The Pacific North West might very well be one of the most prominent places for photographers. Professional photographer Gary Randall is a fourth generation Oregonian and has made a living of capturing and sharing the beauty of the region. In this Photographer of the Month interview Gary explains how growing up with such scenic surroundings has formed him as a photographer and how his approach has changed during the last years.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you began photography?
Well, I’m a full time photographer. I have been a hobbyist since I received my first camera when I was about six years old. It was a Brownie Hawkeye. Once I was grown I joined the US Navy and immediately bought a 35mm camera, a Yashica Electro 35, and joined the photo club on base. I was taught by the old guys that were happy to have an enthusiastic kid to teach. Once I left the navy I settled down and made a family. I did the responsible thing and got a job. All while keeping photography as a hobby.
In time my life changed and my children grew up and my wife went away. I was left to decide how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Money no longer motivated me. A quest for a meaningful life took over my decisions. This was 15 years ago, the beginning of the digital revolution and I haven’t looked back.
Today I’m a licensed outfitter and guide and conduct photography tours and workshops in the Mount Hood National Forest and the Columbia River Gorge here in Oregon. Living the dream, literally.
The PNW is in my opinion one of the most beautiful places in the world, how has growing up in this region formed you as a photographer?
I agree. The Pacific Northwest has such a concentration of amazing scenery that it makes it pretty easy for PNW Photographers to get amazing photos most any time of the year in mostly any conditions. We have ocean, hills, valleys, glacial peaks, high desert, low desert and we even have a canyon that’s deeper than the grand canyon. If not for the scenery that surrounds me I would not be able to claim the success that I do. I owe a lot to the scenery that I photograph.
I’m a fourth generation Oregonian. Growing up here in the area and having parents like mine allowed me to develop a love of nature that I may not have developed living elsewhere. In addition, when I was a small child my father was in the Navy and we travelled. I was able to see other places which, in most cases, made me appreciate the PNW even more. Coming back to Oregon has always felt like coming home.
A little followup to the previous question: Do you think it’s important for a photographer to live at the doorsteps of grand landscapes? If yes, why?
I don’t necessarily think so. One limitation would be a person’s inability to travel, but I think that an artist, no matter where they reside, can find beauty in the world that surrounds them if they’re open to it. Their landscape portfolio may be a bit lacking of wild images of nature, but their work will be no less significant. Just different.
As for landscape photographers, I know a lot of incredible photographers who photograph Nature amazingly and live in cities or areas that aren’t so scenic. In their case I hold that their removal from such scenery makes them seek it out and appreciate it more than someone who may have been born in it and is just used to it. Familiarity can blind sometimes.
It seems like the photography community in the PNW is pretty close, how is it to live in an area with so many talented landscape photographers? Does it inspire you or perhaps get frustrating at times?
We have some incredible photographers in the PNW. They, like me, are reaping the rewards of living here. I’m starting to become one of the old school guys who started digital photography and social media early. Back then most of us had no real expectations of becoming rich and famous so we all sought each other out in a friendly way to go out and have fun shooting. I think that set a standard here that still holds true today. Many photographers are doing this for fun and not for a full time profession. This keeps certain negativity away.Those of us who have been able to turn this into a living are still friends and are glad to see our friends succeed. We’ve learned a lot from each other along the way. I know that, in my case and I suspect the same for the rest of humanity, the only time that I feel threatened, jealous or frustrated by someone else’s success is when I am not in a good positive place attitude wise myself. Those feelings distract one from creating a positive light in their lives that would attract positive people. It’s something that I have learned to make an effort to avoid.
Concerning inspiration; absolutely yes. We have some heavy hitters in this area who are pioneers in digital photography and processing. I can’t help but feel inspired by them. And the best part is that most are willing to share.
To me your images have a peaceful atmosphere and I can’t help feeling calm when viewing them. What do you wish convey through your photography?
Peace. You nailed it.
I’m a photographer because I seek my own peace and use photography to do that. A secondary benefit of using it as such a tool is that I can bring back an image of a time where I was indeed at peace and share it with those who aren’t as fortunate as I am to be able to go to these places. I realized my mortality about the time that I turned 45 years old. I made a conscious decision to try to cast away all that is not allowing me to live a meaningful life. A life that I won’t regret when my time to pass into the ether arrives. I don’t want to be unhappy about how I spent my life in my last moments. I don’t want regrets. I don’t want anyone to have regrets in life. I want humanity to finally realize what’s really important about living. If we all were truly happy with ourselves, the world would be at peace. If humanity would realize that if they try to make others happy first, the pay it forward concept would take hold in every aspects of life every day. We all would truly be as happy as we could be. The primary tool that I have to do this is my camera. I’m so emotionally affected by the notes of appreciation that I receive from people who are unable to travel to these places. I’m giving them peace in the only way that I can. I have had some rough times in my life but I know that it’s been a cakewalk compared to the lives that others may be living. If I can make anyone happy with what I do my life is enriched.
How has your approach on photography changed since the analog days and what do you feel about the current trends within landscape photography?
Wow. There’s so much that I could say about this.
Camera wise one must realize that the Big Three in photography, shutter speed, aperture and “film speed” haven’t changed. The only thing that has changed is the media in which the image is recorded. After that the whole roof has been blown off the darkroom, so to speak.
My basic approach has changed a lot. I shoot differently these days due to my ability to post process the image digitally. Although we used to practice some of manipulation of our photos in the dark room, push/pull, dodge/burn etc, the ease and limits of how we’re able to effect our photos makes these processes so much easier. The ease and limits mentioned also allow much more artistic creativity, which can be a two edged blade.
Gone are the days when photography is believed carte blanche, not that it ever should have had that trust. I feel that in the future there will be more defined lines demanded by the viewers and judges of photography to allow them to understand if the image is real or not. I also feel that film photography, a media much more trusted by the viewers, will be more appreciated in the future and those who master it will be held a cut above those who are strictly digital, justified or not.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by certain types of people. I’m inspired by people who are honest, work hard and are confident. I am inspired by those who reach out to help others through photography or otherwise.
Concerning the effect that others have had on my work I am very much inspired by 19th century American landscape painters. Those who were exploring these natural areas of the American West prior to the age of practical photography. I’m a huge fan of the Hudson River School of painters, especially Albert Bierstadt. The way that they interpreted light in their work is incredible.
Photographers such as Ansel Adams, Ray Atkeson, Galen Rowell, David Muench, and Christopher Burkett whose classic styles of Landscape work have effected my own style. All are masters of composition. Through minor interactions with Art Wolfe through the last few years I have been inspired to push forward with more confidence by his validation of my work.
I have too many contemporary photographers whom I consider peers whose work inspires me daily.
What are your top three tips to a person just getting started with landscape photography?
Learn the fundamentals of photography by heart, don’t take shortcuts and expect to make a lot of mistakes. Consider them lessons.
A fourth is to do it for the love of it. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.
I think that an artist, no matter where they reside, can find beauty in the world that surrounds them if they’re open to it. – Gary Randall
I’m a photographer because I seek my own peace and use photography to do that. – Gary Randall