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Galen Rowell's Legacy Captured Beautifully in a Knockout Tribute Book
, November 8, 2006
This review is from: Galen Rowell: A Retrospective (Hardcover)
I had the privilege of taking a photography class from the renowned Galen Rowell a few years before his tragic death in 2002. I remember very well how he told of his painstaking effort in racing across a plateau to capture the end of a rainbow as it looked like it was landing on the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. His images have inspired me to take my travel photography more seriously, even if his techniques went well over my head. Fortunately, the Sierra Club has seen fit to produce this handsome tribute, which contains about 175 of his most impressive photos, many never before published. I own a couple of his photo collections already, but the cumulative effect of this book is mesmerizing.
Even though he was heralded as the natural successor to Ansel Adams because of the vivid landscapes he often captured through his lens, Rowell was actually at his best when he showed the striking juxtaposition of a human element in his nature pictures, for example, showing rock climber Ron Kauk precariously clinging to the underside of a precipice on a Marin beach. What comes across quite clearly is a man who fulfilled his life philosophies every day, a passionate melding of artist, adventurer and environmentalist, who made a pint of anticipating his opportunities while living in the moment. To reinforce this, the editors have incorporated several testimonials from Rowell's colleagues and admirers such as Tom Brokaw, mountaineer Conrad Anker and photographer Frans Lanting, who lends particular insight into Rowell's singular motivation in transcending the reality of what he saw.
Lanting's comments lend context to Rowell's frequent use of the split neutral density filter, which intensified the color saturation in many of his most famous photos, some to a point where the image can look almost artificially enhanced. Case in point, take a look at how deeply orange the skies are in some of his sunrise photos. At the same time, the startling images he captured in Patagonia and the Karakoram Himalayas remain unparalleled, and there is hardly a more serendipitous moment than when he captured the wispy cloud formation over the split rock in the Eastern Sierras. Rowell's vision remains his own, and he leaves a legacy of photographs that resonate deeply in this book. This is a must-have for his admirers.
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