EARTHFORMS: MISSION

Art, science and progressive politics—why should they be separate domains? Serious art is a way of knowing the world: how to get along with others, what’s out there in the world, what to admire, what to be wary of—in short, how to life. Science explores the particulars, and politics is the endeavor to work with others to make life better—hopefully for most people! They’ve all been my passions since childhood, and this book brings them all together. And today it is urgent that we bring them together: we need to act collectively to preserve what we can of the livability of this earth. As Gaia prophet, independent scientist James Lovelock notes,

“Over half the Earth’s people live in cities, and they hardly ever see, feel or hear the natural world. Therefore our first duty if we are green should be to convince them that the real world is the living Earth and that they and their city lives are part of it and wholly dependent on it for their existence.” (from The Vanishing Face of Gaia, 2006, p. 147)

Nature is not merely a place to go to relax and unwind: it is the very ground of our being. Our very survival absolutely depends on a myriad of systems functioning correctly and interconnedly. The Gaia concept is an attempt to embrace this entire enterprise, although its complexity is beyond our understanding. What we do know, however, is that we humans are damaging these systems with our waste products and food production, to that point that the Earth will support many fewer of us in the coming years.

Most people live very provincially, occupying a very small section of the Earth. Even committed travelers can never grasp anywhere near its entirety. Still, by offering a diverse enough selection of glances at Earth’s marvels, I hope to give the reader/viewer a sense of the diversity and magnificence of the Planet that supports our existence. The surface geology that I photograph are but the visual remnants and traces of unimaingatively long processes, including those that connect the deep composition of the Earth with its surface.

GEOLOGY ART BOOK

What drew me to see geology as art? I’ve always been interested in fine art landscape photography books and have collected many of them throughout the years. I love to travel and take landscape photographs and sometimes I’ve managed to create original images, when I photographed the popular Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ, or Shiprock in NW New Mexico at dusk, with tall backlit grass. These are very photographed sites, but I’d never seen them rendered quite like this. I’ve always been attracted to geology, though I regret I never took a geology course in college. I found, though, that if I concentrated on geology as art, I could produce more images the likes of which I’d never seen before. So after 15 years of photographing this way, I produced a creative geology art book, Earthforms: Intimate Portraits of Our Planet, that also turned out to be a fine art landscape photography book. This was largely due to the inclusion of intimate landscapes, that is, short-field landscapes, of views that were one to eight feet wide with little or no sky, which I dubbed “miniscapes.” I tinkered around with 3rd-party photo editing software, to make their sculptural features stand out more, and as a result, my book won the prestigious 2019 Nautilus Gold award for Photography and Art, which put it in the category of the best landscape art books of the year.

I was, however, afraid that my geology art book was a little too unconventional to be considered as a proper art of landscape book. I feared that my miniscapes, might just appeal to me and no one else, especially since I hadn’t seen anything like them before. A few prominent photographers had published images of rocks in the late 1970s and early 80s, but I didn’t find them particularly strong, and the artists didn’t seem to travel very far in search of exceptional or unusual formations. Now, in the age of digital photography, I had developed a process by which I could bring out the aesthetically interesting features of rocks that I had traveled far to see. Finally, I began showing them in portfolio reviews and receiving positive encouragement. I realized that to be an original artist doesn’t just take vision; it takes the courage to put the products of one’s vision out there, despite their newness, and in the face of rejection, incomprehension, and indifference. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” What he didn’t talk about is the courage and emotional stamina required to stand behind one’s originality. After all, one doesn’t want to be discovered (as so many artists have been) after one is dead.

GEOLOGY PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK

Why did I create a geological photography book? Why did I choose geology as a subject for a photography book?

I have been fascinated by rock formations ever since I was a child. I had a rock collection when I was 10 or 11, and I remember actively looking for fossils in the sixth grade—which earned me the nickname “Fossilface” from my classmates. I was interested in other aspects of nature, too: insects, paleontology and astronomy especially. Once I became a photographer at age 13 I fell in love with landscapes. I took color slides for a while (with Kodakchrome, ISO 10), then switched to black and white, which I developed in my home darkroom.

I remained an amateur photographer for 42 years, during which I got my education, taught college, conducted a 22-year-long jazz piano career in New Orleans. But when I turned pro, it was the age of digital photography. I managed to travel a great deal, always looking for exceptional geology. Then in 2017, a publisher approached me to create a geology photo art book. I was thrilled. I gathered my best geological photographs together, including my best landscapes, and presented them. Then I learned that I’d have to finance the book myself. They would provide layout, production, distribution and publicity, but I was paying for it.

They asked for a huge sum of money, so I refused and started doing research on how I could do these things myself for a geology photo book, one that would make a good gift. I found out that I could do everything but the publicity for less than half what the “vanity” company wanted to charge me.

Once I had the book in hand, in February 2019, I started sending it everywhere I could: science museums, geology bloggers, reviewers, book competitions. A certain number of science museums liked the idea of a creative book about geology. Two major reviewers, Kirkus and Midwest Book Review, gave me glowing notices, and my geological photo art book won a gold award from Nautilus in their 2019 Photography and Art category (they give awards to all kinds of books).Over the years I’ve collected many photo art books that emphasized landscapes as well as a number of geology photo books that focused on science without paying much attention to art. I also have several books from 40 years ago that present rocks as artistic subjects. As far as I know, however, there are no other creative geology books that take the rocks as artistic subjects expressly to show the abstract and surreal formations in them. This is what I hope to do with Earthforms and its sequels.

LANDSCAPE GEOLOGY BOOK

I started collecting landscape art books in the 1990s, when I finally began to realize that photographing landscapes involved more than just standing in front of a breathtaking vista, pointing and shooting. By then I had gotten my education, traveled to Europe photographing mostly city scenes and people, taught at a university, and, living in New Orleans, embarked on a jazz piano career. But I eventually came to admit that I earned money largely to support my photographic habit. I bought David Muench’s magnificent Ancient America in the late 90s. There are no people in these photographs (although there are plenty of ruins and petroglyphs), so naturally this tended to be more of a geology landscape book, with three of its seven sections devoted to “Earth,” “Rock,” and “Water” (including ice, the other ones being “Light,” “Trees,” “Ruins,.” and “Growth’).

But this was a geology landscape art book, much more than those collections of regional photographs that record the sights of a place without giving you a feeling for them. Muench paid exquisite attention to light and time of day in all the photographs. Most of them are taken at the “golden hour” close to sunrise or sunset, and a few are taken when there’s no sun in the sky at all, and the viewer has to work to savor the delicate formations—a very effective technique to make them appear magical. He also demonstrated a compositional technique that I immediately adopted of putting an object of interest, like a fascinating rock or petroglyph, in the immediate foreground, against an evocative, often dark background, demonstrating what was possible in a creative landscape book, and not just one that obeyed the stand rules for making good landscapes.

Inspired by Muench and by his colleagues such as Jack Dykinga and Mike Fatali, I continued to photograph landscapes—in Newfoundland, on the Colorado Plateau, in the Northern Rockies, in British Columbia, in France, Wales, Québec Province—and collecting art landscape books. But although I loved landscapes, I felt too overwhelmed by the excellent photos in the stock photography market to put much energy behind trying to exhibit my own landscape photographs.

This shifted when I realized that I was deeply fascinated by the geological wonders of the world. Stock photographs tended to favor conventional concepts of beautiful landscapes, mainly breathtaking vistas, often at the most mysterious times of day, dawn and dusk. By placing emphasis on geology IN the landscape, I carved out for myself a much less crowded niche in the landscape/nature market.

In 2017 I was approached by a publisher to put a book together, and when that didn’t work out, I decided to do it on my own. So I assembled my best photographs from the previous 15 years and began collecting books of landscape wonders of the world and geology wonders of the world. My book, Earthforms: Intimate Portraits of Our Planet, finally came out in February 2019, and it seemed to be perfect as a geology landscape gift book: coffee-table book size (11×11 inches), good color printing, hard color covers, and essays that addressed the protests of the Lakota people against the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as my particular approach to art landscape books, namely one that included looking closely at geology as artistic subjects.

My book received glowing reviews from Kirkus, Midwest Book Reviews, and elsewhere, was featured on several geology blogs, and finally won a prestigious Nautilus Gold award for Photography and Art Books for 2019. I realized it was that it worked very well as a geology landscape gift book, so I sold a number of copies to science museum gift shops. It’s on Amazon in the category of landscape gift book, where I hope that people searching for such products will be even more interested in a landscape geology gift book, which is mine. It’s an uphill battle to sell a self-produced landscape geology book, but I’m determined to do so—so I can create its sequel!