on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Portrait of a Photographer – Cecil Whitt

Deep Admiration and passion of the American Desert Southwest

Matt Payne

Matt Payne

Matt Payne is a landscape photographer and mountain climber from Durango, Colorado. He’s the host of the weekly landscape photography podcast, “F-Stop Collaborate and Listen,” co-founder of the Nature First Photography Alliance, and co-founder of the Natural Landscape Photography Awards. He lives with his wife, Angela, his son Quinn, and his four cats, Juju, Chara, Arrow, and Vestal.


For the fourth iteration of this column, I decided to focus on the artwork of a photographer that mostly flies under the radar here in the Southwest of United States – Cecil Whitt. Cecil and his work exemplify the mysteries of the desert Southwest and conjure up a wide variety of emotions and ideas including solitude, surprise, serenity, rugged individualism, grit, determination, exploration, and optimism. I was first introduced to his work through my podcast when a former guest, David Thompson, recommended I explore Cecil’s artwork in depth. At first, when one visits Cecil’s website, you are greeted by a massive collection of over one-hundred-and-fifty thumbnails which I first thought represented individual photographs. Much to my amazement, excitement, and awe, I soon realised that each thumbnail represented an entire gallery of images, each with their own depth of character, pantheon of feelings, and interesting story arc. Cecil’s website is a literal treasure trove to dig through – each time I visit I find myself exploring and devouring something new that intrigues and inspires me.Cecil Whitt 1

I had the pleasure of meeting Cecil when our mutual acquaintance Paul Rojas invited me to join them for a weekend of photographing in New Mexico’s badlands, deep within the desert.

Cecil’s images are immersive, and mostly relies on shapes, subtle colour palettes, patterns, and composition to deliver interest and to engage viewers.
Upon meeting Cecil, I realised that he exemplified his photographic artwork – he carries himself with an air of mystery and excitement, while at the same time he clearly lives a humble and simple existence, and possesses a laissez faire attitude about life and photography. Cecil’s approach to photography is possibly best described as “open to surprises” – he does not have any preconceived notions about what he may or may not find when he embarks into the desert with his camera and tripod. He simply wanders about through the badlands searching for things he is emotionally and spiritually drawn to photographing. I found his approach to the craft intoxicating and quite compelling, which has rubbed off on my own way of making photographs in the desert badlands. Since spending time with Cecil, I have been much more open-minded to finding interesting landscape compositions I would have otherwise walked right by. Cecil’s curiosity and passion for the desert is one of the things that clearly translates across his images and perhaps is one of the root causes for their unique character.

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