Friday, January 13, 2012

Man Versus Nature

Man Versus Nature

I'm stealing a few moments this morning editing images and jotting down notes for an upcoming presentation in Minneapolis, PHOTOGRAPHING THE WILD.

Staying focused on a project like this can be tough as the tendency to weave all over the place blossoms because the concept takes on many faces. It’s like going to a tile store picking out tile for kitchen remodeling many choices, where do you start?

Something happened during the edit that has found a voice in the program. I’m surprised at the number of images snapped on the edges of wilderness that are as strong as those created inside the wilderness.

I recall reading Roderick Nash’s famed book, WILDERNESS & THE AMERICAN MIND and one of his descriptions of wilderness.

“If paradise was early man’s greatest good, wilderness, as its antipode, was his greatest evil. In one condition the environment, garden-like, ministered to his every desire. In the other it was at best indifferent, frequently dangerous

and always beyond control.”

Author Edward Abbey offered this quip;

“Wilderness in not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”

On a recent assignment covering moose on Isle Royale National Park, we didn’t see a moose in five days. In fact, we never saw one. We backpacked over 45 miles searching the shoreline of Lake Superior, the interior, back country ponds and lakes, nothing. Finally one night we heard one, bellowing for a mate. It was during a new moon phase so the blackness was heavy. The only light came from stars and a faint aurora trying to ignite over Canada. It was so still outside and every sound magnified over the lake as we sat at the edges of the water. When the bull moose entered the water to swim to his girlfriend, his each breath we could “see” in our minds. We he rose out, the water streaming off his back illuminated our brains. It was a wonderful wilderness moment, absent of light pollution, sounds of trucks, people and sirens. Certainly, this is one of the reasons why I gravitate towards the woods.

I fell asleep that evening with these images of sound dancing through my head. The next morning we awoke to wolves in our camp (more on this experience later) as we found ourselves in the middle of a pack separated in the early morning light. We were between pack members and they desperately wanted to regroup. During this 20 minute wilderness experience I was more alive than I’ve been in years. These are the rewards of wilderness.

But, photographing wilderness is getting to be more and more difficult. First, urban expansion, demands for energy, and accessibility creep in ever so slowly. Then, the record number of photographers out there wanting to capture that quintessential image. It used to be that getting up at 2:00 a.m., driving to the trailhead, hiking three hours to beat sunrise at a predetermined location was enough to secure the chance to see and document something special. Now, there’s lines at the trailhead, countless shooters lining the prime spots, and aggression (of which I detest) in not sharing the spot with kin folk who made the same trek to arrive there for the gold.

Personally, when I’m faced with these situations, I turn my lens on the crowds. That seems to be the story for me at. I've seen folks just go nuts over this, like something has been stolen from them. It is what it is and there's reasons for it and some will argue, we are our own contributors to the problem. Through our photographs, we popularize these locations.

It belongs to everyone. Its simply more challenging to have it all to yourself.

Keep your eyes open. Remember that often times the story of wilderness is on the edges of the wilderness. Wilderness means something different to everyone.

The visual scenes that document man’s encroachment, the crowds around an iconic landmark, nature fighting back, or simply something as whimsical as Carhenge, just outside of Alliance, Nebraska in the middle of the prairie can tell a story. How it’s interpreted is up to the viewer.


  1. Beautiful AND thought-provoking! Thank you, Layne.

  2. I am always torn as to whether I think you are a more gifted writer or are so incredibly exceptional at both. Thank you for inspiring, sharing and being such a completely amazing human being :)