sichuan China is the most magnificent mountain sanctuary I’ve ever seen. It is an area unknown to most westerners and only opened to foreign travellers in the 1990′s. Joseph Rock explored the area before the cultural revolution and many feel that his descriptions of the area were the inspiration for ‘Shangri La’ in the famous book Lost Horizon. Having been there and read the book, I agree completely. This is the real Shangri La. Towering over a verdant valley of golden larch and clear running streams stand three 6,000 meter peaks that are sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. Each peak represents a bodhisatva or physical incarnation of a buddhist principle sort of like a deity. The three peaks represent Wisdom, Compassion and Power. Tibetans have made pilgrimages to the area for centuries to walk a ‘kora’ around the mountains and gain enlightenment. They are extremely respectful of the area and until recently maintained it in a pristine condition. The Chinese government ‘discovered’ the beauty of the area and now plans to develop it for tourism and created the national park. They plan to build large hotels and a tramway to make it more accessible to tourism. Since I was there in 2006, the Tibetans have been forced out in an armed conflict where unsubstantiated reports indicate hundreds died defending their cultural heritage. I tried to go back and learn more about the developments in 2007 but was refused entry. I would like to go back in 2008 as both a photographer and as a freelance writer and bring the events there to world attention with an article in an adventure magazine. I hope my photographs give me the edge I need to get that story published. Yading, like many others, is a place where the culture of the people who live there help create the identity of the place. A place that is much more than pretty meadows and soaring Himalayan peaks. It is an archetype of the human experience. As a collective people, we can’t afford to let places like Shangri La, Machu Picchu or Patagonia slip from their story book status as places of ultimate refuge in the imaginations of so many people who need them, even if they are only visited in their minds at night.
Thanks Kah Kit for this wonderful opportunity to discuss my photography.To see some of Kah Kit’s amazing photography, visit http://www.magichourtravelscapes.com/