on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Sierra Nevada – Galen Rowell

Book review

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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Galen Rowell, as you can read in the short biog in our ‘master photographer’ section, is one of America’s most famous landscape photographers. His career coincided with the massive growth in demand for colour images and adventure photography; his commissions took him all around the world. However, his ‘home ground’ was the Sierra Nevada and he eventually moved to Bishop in 2001.

Winter sunset, Gates of the Valley

This book covers Galen’s relationship with the area and, as well as a great biography, includes wonderful, high quality pictures covering his photography from 1968 to 2002 (with a couple of earlier ones from his climbing photography). The reproduction in this book is excellent although it has to be said that some of Galen’s more over the top images are almost too garish for reproduction in any form. The most intense sunsets in the world shot on Fuji Velvia are an acquired taste I think, no matter how breathtaking the views. But the massive glowing lenticular clouds and sierra waves aren’t all this book is about and it does a good job of providing a balanced view of Galen’s photography.

Sunrise on Tioga Pass, High Sierra

And the photography itself, whilst undoubtedly very good, isn’t the considered composition of Ansel Adams and only in the last years does it approach the depth of Eliot Porter. However, to rank it by comparing it with these masters is to misunderstand what it was that made Galen so special. It was his relationship with the land; the fact that he was a photographer second and that his primary passion was always climbing. Galen’s photography shows many flaws, from over-gradding to focusing issues, and I’m sure the shots will be soft compared to the standards we have today (he shot many of his photos at f/22 which, because of diffraction, see comments for more, means they would be the resolution equivalent of a seven megapixel DSLR).

Twilight mist, Merced River, Yosemite

The thing to remember is that with Galen, it’s the package that counts; he was a brilliant climber and writer and a great photographer. To understand why people like Galen Rowell so much, buy this book and “Mountain Light” and get a taste of the ultimate adventure photographer..

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