Art Wolfe: “The Art of the Image” | Talks at Google

a big fan of Art for many, many years. And a couple years ago, I
actually went to his studio in Seattle, Washington, and was
able to take a seminar, The Art of Composition. And it really helped change my
view of how I look through the viewfinder of the camera. And you’re going to get a taste
of that today, which is really exciting. Art is an award-winning
photographer. And he’s traveled around
the globe. And he documents wildlife, landscapes, and native cultures. He hosted the popular television
series, “Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge.”
He’s also released over 60 books and is a Canon
Explorer of Light. He is an honorary fellow at the
Royal Photographic Society and a fellow of International
League of Conservation Photographers. And the list goes on and on. Visit his website. You’ll see. To sum it up, Art focuses on
what’s beautiful on the earth. And it’s my extreme pleasure
and honor to be able to introduce to you
Mr. Art Wolfe. [APPLAUSE] ART WOLFE: Normally I roam the
audience, but speaking of the audience, I would just like a
show of hands of how many people in this room are just
hiding out from what you would normally be doing on a Friday
afternoon or are you really interested in photography? How many of you are, in
fact, photographers? Great. So I now know how
to talk to you. This talk is really just pulling
out from various lectures I’ve given
over the years. I teach a lot of seminars,
workshops. I’m working on books and
various projects. So I’m going to show you a
little bit of everything in the next 45 minutes, at the end
of which if there’s any interest in engaging me
one-on-one, we’d invite you to walk up to the microphone. And so during the course of
the next 40 minutes as I’m talking, if you think of a
question that you think might be salient for everybody else,
keep it in mind and come on up and join the conversation. I decided to start with
some of the lectures that I’ve put together. And what I teach is not
about technology. In fact, I only know how to
use probably 4% of what my camera can do. And that’s the reality
of these modern cameras these days. What I try to teach is what
I’ve learned to do. My background as a painter and
an art educator allows me to kind of dissect an
image, to, more importantly, find the images. If you think about somebody
starting off in photography and somebody that’s been doing
it like me for 40 years, what’s the single hardest
thing for a photographer to do? And I’ll answer it. It’s to find a compelling image
out there in that 360 degree world. We’re all going see the Golden
Gate shrouded in fog with the city beyond. And that’s a very common
and beautiful sight. But most people, whether it’s
your aunt from Dubuque, Iowa, or a rank amateur, it’s
going to see the same at the same time. We may have different
points of view. But we’re going to
see the subject. What I try to teach is finding
the subjects as you’re walking down the street in any location
on the planet and pull out something that 99% of
the rest of the population would never see and try to make
a compelling argument that this is worthy
of photograph. That’s easier to say than do. And so when I started a
curriculum years ago, it was based on some of the interviews
that I have had with magazine editors who would
normally say, OK, who has been your influence? What photographers have
really directly influenced your career? And as I really pondered the
question, I always and invariably would come up with,
well, it wasn’t really photographers that really have
influenced the way I see. It was really my background
in studying art history. So I’m going to make
that case. And I’ll make it fairly clear
in the next series of photos that follow. And then after that, I will kind
of lately dance upon a few of the book projects I’ve
worked on over the years and the points of view
of those books. And then I’ll end up with a body
of work that I’ve been working on for the last couple
of years, and, and, and. OK? One of the people I’ve drawn
from for finding photos– and it’s interesting statement
to make this, and I’ll go back to the first slide, that for
the longest time in human history, paintings were not
considered as artwork. Digest that for a second. Paintings weren’t
considered art. They weren’t hung on the
walls of houses. They were really records
of what had historically gone before. Paintings of Crusades and wars
and Biblical scenes were primarily what was painted. And they were what photographs
are today. And so over the evolution of the
years, eventually came the Renaissance. And at the backside of the
Renaissance was the Impressionist period. And that’s where I kind of
started, looking at the Impressionist paintings and
mining their work for photographic compositions that
I would argue I simply wouldn’t have found before. So within the Impressionist
period that occurred towards the late 1800s and early 1900s,
one of the famous painters was Seurat. Seurat had a way of painting
his pictures– and now they’re painting
everyday scenes in a city, like along the Seine in Paris,
or still lifes, or your uncle or somebody, but not Biblical
scenes and certainly not wars. So during the Impressionist
period Seurat painted with tiny points of color. And it became known
as pointillism. So if you look at a Seurat
painting and people like Gustav Klimt that followed, it
was just tiny points of color on a canvas, really different
than what we tend to teach, which is horizons and leading
lines and balance. That was just simply tiny points
of color on a canvas. And how is that relevant
for me? Well, when I’m out traveling the
world, as I’m doing nearly 9 to 10 months a year, I’m on
guard looking for photos to take back, to capture
and bring back. And sometimes a little
red light in my mind is blinking a Seurat. It could be blinking other
painters that I’m familiar with, but in this
case, Seurat. And when I’m in a Swedish
forest in the fall where there’s a little bit of snow,
I’m not looking for horizons. I’m not looking for lines,
leading lines. I’m looking for little
points of color. So that to me is a Seurat. And therefore, it reveals a
subject before me, because I’m looking for photos
to bring back. In the north woods of Minnesota,
you look at the scene and again, no horizon. There’s no big, solid
areas or dark areas. There’s not what we call
negative and positive space to hang a photo. It’s just flat color and
tiny points of color. Even the birch trees, which we
think of as white trunks of trees, are little bits of gray
and little bits of white. So to me, again, a point in this
painting reveals itself. And therefore, I
see the image. I think that anybody with
any disciplines– maybe your history, you have a
much more profound knowledge of music, for instance,
or poetry. The point I’m trying to make is
my background was painting. And I would see different
painters in the landscape or the urbanscape before me. You may see or hear music when
you look at water flowing down a stream or the wind blowing
through blades of grass or whatever it may be. Those are the things you start
to mine to help reveal a subject that we didn’t
see seconds before. Monet, Claude Monet was another
famous painter during the Impressionist period. And he painted in his later
years very, very imprecise brush strokes. And in fact, the word
Impressionism comes from the fact that the people at that
time of their life had very poor sight. There was no cataract surgery
or latest contact lenses. They had really poor sight. But they were hard-wired to
paint from young painters. But now, in their late ’80s
and early ’90s, they were hard-wired to paint but
they could not see what they were painting. Do you believe that? And hence the expression,
Impression. They were paying the impressions
of what they thought they were painting. And none of them had very
precise lines within. So all right, as a photographer
that’s looking for new subjects and new ways of
creating a dialogue between myself and my audience– But at any rate, here’s another
one that painted really fine details and yet in
the late ’80s, late ’80s in his life, much more
Impressionistic. There’s not a sharp line
within this painting. So as a photographer 20 years
ago, I thought how can I pay homage to these Impressionist
painters? So I started experimenting
with long exposures. Wherever wind was blowing
through trees, snow was falling, water was flowing,
birds were flying, anywhere nature was on the move, I was
intentionally taking long exposures of the camera. And I learned to become
a better photographer all along the way. At that time, Ernst Haas was
doing some really interesting studies with Olympic athletes
and bullfights. But he was also an influence. But it was the painters, the
Impressionist painters, that really influenced this
body of work. And when you have two or three
photos that are connected, you have the beginnings of
a magazine article. When you get up into the 20s
or 30s, it’s a viable book. And this eventually became
a book called Rhythms From the Wild. But as I said earlier, I started
studying the subjects before me and kind of
visualizing what a long exposure would mean with leaves
floating down a creek, or what it would look like
with people getting up in Tibet and stretching after
a long prayer session. And I knew that a lot of my
photos would just look like garbage, where there’s nothing
sharp enough in the frame to really warrant the image. It always worked where there
was one element. And in a shot like this, you
see the monk in the lower right, he’s sharp enough. He’s frozen enough that he is
the point from where your eye references the rest
of the movement. It was a great project, because
if you think about it, in today’s world now you can
take a picture with a digital camera and see instant
gratification. A lot of the mystery of whether
you’re getting a shot or not is kind of dispelled
by seeing it instantly. Back in these days, it could be,
in the case of an Everest expedition that I participated
on, three months before I could confirm I got
what I wanted. But for me, it was the
discovery at the end. In an experiment like that,
I could not pre-visualize exactly what I was getting. So the element of surprise
brought fun back to taking pictures. Horses racing across the Rhone
River delta in southern France became a study of motion. And I certainly realized at
that point and during that process that some of the most
graphic images of horses that I had taken, where everything
was frozen in the moment of time, were less appealing than
ones that conveyed motion. This started to look, then, more
like the paintings and the history that I had. I remember taking this
picture 20 years ago. Now I’ve desaturated and used
Nik software to make it a nice black and white. But back then, I said,
oh, I almost got it. But I didn’t quite get it. But it was too early on in my
career to even recognize some potential photos. So I didn’t throw it away. I kept it in the archive. And 20 years later,
it got rebirthed. And now it’s an image that we
have in galleries that sells. So people love that
Impressionistic view. Van Gogh was another famous
painter during the Impressionist period. And as you look at an image like
this, and if you look at the trunks and the branches of
the trees, there’s not a sharp image, not a sharp line in
the entire painting. And a couple years ago
I was in Shanghai. And along the [INAUDIBLE], or
the most famous walking avenue in Shanghai, there were these
giant metal pandas. And as I walked close to the
giant metal pandas, in the indentations of the sculptures,
I could see the reflections of trees behind
me and in fact myself. But as I looked into this
reflection, I thought, wow, that looks like a van Gogh. And hence, I shot it. I would not have seen it or even
possibly processed it if it wasn’t connected back to
something I recognized. And that’s the point I’m trying
to make, and I do in overall lectures. I wasn’t a big fan of Picasso
when I was in my 20s in art school up in Seattle. I was too immature to get him. I looked at his work and
thought, ah, it just doesn’t speak to me. I remember studying the Cubist
period during Picasso’s life. And it was 15 years later. I was in Siberia in the middle
of the winter, a miserable place, I have to say. And there was all these
overturned boats along Baikal. And as I saw it, I thought
instantly back to Picasso. It looked like a Cubist
painting, and therefore it revealed itself as such. So that’s the point I try
to make about all these different painters. Georgia O’Keefe painted the
American west in very simple forms, with very
little detail. And there are times where I’m
inverting photos, reflections on lakes, or taking the very
subjects that she painted, and I shoot them as I discover them
as I’m traveling through an environment. Her watercolor images of giant
roses I see in the icebergs in both the Arctic and
the Antarctic. So instantly, as I’m floating
around the Antarctic Peninsula and I see an iceberg, it
looks to me like a Georgia O’Keefe subject. So if you have all those
painters, and knowledge of their style, it just opens up
the world of possibilities, because we all can shoot
Yosemite from the viewpoint. But it’s finding, turning around
and looking at the way the sign is cracking and dented
that there could be a shot there. There could be a shot that 99%
of people never found. I never was into Jackson Pollock
when I was young. I was just too immature. My mind, I painted– when I was a painter, I painted
very realistically. And this was just too abstract
for my brain. But as I’ve matured, as I have
studied other art, I’ve started to understand the
nuances of Jackson Pollock. So when I see a Jackson Pollock,
I start to see it in a mud-spattered vehicle
in southern China. To me it looks like
a Jackson Pollock, and suddenly, a subject. So I see a Jackson Pollock in a
half-painted building on the outskirts of Marrakesh,
Morocco. The random pattern of paint or
the way those willows are hanging in front the wall, those
are subjects I would definitely never have even
considered when I was younger. I started off in the late
’70s and early ’80s. And my primary subjects and the
way people know me today is through wildlife work. At any one time, if you wanted a
grizzly bears or polar bears or emperor penguins, I was one
of three or four photographers you would go to if you were an
editor to buy those photos for a magazine. Today, I’m shooting everything
from rusting cans in the gutter to the grand landscapes
and everything in between, because as an artist, having a
background in painting and illustration and graphic
design, I shoot without prejudice. And it just opens
up the world. Colleagues of mine that started
off at the same time in the same period of time
that were into birds or mammals kind of exhausted
their subject matter. And if they were not willing
or open to evolving their intellect or their eyes, they
simply found some new discipline to go onto. I never run out of ideas. It’s not hard for me to, after
I’ve gotten up early in the morning and I’ve photographed
portraits of people in downtown Delhi in the old city,
as I’m walking back to my bus looking at these old
walls, these old walls you see everywhere where posters have
been posted over the last 20 years, and seeing the beauty
in that old decay. There’s a story about rebirth
and renewal and reinvention in yesterday’s society. And that really comes from my
studying of American Abstract Expressionism, looking at what
made those photos sing. And they’re. by the way, among the
highest paid. If you’re going to buy a
painting, American abstract painters now are the hottest
thing on the market. So looking at the abstract now,
rather than the literal, is where I’m taking
my audience and the work I’m doing. And you’ll see that come home
as we migrate through this conversation. So in those abandoned buildings,
those old ruins, are amazing photos to
be yet discovered. I have traveled to Havana twice
over the last 15 years. And Havana as a city is an
amazing place, great columns and arches and verandas. It was once the most beautiful
city on the planet. And now as it’s in decay, it’s
a great place to go and photograph from a
street level. And by the way if you’ve ever
gone to Havana, you will know this to be true. The people are the easiest
people ever to photograph on the street. If they find out that you
are from America, they embrace you. They want to invite you into
their homes to have food, because they uniquely identified
with the United States from the birth
of the nation. So Havana is a great place
to find the unexpected. You know, I’m opening a gallery
in Soho, New York– any rate, this is a
wall in Havana. And it’s just all chipped,
old paint. But if you can tell yourself
this looks like a modern Chinese painting, if you think
it, you can make it that way. And I would guarantee you if
this was well printed, and it will be, and framed and matted
and signed in limited edition, there will be somebody in New
York that will buy it and put it in their living room. Is there any doubt about that? There shouldn’t be. There should be no
doubt about that. So it’s interesting that now
as I’ve come down to San Francisco, I’m going to be going
out tomorrow to Treasure Island and down to what they
call the Dogpatch and into the back alleys of the Bay Area,
looking for graffiti where it’s built up over time, because
in that old graffiti of different artists and
different statements are photos I am mining. And what I’m going to do with
this work is turn it into black and white and then take a
human nude and lay them over the top of what I’m creating
and then hand-painting them into the scene. As you will see, this is a new
direction based on what I’m going to close this
lecture with. The other lectures that I give
during a day-long course is talking about how to
use wide angles. And this is maybe a little
more pedestrian. But it’s nonetheless
interesting. The next three shots are
actually taken with the same lens, same subject. It’s a abalone shell that
I’ve put out on the Washington coast. I placed it there to illustrate
this point. And as I’ve moved in closer,
the relationship– the background remains the same,
but the relationship of the foreground subject becomes
obviously more dominant. So it’s perspective
and point of view that I’m talking about. And as I shoot, as I travel
around, if I’m using a wide angle, I’m trying to create a
sense of depth, a relationship between the foreground elements,
the middle ground, and the background. And the reason that’s important
is the more depth that I can convey within a
photo, your eye goes in and out, forward and backwards. And that’s what we as
photographers would want to ascribe to have our audience,
the people ultimately that look at our work. We want their eye to stay with
the subject, to move throughout the composition,
because you’re hooking them in. Otherwise, if they simply look
at a photo you’ve taken and go, all right, got it,
move on, you haven’t connected with them. They wonder why you
took the picture. But if you can just have them
move throughout the entire composition, even if it’s for
just a few seconds, you’re connecting with them. And that’s what any writer, any
sculptor, any painter or dancer, you want to connect
with the audience that ultimately looks at your work. So with a wide angle here, I’ve
gone back to a place I love in the Nagano district
west of Tokyo. And about 25 years ago, snow
macaques discovered the luxury of hot water on a cold day,
a natural hot springs that leaches out of the mountains. And so for the last 25 years,
these macaques and their parents and their grandparents
have come down once during every day in the winter and
gotten in, so much so that they’re so blase about people
you can virtually be within a half-inch with your camera,
shooting these macaques. And as long as you don’t try
to touch them, you’re good. You broach that one half-inch of
space between you and they could bite you. But as long as you’re
reverent– Here’s a Weddell seal, for
instance, down along the Antarctic Peninsula. So using that wide angle
perspective, getting in close, moving slow, I did an entire
book using a wide angle perspective. So when you hear about leading
lines, this is what we’re talking about, lines that you
can incorporate into your composition and you’re basically
directing them. All these lines force your eye
to look, in this particular case, to an old stone church
in the Italian Alps. So I often find ways of
directing the eye, because what I’m trying to do is connect
you to the subject that I chose to shoot. So I’m leading you, with these
tracks, right to the animal that made the tracks. I’m not filling the frame
with the bear. I’m not trying to spell it
out so overtly obviously. I’m trying to bring you in,
allow you to discover it. And so leading lines, these
tracks are like those leading lines that take you there. Your eye cannot help
but go here. All these lines are forcing
your eye to stay there. This is a rural road on the
outskirts of Kyoto. And you know, if you try to
look up here, you are constantly being forced
to look back where I want your eye to go. So it’s a pure form
of communication, these leading lines. A lot of people think
photography is like, whatever you want to shoot. Everybody’s got an opinion. And there’s good shots
and bad shots. But really, there is a lot of
formal lines of composition. There’s ways you think about
a subject to bring it out. There’s ways you can cover a
subject that’s less obvious than the other ones. I like to take photos and direct
your eye to where I want it to go or have it
hidden as an agenda. There’s a lot of different books
I’ve worked on over the years that have very distinct
points of view. You know, a shot like this means
I had to get up early in the morning. I gathered icons
of the culture. This is in Benares, India. And what the people of Benares
do is they buy little offerings of marigolds that
have been pressed into the shape of– or banyan leaves pressed into
the shape of bolts. In the evenings, they’ll come
down to the river’s edge, the Ganges, and light the candles
and offer them to the waters, because the waters, the sacred
waters of the Ganges, represents the gods. The gods, the Hindu gods, reside
in the Himalayas, from which the Ganges comes from. So there’s a beautiful history
and tradition that I try to capture in a single photo. In Benares, during much of the
early part of the year, there’s a natural haze, buildup
from burning grasses in the entire subcontinent of
India, which basically means it’s a beautiful sunrise. Every morning you get
this red orb. For five seconds, you’ve got a
moment when the sun is coming out, it’s not so bright
that it’s going to create lens flare. And so you have to
get it right. So you have to get up early
enough that all these people who initially stare at
you, gawking at you, become bored of you. And then they start doing what
they normally would be doing, which is talking. And by the time I’m ready to
take the picture, they’re completely not paying attention,
which adds to this whole image, the cinematic
view of culture. Here I’m laying in the snow on
the edge of the lake right at the base of Mount Fuji. But by laying in the snow, I’m
gaining the perspective of the reflection of Mount Fuji, the
frost-covered rocks, wide angle as I was speaking
about before. So yeah, I could stand like
everybody else in this image and just get the mountain
at sunrise. Or I can lay down and gain a
perspective that gives it a little more subject
to work with. And what I said earlier really
applies, creating depth, movement of the eye,
and just carefully constructing the image. In this particular case, I’m
higher than low in the sense simply because the flame would
obscure these two men that have just spent the day coming
out of the heart of the Sahara with their camels
laden with salt. So at the end of the day, at
dusk, they routinely will build a fire. They will commence their dinner
by having some tea. It’s a very ritualistic
way of ending a day. So I wanted to be there
at the right time. I had to wear a turban. Why do you think I had
to wear a turban. Do you think I was trying to
ape Lawrence of Arabia? The reason I had to wear a
turban was the camels. If I was wearing a baseball
cap, those camels would distrust me, literally. So I had wear what they
would normally wear. And the camels were
pretty chill. I was photographing Himba girls,
which are people of the desert of Namibia. And I was originally going to
photograph their amazing hairdos and all that
as portraits. Then I saw their big feet. They have big feet that are
created as a result of never wearing shoes. And they live in an environment
of thorn acacias. So what it means is they get
big, fat, wide feet that are analogous to tennis shoes. And so that became
the perspective. So I instantly went from
portrait to more of a wide angle perspective, paying to
the strength of the image. OK. How did I get that shot? Do I kind of wave magic fairy
dust at these animals? Do they know who I am and they
want to be part of a National Geographic spread? I have a pretty good working
knowledge of animal behavior. I studied– when I was seven, I had
a little tree book, mammal book, bird book. I virtually knew everything
that was in the forest. And over the years, as I’ve paid
attention, I know that goats, wild goats, mountain
goats, and wild sheep, crave salt. That’s why mineral licks occur
in the mountains where animals come every day. And so I drank a lot of water. I urinated on the
rock right here. Anybody dispute that? No, I did that. I peed on the rock. And I set up with
a wide angle. And I got them as
they came in. All right. So drinking water is
critical to get pictures of wild animals. You paid your money. You paid good money to
be here today, right? So you hear the story. But here the story was
about the habitat. This was a book I was working
on called The Living Wild. And for the text, I had George
Schaller, who is one of the world’s foremost wildlife
biologists. Jane Goodall, who you know
through her work with chimpanzees, John Sawhill out of
the Nature Conservancy, and Bill Conway, who created the
Wildlife Conservation Society. They all wrote original text
about the need to preserve more land than we currently
have under protection. Simply put, animals in a habitat
without proper habitat will go extinct. So from that perspective,
I started shooting with wide angles. Wherever I could sneak up or
stay and wait for animals to come to me, I would do it so
that I could shoot not just the goats, but the mountain
ridge, the clouds, and everything around it. Historically, we as wildlife
photographers would focus only on the animal and anything
before it or behind was out of focus. Now the habitat was as critical
as the animals. So in this series I got close. And that was the style
of the entire book. Traveling to South Georgia
Island, to the Amazon, I did some things that are, as I look
back, saying, God, that was really stupid. [LAUGHTER] ART WOLFE: And I realize
that these are caiman. These are not alligators or
crocodile that historically would kill people. But they do bite. And they can bite. With a big mouth full of
teeth, they can bite. So they were there because
ranchers in the Pantanal Marsh of Brazil would come down at
the end of a day and huck chicken bones at the caiman. And that was their
afternoon fun. They didn’t have TV back then. And so I went down there. And all these animals came
crawling out of the river and wanted chicken bones. But it was just my skinny little
body and a camera. So they were a little
disappointed. They were ready for dinner. This was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. These are badges of stupidity,
not honor. By getting down close to a
waterhole and waiting for elephants to come out, you
cannot outrun a bull elephant. Just simply put, you
cannot outrun one. So you have to kind of be there
and you’re committed to getting the shots. But some of these big boys
would be annoyed. And they would come my way
and just kick dirt all over the top of me. And I would have a guy that
was like 40 feet behind me saying, don’t run. Don’t run, because if you run,
you create a chase instinct. And you don’t want to try
to outrun and elephant. I would crawl out on the rocks
of the Galapagos Islands and wait for marine iguanas to
come out of the waters. And they spent the entire day
under the ocean eating algae. That’s what marine
iguanas eat. And then towards the end of
the day, when the light is beautiful, they come out. They warm their bodies
in the sun. And they’re sneezing, sneezing,
sneezing, because they expend salt that they’ve
accrued during the course of the day underwater through
their nose. So if you get close like this,
you are virtually covered in salty snot from a lizard. So if that’s the lifestyle and
that’s what you want to do, this is what you would do. So I traveled all over the
planet shooting animals in their habitat with a wide
angle perspective. Migrations was a book
about patterns. It was inspired by the
work of MC Escher. And for the most part,
I got in ultralights. I shot patterns of animals. And flying around in an
ultralight in Africa just above flocks of flamingos or
herds of wildebeests or Cape buffalo, it was a
great project. But it was really
about patterns. Now, this book became very
controversial because in 30 of the images out of 100, we
incorporated what we were calling at the time in the
introduction digital illustration, where we now at
the beginning of the digital era would put like three or four
birds in here if there was no birds and it created a
hole, a disruption, if you will, of the pattern. We would clone animals from one
area of the composition and put it in there. And this was total blasphemy. We had hate letters from
all around the world. And on one side of the fence
were people that just hated the fact that we did this. Even though we identified it
in the introduction, people hated the fact that
we did this. And on the other side of the
coin, it won international design awards. Never so clearly was the
division between art and natural history. If we had called the book
Wallpaper nobody would have complained. But we called it Migrations. But for the most part and
everything you have seen except for that zebra
shot, was unaltered. Everything was preconceived,
getting above shooting down at patterns of animals. And as an extension from that
point of view, I’m moving forward on a new book, and
you’ll see this in a minute, where I’m getting above cultures
and shooting down. So yeah, here it’s almost
obscuring the view. You’re looking at three
donkeys covered in carpets in Morocco. From a ground perspective, this
would have been a more traditional point of view. So now I’m again doing what I
suggested I wanted to do, which is abstracting the
subject, forcing you to kind of figure out what you’re
looking at. When I photographed these monks
out at a monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, the person
at the hotel that I was staying at looked at it and
said, what is that? Is that a flower? And he thought it was
like a dahlia. And I said, it’s monks. And it was totally different
than any way he had ever seen monks before. So that’s the trick and that’s
the challenge is to constantly come up with perspectives,
points of views, that haven’t quite been done before. That’s what gets
me out of bed. That’s what motivates me. And in some cases, like this,
I’ve had to build platforms over an area and bring in 200
dancers directly below me. And here there was an old ladder
in a Rajasthani village out in India. And we just laid it across
the top of a roof. And I had two people stand
on one end of the ladder. And then I crawled out on the
other to shoot straight down on these women around a
medallion that was on the courtyard floor. So it’s combining culture,
natural history, with a sense of design and history and art
that is where I’m chipping and carving out my niche. Vanishing Act was how animals
really are seen in nature. They’re not out there
distinguished against a branch clearly focused and
everything’s out. It’s like this. So that book was really a
challenge to my audience. You know, in the previous
book it was about migrations and patterns. In the book before that it was
the wide angle perspective. In this book, it was hiding
the animal in plain sight. And of all the books I’ve ever
worked on, people started squirming and looking and then
like yelling out, left-hand corner, leopard. And they could not
help themselves. They wanted to find the animal
first and demonstrate that they were smarter than anybody
else in the room. So yeah, there’s a leopard
right actually here. This is so far from where you’re
sitting that you can’t see it, even if you
knew where it was. A Great Grey Owl, sitting
on a tree. So we’re showing natural
evolution, the concept is eat or be eaten. So there’s benefits for an
animal to really disguise itself or hide in
the environment. I would photograph a composition
because I knew white shiny objects– you humans are really
simple people. You know, you’re attracted to
glitz and bling, right? So if there were shiny leaves,
it would pull your eye away from the baby shore bird hiding
in the leaf litter along the Arctic river. These are thorny devils that
are broken up by light and dark areas throughout
the composition. So the entirety of the book was
about hiding the animal in front of you. There’s a little seahorse that
wasn’t known to science 15 years ago that’s no bigger than
your little fingernail. So I got in coral reefs 60 feet
below the surface of the reefs in New Guinea. I found scorpion fish and stone
fish and all those kind of creatures that live in the
coral reefs are highly decorative and camouflaged, so
that they can eat other little critters that come their way. Do you see it? You’re looking for an animal
around this rock. So I hid the animal by scale. There’s a polar bear up there
hiding in the rocks. A nightjar on the rock
in front of you. If that fox closes its eyes, it
blends in with the habitat. There’s two ptarmigan here. So that book alone took
about nine years. When I work on a book, I usually
commit about nine years to a project. And the most recent one that’s
coming out in September of next year is called Earth
Is My Witness. And it’s a look back over the
years to some of the most memorable moments I’ve had
around the globe in the genres of culture, wildlife,
and landscape. So what I try to do with the
work and the time on this planet is to inspire, to uplift,
to inform people that look at my work. It was stated in the
introduction that I photograph beautiful scenes. Well, there’s a reason I
do photograph beauty. I photograph destruction
and carnage as well. But I don’t choose to
show those within a context of a book. I think that there’s enough
negative news coming through our airwaves every day that I
choose to do the work that uplifts people, inspires
them to travel. And when I teach workshops,
they’re usually geared towards people in the second part of
their lives that have been successful in their chosen
endeavor but now they’re looking for passion. They’re for looking for passion
in their lives. Because of the very nature,
they’re in my rooms, they are there because of photography. And I say, do not treat
photography like a hobby that you’re just relegating to once
a week or every two weeks. Jump in it with both feet. And live it. Live your life around
photography. And cultivate the passion of
it, because it’s all about really keeping your psychology
healthy. In a time of a lot of stress and
a lot of frustrations, I think creative people– that’s the reason that the
Impressionist painters that I cited lived into their late
’80s and early ’90s. At that time, they were living
20 to 25 years longer than the average person. And I think that’s true today. The creative types tend to have
happier, longer lives. Poets do. Writers do. Dancers do. Photographers do. So in this book, I celebrate
humanity in all its glory. And I’m not a religious person,
but I can navigate Islam or Hinduism, Buddhism,
Christianity with impunity. I don’t have an agenda,
in other words. I see it all as good and all
races as good, so you see that reflected in the work
that I present from throughout the world. In India, in early March,
Holi is celebrated. One particular temple in the
center of India is this ancient temple. And 5,000 people cram in there
and throw paint at each other and water’s flying and it’s
just a great time. In Jaipur they paint elephants
to look like other creators. I’ve traveled many times
to Myanmar, starting about 10 years ago. It’s a country waiting
to be discovered. It’s changing fast. Hillary Clinton and Obama went
there in the last year. And suddenly it’s
the place to go. So if you ever entertain
thoughts of going to Myanmar, now would be the good
time to do it. I love working around Buddhist
monks, simply because they’re so chilled. You can ask if you can
photograph this or that, and they just go, whatever. Fine. And so it’s great to
work around that. These photos all have been
photographed in Myanmar. And then in the landscapes
section, it’s going around the world and capturing moments like
a total eclipse of the sun in southern Australia 40
minutes before sunset, which meant I could incorporate the
eclipse within the context of the earth, which is a rare
view of a solar eclipse. Anywhere from Antarctica to the
Arctic, tops of exploding volcanoes, I’ve gone and capture
the earth’s deserts, mountains, rain forests. This is in Namibia, where the
sand dunes rise 1,000 feet in this beautiful orange
ochre color. Beisa oryx or gemsboks
are at the base. So I’ve been very lucky. I was raised in Seattle, on the
outskirts of Seattle, in the early ’50s. Like many families at that
period of time, there wasn’t very much money in our family. I never dreamed that I would
be able to have traveled as far as I have. The camera that I adopted early
on has literally become the passport into the world’s
cultures and landscapes. And I have had the great fortune
to be healthy and have a lot of drive, so all those
things are part and parcel to a life that I’ve lived. And I’m very, very fortunate
to have lived that life. And more importantly, being open
and receptive to evolving my work, my intellect, my ideas
to find subjects that haven’t been shot or go places
that haven’t been traveled is part of who I am as
a photographer but also as an educator. Giant river otters in the
Amazon, jaguars coming down to the river’s edge, all those are
a monthly routine for me. A month ago, I was
down in Patagonia photographing wild lions. Next week I’m travelling to
Borneo and the week after that, North Australia. So I continue to travel. These are the mountain lion
shots I just shot down in Patagonia, completely wild. Here I was about from here to
this gentleman with the camera away, and this mountain lion,
a male, came out of some shrubbery, looked at me, and
stared at me for about three minutes, and then just
disappeared. A bear up in Alaska last year
has brought three cubs. And she’s watching a river
otter with a pup move across the grass. She’s concerned about
what it was. The cubs are waiting
for instructions. Are we going to run away or
are we going to stay here? What ? What? What? And then she just relaxed. And then they start
playing again. I’ve been there on the first day
cubs are brought out of a den in the Arctic, up in
northern Manitoba. Two months ago I was in Haido
photographing whooper swans and Steller sea eagles. So it’s a life that’s
enjoyable and full of exciting things. And the last body of work was
inspired from work I did 20 years ago in remote areas
of Africa called Tribes. And now I’m going back with
a different perspective. Thomas Knoll, who wrote
Photoshop, is a good friend of mine and travels with
me frequently. And we went back to some of
these remote cultures, showed them photos of their fathers
that I had photographed 20 years before. And now it’s collaborating
with them on looking at cultures and humans, nudes,
in a new way. So abstracting the culture from
that above perspective that you saw early, now I’m
extending into photographing the human form. But it’s not sexual
or even sensual. It’s more theatrical. It’s using camouflage
and abstraction to photograph nudes. I hate to say the word nudes,
because it instantly implies something that I’m not
trying to mean. The human form would
be a better way. I’m incorporating
Jackson Pollock. So from where you’re sitting
looking at this, it may not make sense. But you could imagine a giant
print on a moderate house and there’s three people
painted within. And that’s that moment, that
aha moment, that there’s actually more there than
meets the eye. So I’m incorporating my
knowledge of tribal designs throughout the planet and
putting humans in it. Now these are PC photos, because
this will be broadcast through Google+. So there’s a lot more
nudity, if you will. I’m showing you more tamed
down versions of it. And I’m also learning how to
clay people, cover them in clay, dry the clay, and do
something analogous to Vanishing Act. And the gallery in New
York will open with this work in September. And if I can raise enough money,
we’ll create a film that will be broadcast on
either Showtime or PBS, depending on how we edit it. So that’s my little talk. It was never put together
or talked in this group of photos before. But as you can see,
I just talk. I just talk. And now it’s your turn. Anybody that has an idea
or a question or anything, don’t be shy. None of you are shy. [APPLAUSE] ART WOLFE: Thank you. AUDIENCE: How to be a good
judge of your pictures? ART WOLFE: How to be a good
judge of your pictures? I think time and distance gives
somebody perspective. You know, when you go out and
you take a picture, it’s pretty fresh in your mind
and you’re pretty excited about it. But after two weeks if you look
at it again, it may not either be as good as you thought
or it actually may have hidden things that
you didn’t even see. So I think creating a
perspective is a good starting point for judging
your own work. Taking classes and getting
involved in the dialogue is a good way. And I think that Google+ is
going to be championing that. It has been. That open dialogue between
people that do this professionally and people that
are getting into it, the terms they use, if you pay attention,
you will learn to look at your work objectively
and see what ones are better than not. AUDIENCE: In talking about the
Impressionists, you were talking about using motion to
help blur your images and get that kind of feel. Have you considered or
experimented with actually changing focus to get a more
Impressionistic feel? ART WOLFE: You know, it’s a good
question, because if you put a photo out of focus, then
theoretically everything within the frame is
going to be out of focus, I believe, right? And what I said earlier in that
context is the ones that really work are when there’s one
monk that’s sharp and by contrast, then the rest of it
can be wildly out of focus. If everything’s out of focus,
it’s more static and it looks frustrating, because the human
eye, our eyes, our intellects, want to have a starting point. We are searching in that frame
for that point of reference from which the rest of
the frame can be wildly out of focus. But I don’t know that
just simply putting something out to focus– a lot of the mystery and the
beauty of shooting those long Impressionist shots is they’re
creating movement of the eye. And when it’s simply out of
focus, if it’s a static shot, is going to be a static shot. AUDIENCE: So perhaps using
extreme depth of field reduction on a long– you were showing very much
with a wide angle lens foreground and distance, use
something like that with a very tight depth of
field control? ART WOLFE: I would stop talking
right now, because I think you’re on to something
and you should be doing that book. Honestly, when I give a talk,
most of the people in my audience are 40- to
70-year-olds. To give a talk before people
that are younger than me and very smart people,
I love this. Nobody would have ever come up
with that as a suggestion. So thank you for that. I would have to kind of execute
it and see if that would work. But it is worthy a try. Thank you for the
contribution. AUDIENCE: Could you talk a
little bit about the equipment that you use? And have you tried a
plenoptic camera? Do you have an opinion
about that? ART WOLFE: I am completely
camera illiterate. As I said from the get-go, I
know 5% or 4% of what my camera does. I am so uninterested in
technology that it’s painful. Seriously. People that take my class often
know way more about the cameras and technology
than I do. I don’t even know what
that camera was. Seriously. So yeah, I mean, nobody is a
complete package, right? I mean, God, I’ve got a
great build and I’m just drop-dead gorgeous. And I can take a composition. But I don’t have that technology
side of me. AUDIENCE: Any place you haven’t
been to yet that you want to go? ART WOLFE: There’s a lot of
places I have not been to. I have not been to Egypt. I have not been to Spain. I have not been to places
that people just say, are you kidding? This is where we went last
year for our vacation. So there’s places that
I’ve been back to. I’ve been back to China since
1984 15 times, or Antarctica 12 times. I go back to places that tend to
deliver, knowing full well that I’ll go to Spain. I know everything about Spain,
having studied it, and Egypt. And know where I want to go? I haven’t been to Jerusalem. I want to go Oman. I want to go to places
I’ve not been. And you know, I do have
a few more years. And I’ll go there. But that’s a good question. All right. Well, listen. Thank you very much
for coming today. You honor me. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] Thank you.


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