Michael E. Gordon is an award-winning fine art landscape photographer concentrating on nature and wilderness impressions and interpretations of the intimate and overlooked visually stunning and beautiful mystic places within state of California.
Michael illustrates the challenges of black and white photography in a unique palette of natural light and outstanding monochrome tonalities by exploring majestic textures and intricate forms. His artistic goals lie not in representing superficial beauty, but rather in portraying his personal communion with the land and the rare but transcendental moments it has shared with the photographer.
Tell us about something about Michael E. Gordon Photography?
I’ve been engaged with photography for more than 20 years, beginning first with 35mm; then moving to medium format; and finally 4×5” large format for about the last ten years. I still work primarily with film – almost entirely with b/w for the last five years or more – but I finally purchased a d-SLR about five years ago for commercial work, snapshots, and every other occasion where d-SLR is the right tool for the job. While I truly enjoy the ease, convenience, and instant feedback of working with digital capture, it’s a very different and less satisfying experience for me than working with the view camera and having fine control over perspective and focus. I’ve been a naturalist and explorer of wild places longer than I’ve been making photographs, and my images are as influenced by the words of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Ed Abbey as they are by any photographers.
Can you make a brief description on the pictures in this set?
This is a selection of some of my favorite photographs from California’s deserts. I am most happy exploring, wandering, and photographing places that are quiet and devoid of humanity. These are integral ingredients not just for my photographs, but for mind and soul as well. I don’t have a great desire to travel the globe in search of exotic photographs and wild light, and am content getting to understand intimately the places that I love and which offer me a lifetime of exploration and photographic opportunity. I am blessed to live in a state that contains multiple National Parks, large and vast deserts, and more designated Wilderness than I’ll ever have the chance to explore.
What’s your creative process like?
My creative process revolves foremost around having profound experiences in the field; I find that a conscious search for “mind’s eye” images impacts the mood of an outing. My photography has matured along with my age, and I have no interest in bagging as many images as I can – I choose quality over quantity. I rarely plan ahead and prefer a slow and contemplative method to seeing and making photographs. My mind slows down and absorbs the mood and feel of a particular place at a particular time. If images are there to for me to make, I’ll find my way to them. I may spend a long time with something I plan to photograph – going so far as to set up and compose – but often pack up and walk away without making the exposure. Feel means everything to my photographs, and if it doesn’t feel right, I can’t trip the shutter. There is always tomorrow.
Where do you find inspiration and why you like photography?
What I have always loved most about photography is its unique ability to capture a particular slice of place and time: Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment”. This term is not typically used to describe nature and landscape photography, yet a number of my photographs can no longer be recreated (elements have changed or are now missing) and a number were made with light that lands a certain way only at certain times (see my ‘Striped Butte’ photograph, for example).
My inspiration arises from simply being *out there*. I love the places I explore and photograph, and wish that office work and sales were unnecessary! I would stay away from home for weeks on end: Exploring, photographing, and breathing the vitality of wild places that are dear to me.
Can you tell us something about the challenges of large format photography?
The challenges are numerous for beginners, mostly due to the many manual steps required from setup to exposure. There is no automation with large format, and all exposures must be calculated manually with a hand held light meter. This is not a process for those that desire fast capture and exposure confirmation, and one must have good skills and practices to avoid wasting time and money. There is also the necessity of developing and scanning film (if printing digitally). The challenges for an experienced user are mostly constrained to wind or other unfriendly weather, but large format is never easier or more convenient when compared to d-SLR. However, the results are always worth it.
I have been teaching large format photography now for a number of years (my next LF workshop is April 14-15, 2012), and seem to be one of the few professional landscape photographers who has not abandoned large format and film for pure digital capture. I enjoy the process too much to leave it for an easier or more convenient method of capture (in my book, *convenience* has never been equated with *art*).
What are some tips you could give to people that really like your work?
Practice seeing and photography as much as you can. Make photography your passion, not a hobby. Be ruthlessly critical of your work; it drives excellence. Study photographic history; you can’t stand on the shoulders of giants if you don’t know who they were or what they did (all forms of photography can inform your own). Get over your gear already; software and cameras don’t make photographs (remarkable work is now regularly made with plastic toy cameras). Don’t chase the tripod holes of others; create your own. Mood, light, and energy can be photographed anywhere; forget about going to where every other photographer does.
Can you name some great photographer that inspires you and why?
I’ve always loved the Native American work of Edward S. Curtis. It emotes for me great sadness and glory at the same time, and Curtis’s commitment to this work and his respect for Indians was profound. Like so many other famous artists before and after him, he died penniless and virtually unloved. I’ve tried to bring not only the love and respect he had for his subjects into my own work, but have also tried realize some of his unique visual aesthetic in my own; I love the way he portrayed his subjects. As for contemporary photographers, I’ll name my good friend, Guy Tal, who you have featured previously on Photography Office. It is not only his images that are sensitive and unique; his writings on art and creativity are some of the most profound words currently available. Like Muir, Leopold, and Abbey, Guy’s words inspire me as much as his photographs.
Tell us something about you last exhibit: The Joshua Tree at Mojave National Preserve
This solo exhibition features fourteen framed photographs from my series ‘The Joshua Tree’. The exhibit opened on November 5, 2011, and will hang though February 5, 2012 – see it while you can! Although Mojave National Preserve is quite remote and some distance from the nearest Metropolitan area, I thought is appropriate to have an exhibit where the largest known Joshua tree forest resides. A number of the photographs in this exhibition were made in the Preserve. They are remarkable “trees”, and unless you live or travel in the American southwest (specifically, CA, AZ, UT, NV), you will have never had the opportunity to experience a Joshua tree in person.
What can you tell us about your workshops?
My workshops are focused on creativity and learning in extraordinary settings, almost exclusively in California. Because they take a bit of time and energy to put together, I offer only a few group workshops each year (however, I teach many private workshops each year). Group workshops have set agendas and blend photography sessions with instruction and philosophy; private workshops are programmed to entirely meet the needs and desires of the student/participant. The most enjoyable aspect of teaching is helping others to break free of the photographic “chains” that they impose on themselves.
Guy Tal and I have one seat remaining in our Feb 16-21 *Visionary Death Valley* workshop and in March, I’ll be offering a Death Valley workshop for the Julia Dean Photographic Workshops. JDPW is the West Coast’s largest non-degree based school of photography, and in 2010 I was thrilled to be invited to teach alongside so many photography luminaries.
Dear Mr. Michael Gordon, a big thanks for making this article a reality. We consider that the contrast, lighting, and composition of your ethereal fine art encourages creative thinking and confidence and depicts the zen and of timeless landscapes. Good luck as well with the current and future projects, exhibitions and workshops.