5x5 Series

5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 4: Galen Rowell

Every day, I stare at the amazing photography of the late Galen Rowell. Years ago, in an introductory photography course, I was introduced to the grace of Rowell’s words and the enormous beauty of his photographs. His work would lead me to shooting with Fuji Velvia 50 (the slide film of choice for professional landscape photographers), reading Mountain Light and Galen Rowell’s Vision, as well as buying a poster of “Clearing Storm Over El Capitan, Yosemite.” Dramatic and life-changing work for a young and impressionable photographer.

Rowell’s writing emphasized the connection between developing a personal style and vision with the need to communicate your work’s intent in words. In everything he did, Rowell was not short of drive, passion or motivation, and he would end up dying in pursuit of his vision.

The best advice that I gleaned from Rowell’s books was the need for photographers to learn how to previsualize shots in order to create extraordinary photographs by imagining what could be if they changed lenses, perspectives or simply waited for the magic hour. The primary example of “what if” is his story about the making of his photograph of a rainbow emerging from Potala Palace in Tibet. He saw the palace, saw a rainbow, previsualized an amazing photograph and then took off running. He nailed it.

Visit to see his life’s work, and then read Mountain Light, which is about the art and craft of exceptional landscape photography.

And now, my questions for photographer, adventurer and writer, Galen Rowell. May he rest in peace and live on in the legacy of his life’s work.

1.) Your work is extremely active and physically demanding because of your desire to shoot in mountainous regions and extreme temperatures.

What drives you to want to document the far reaches of the world? How does your internal drive and passion set you apart from other photographers that are shooting the same regions and landscapes?

2.) Previsualizing shots then creating them with patience, technique and timing is completely opposite of the digital photography mentality that says to get the best foundational exposure of a photograph and then create the extraordinary (the polish) on the computer.

In your experience, how has the refining of your ability to previsualize shots changed with age and experience? Does digital manipulation create a less authentic and dishonest photo than previsualization? Or are both techniques subjective views of what the photographer “sees” and presents in a final photograph?

3.) Has the pursuit of scientific knowledge changed the way you take a photograph? If you did not have a strong intellectual understanding of the natural world, would you be as strong of a landscape photographer? Does a strong scientific mind make a better landscape photographer or does it get in the way of the pursuit of art?

4.) You started out wanting to take technically perfect photographs and pairing your finished work with articles written from your point of view.

How does the writing process impact the way you photograph a landscape? Does your photography change the way you approach your writing? What symbiotic relationship exists between the two?

5.) Of all the photographs you have taken, which is the one that you are most proud of? Do you still remember the moment when you took the picture? Did you know that you had it or was there a sense that you might have missed the moment? What does it feel like to look back at a photograph and for a moment reconnect with that specific time and place?

Galen Rowell was a unique and amazing photographer. I still voraciously read his work and enjoy staring at the beauty and majesty of the places he photographed. May you look into his life’s work and discover something new. Allow your soul to be awakened by the drive and passion of Rowell’s life, lived to its fullest to the very end.

One reply on “5 Questions For 5 Heroes, Part 4: Galen Rowell”

Amazing Chris. I, too, have James and Galen on my hero list. Intellect, experience, and passion are three prereques I need to elevate someone to hero status. You, too, I see. GREAT questions – the ones you would ask…….    kspatt@wi:disqus

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