This week’s interview is with Guy Tal. His beautiful photos, depict the soul of the American southwest. He is also an excellent writer. You can find his informative articles on photography here. If after looking at his photos and reading his interview, you want to take the next flight to Utah and you want to take a workshop with Guy, go here for more information. YOu can also read Guy’s blog here.
SU: Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into photography?
GT: Photography was a natural extension of my love for the outdoors. I spent much of my youth roaming around fields and hills and deserts. I was about 15 or 16 when I first borrowed my father’s 35mm rangefinder camera and tried to photograph some flowers and birds. The roll came back from the lab without a single usable image on it, but the experience and excitement of being in the field with a camera, framing things I wanted to share, seeing more deliberately the things I already found fascinating, stuck with me. I spent some more time learning to use the camera’s controls and my next attempts were much more successful. Once I was able to afford my own SLR (a Nikon F3) things got even more exciting until finally photography and exploring became almost inseparable parts of the same experience. I have since experimented with a wide array of photographic tools and techniques, all the way from more traditional Large Format to modern digital SLRs, and am happy to say that I am as passionate about photography today as I was that first day I picked up a camera.
SU: Your work seems to be predominantly landscapes of the American southwest. > Why landscape photography? And why the fascination with the American Southwest?
GT: The answer to both, for me, is pretty simple – I followed my inspiration, and that’s where it lead me. I greatly enjoy viewing good wildlife images but when it comes to my own work, I much prefer the slow, careful, and deliberate process of photographing landscapes. It just fits better with what I like about being outdoors: opening my heart and mind to the beauty around me and just taking things as they come, studying things closely and composing my images carefully, savoring every moment of the experience and taking in every last detail. Most wild animals are not patient enough to wait around for me to make up my mind about minor compositional nuances :)
As for the Southwest – you could almost call it a love story of sorts. I first learned about these lands and their beauty while living on the other side of the globe, during a mandatory military service. I
happened upon a book called “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey. It described his time working as a ranger at Arches National Monument (now National Park) near Moab, UT. I was fascinated by his descriptions of the landscape. At the time I didn’t even dare dream to see it with my own eyes, let alone make my home here. Then, opportunity knocked and I was offered a job in California. A week later I was on a plane to start my new life. After a few years living and working in the Bay Area I decided to finally pursue that old dream and move to Utah. I still remember stepping out of the car for the first time, somewhere on the Colorado Plateau. Even though I had never been here before, I knew exactly what the air would smell like, what the earth will feel like under my feet, what the song of the canyon wren and the cries of the ravens would sound like. It felt like coming home after years of aimless wandering.
SU: What kind of mental preparation do you make before photographing those amazing landscapes? Do you have a kind of ritual to get into the ‘zone’?
GT: Not really. I could say that daily life is all the preparation I need as it builds up the suspense and anticipation so that when I’m finally out there, the feeling of freedom is greatly intensified. Someone once suggested I was very good at compartmentalizing. I can almost feel
myself transforming into a different person the moment I leave the urban jungle and head into the wild. Something that always served me well in terms of fueling my creativity is that I try to capture what I
feel in those moments when I’m fortunate enough to witness something truly beautiful. I never head out with a mindset of coming home with a “trophy image.” Instead, I got out hoping to experience something unique and be able to capture some of the awe in an image. In other words – I want the image to represent a unique and personal experience, rather than just be another “pretty picture”.
SU: Can you sum up your philosophy about photography in a few words? What would you be if you were not a photographer?
GT: My philosophy really extends to any form of artistic expression. Photography just happens to be a form of visual art that fits well with my love for spending time outdoors, but ultimately I don’t perceive it any differently than painting or creative writing or other artistic pursuits. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, I would probably borrow a quote from Pablo Picasso: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
I’m not sure I can say what I would be if I were not a photographer since I don’t think of myself as a photographer. Photography allows me to express myself and to share things that I would not have been able to any other way and is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me.
SU: How do you go about learning and improving your photography (the whole process of photography…not just clicking pictures)?
GT: At the root of it is one thing: passion. Passion drives me to read anything I can find on the topic(s), to learn and to experiment with every technique and tool, to constantly try new things, to seek like-minded people with whom I can share my findings and from whom I can learn and be inspired. I have a large collection of photography books, many friends and mentors who are superb photographers. I also thrive on teaching and guiding others and in the process I learn a lot myself too.
SU: Any recommendations? (like Photographers, Photo techniques, Music, Books, quotes, food..anything?)
GT: Hard to know where to start. I love books, and have a lot of them that
I keep going back to for inspiration. One recommendation I can make is: read the books, don’t just study the images. Whether it’s Ansel Adams’ trilogy (The Camera, The Negative, The Print), or Galen
Rowell’s “Mountain Light“, or any other book that inspires you. Many photographers are also prolific and inspiring writers. My next recommendation is: don’t obsess about gear. A sharper lens will not make your images any more evocative, and more megapixels will not summon the forces of nature. By all means get the best gear you can afford and be content with it. The only way to improve your chances of getting better images is to spend more time out in the field making images. Finally – learn as much as you can about the things you want to photograph. Operating the camera is the easiest part of the process. Developing an intimate knowledge of the natural history of a place, the plants and wildlife, the geology and weather patterns, are all much more complex and rewarding and will enhance your wilderness
experience. Your images will be more original and expressive when they represent something you truly know and truly feel.
SU: Can you mention how people interested in your work can contact you?
GT: A lot of my work can be seen on my web site: http://guytal.com. I am
also always happy to exchange email with fellow photographers (the address and a contact form is on the site).