Kirk D. Keyes Photography

Artists' Statement

Growing up in Oregon, it is difficult not to love the outdoors. Oregon is one of the most geographically unique and diverse places in the world. The state is divided into two distinct regions - The western section is classified as a Marine Temperate zone, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, characterized by deep, lush forests and productive farmland, stereotyped by the rain. The eastern section a Continental Steppe, filled with sagebrush, juniper trees, huge basalt flows, and dry lakes. The Cascade Mountains, the boundary between these regions, forms a wall with an average elevation of 5,000 ft with several of its' glaciated peaks reaching 9,000 to 11,000 ft above sea level. To top all of this off, the mighty Columbia River has cut its' way through this amazing land. Just about any kind of landscape or environment can be experienced here.

In the Beginning...

There always seemed to be photography around while I was a child. My parents typically had a camera with us when we traveled. My grandparents had a coffee table with the obligatory photography books on it - "Oregon" by Ray Atkeson comes to mind. First printed in 1968, "Oregon" was the first large format photographic book with color plates on the state, a trend-setting book in regional publishing. I can remember looking through "Oregon" and "Oregon II"(1974) while at my grandparents home. In 1988, twenty years after the release of "Oregon", I met Ray Atkeson and was able to spend a little time with him. He was very willing to answer all my novice questions. It is a memory that I will always treasure.

In my early teens, my dad would occasionally buy me some film and let me use his 35 mm camera. I usually would try taking photos of the moon through my small telescope, time-lapse shots of the city lights or stars, or "special effects" photos of my model toys. In high-school, I took a photography class and learned the basics of developing and printing. Still, the subjects were rather mundane - family, friends, and bicycle or auto racing.

Ansel Adams and the Range of Light

Looking through some old Popular Photography magazines during the mid-eighties, I read an article on Ansel Adams. In the 1930's, Adams set a new standard for all photographers, regardless of style or format. I was amazed at the range and vision of his photographs. I had to rush out and find one of his books. "Yosemite and the Range of Light" was the first of many Adams books to be read. I was eventually introduced to the Zone System and fine-art printing through Adams' other books. I immediately stopped trying to find the best method for push-processing film and began using slow-speed and fine-grained 35 mm films like Agfa Pan 25 and Kodak Technical Pan.

I began to create images rather than merely record scenes, to capture images in my mind and place them onto paper for others to see. They were certainly Adams inspired, everyone has to start somewhere. I've never been good at drawing or painting, and I did not have the drive to continue my musical studies, so photography seemed like the needed artistic outlet.

Environmental Chemistry

As an environmental chemist, I appreciate how landscape photography is multi-disciplinary. I recognize how landscape photography is able to combine several disciplines and interests of mine into one activity - chemistry, physics, geography, geology, and astronomy. Landscape photography utilizes both the analytical skills of the scientist and the passion and design of the artist. It requires one to learn how a camera "sees" the world, how contrast and light interplay, and how colors are recorded on color or black and white film.

It is the artist's eye, however, that makes great landscape photographs. I chose to use large format for my work - the larger image area, the upside-down image on the ground-glass, the requirement to use a tripod - I believe that all of these help make stronger and more interesting photographs. Also, I find I am much more selective as to what I will photograph when using a large-format camera due to the time and effort required to set it up. It had better be an interesting image if one is going to spend 15 minutes or more to take a picture.

A Moment In Isolation

I've found that learning to isolate crucial aspects of the scene is quintessential to capturing the desired image - building the interest of the subject by excluding or minimizing the distracting elements in the frame. It is common for the novice to try and shoot the "Grand Landscape", often the most challenging of all landscape subjects. They will typically use a wide-angle lens to capture everything in sight. This is often a mistake. The eye will pick out the elements that make a sunset or landscape interesting or pleasing, but when the same view is transferred to film it loses something in the translation. The skill of photographic seeing is being able to identify the real subject of the potential photograph. This is what I've found it takes to make the most successful images. My goal is to capture the scene as my eyes see it - within the limitations imposed by the camera, lens, and film. To isolate, to compose, to capture the emotion, and to record a personal impression of the moment.

Getting to Know You

I often research places that I photograph by reading travel or hiking books, studying maps of the area, and looking for work by other photographers that have gone before. Sometimes this leaves some preconceived ideas of what will be found. I feel these preconceived ideas can often be photographically dangerous - you may be looking for that one idea while other equally good images are getting away. I try to have an open mind when going into a new area. I believe I am successful if I come away with one image that I like when traveling into a new area. I find my best photos are usually from areas with which I am familiar. It is kind of like being handed a new camera and expecting to create a great image - a familiar landscape will generally produce better photos than an unfamiliar one. I find myself returning to southern Utah, becoming intimately acquainted with several places there. Returning is like visiting an old friend and photographing there is more rewarding with every trip.

Discovering Mother Nature

I enjoy how landscape photography helps one to better appreciate the outdoors and the world around us. In todays world of instant gratification, nature photography forces one to slow down and observe what surrounds you. When out photographing, I am constantly looking for interesting subjects. These range from the "Grand Landscape" to what some call "Microcosms" - the small details of nature. I now see things that I would certainly have missed without having had a camera with me. While I know that the limits of lens and film will never match the intrinsic beauty of nature that the eye sees, I still enjoy the challenge of trying to capture some of these moments and sharing them with others.

A Challenge Accepted

The greatest challenge for the modern landscape photographer is to find new and exciting ways of presenting land forms that may have been already photographed - sometimes to death. Some photographers are compelled to travel to the ends of the earth and then to the top of it's highest peaks in search of unique images, thus avoiding this difficult challenge. Others are content to look in their own backyards. I once had someone comment that the best one can hope for when photographing recognizable subjects (i.e. in Yosemite or the Tetons), is "interesting weather". While this certainly does help sometimes, I think there is more to it than merely the weather. Several aspects must come together to make a successful landscape image - lighting, contrast, shape and form, perspective, composition, and view. It is capturing a unique moment, an instant that is congruous, balanced, and harmonious.

Nothing More, Nothing Less

None of the photographs presented at this web site have been digitally altered from the images recorded on film. I believe that the nature and landscape photographer owes the viewer of their work a natural view of nature. These images should reflect the compositional elements of the actual scene. There is a line of greeting cards with some very beautiful nature shots published by a very famous magazine. The submission guideline from the publisher states "We are always looking for that special moment in time; one that can't be readily duplicated." However, several of these cards have the Moon in places that are not physically possible. These images are certainly "one(s) that can't be readily duplicated" - they represent "moments in time" that never existed! And while these interesting images were probably not created digitally (due to the age of the images), I believe this type of manipulation of the image cheats the viewer when presented as nature photography and should not be presented as such. I do not want to place this blame on the technology of digital imaging, but I ask other nature and landscape photographers to present this genre of photography fairly and without deception. It is a disservice to trick the viewer by presenting synthetic images without proper identification and then represent it as 'nature'. This can only compromise the integrity of the medium and the photographer.

Thanks -

Finally, I would like to thank those who helped me in this adventure - My wife Jeanne, without who much of this would not be possible. She unendingly supports my photographic endeavors and she shares my love of nature and traveling. My friend Phil, for being my unofficial photo-editor, past sherpa, and a fellow large format enthusiast. My friend Brian, for helping in the early day by loaning me enlargers and other equipment. My friend Ruth, for proofreading, offering much encouragement, and being my first benefactor. And finally, my parents, Dick and Letha, for their constant support in all my endeavors.

I hope that you have enjoyed viewing the photographs here as much as I have in taking them.

Kirk D. Keyes Signature