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A question sometimes posed to me when I show my photographs is:  What is the project you are working on?  Perhaps the best answer I’ve heard was attributed to Bill Eggleston, who said, simply, “life”.

My “project” is slightly smaller:  I’ve been photographing in the Alaska Landscape since my first arrival here in 1987, working mostly with black and white film and large format cameras.  By the time I arrived here, the Ansel Adams wave had crested and broken, and galleries were awash in imitators, most of who were failing to find an audience, and several fellow photographers told me flat out that the natural landscape was a death trap for serious work…

8-4108 Stream and sky, Dalton Highway, July 2005

But I set out to work anyway, stunned by the landscape, the space, and the feeling that I had never seen a place like this before—that all of the National Geographic spreads on Alaska had failed completely to capture even a small fraction of the landscape here.  My own tastes ran more towards Robert Adams than towards Ansel, and I initially resolved to include human artifacts in my pictures, partly to show the damage we’ve done, and partly to try to give the landscape a sense of scale.  But the huge open spaces were both beautiful and common, absolutely true, and I pointed my camera towards them, full of both wonder and fear.   Sometimes I knew that my ambition was bigger than both my skill and the time I had, but all that mattered was the next shot.

8-1194 Cook Inlet, February, 1993

I once described my ambitions to a well known photography critic, and his first question to me was “What if you fail?”—a question that stung like a curse.    Of course I will fail—this place is far bigger than me—more than I could ever do in a lifetime.   But sometimes individual pictures succeed—sometimes groups of pictures work together—maybe I can’t do the whole thing, but sometimes I think my photographs come close to the truth, or at least a truth.

8-1367 Denali Highway, May, 1993

I once told a friend about the words of that critic—he told me “the next time you see that critic, you tell him that I think he’s a shrill old woman.”—and we laughed.   A witch’s curses have power, but a shrill old woman  just hisses in the wind.


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