About the show:
“My photography is about the extraordinary beauty of our great country. I see it in the vivid colors and dramatic shapes of the western deserts; in the lush woods and rolling hills of the mid-Atlantic. I want to portray the haunting moonscapes of the Utah outback, the mystery and serenity of the eastern forests and the dancing waterfalls of America’s enticing rivers. “I hope my photographs inspire others to pause for reflection and think anew about the natural world around us.” - Rick Barnard
MBG: In your statement about your work, you wrote: “I hope my photographs inspire others to pause for reflection and think anew about the natural world around us.” Are you involved with any conservation group efforts or do you feel your photography is a form of environmental activism?
RB: It’s definitely my brand of activism. Americans are a very privileged people in part because of our great national parks, wildlife areas and national forests. You could spend a lifetime in Yosemite or the Great Smoky Mountains and see something new and delightful every day. And we have exquisite state parks like Utah’s Dead Horse Point and Blackwater Falls in West Virginia. You like beauty and drama? Go there.
One of the photographic prints in the exhibit portrays an underground canyon in Utah called The Narrows. It captures the crystal blue water surrounded by the reds and blues of the canyon walls. Another print depicts a small stream about 12,000 feet up in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. The water rushes past yellow alpine flowers as the sun lights up some gorgeous mountain peaks in the background.
I want people to look at my photographs and feel as I did on the day in 2007 when I left the publishing world behind and headed for the Utah deserts for a five-day shoot. It was just jaw-dropping awesome. The light, color and lines of the Utah outback created stunning moonscapes in every direction. There were miles and miles and miles of beautiful sandstone shapes carved by centuries of winds, rains and river currents. I’ll never forget it.
Those who see and love the beauty of our country will protect it.
MBG: When I see your work, I feel that size is a big deal. You are bringing these epic vistas to us here in Memphis, TN and thus doling out these breathtaking experiences for us to share. (Even your florals feel epic!) A color version of Ansel Adams comes to mind.
RB: Many of my photographs capture the natural world on a grand scale. My favorites include images of a mountain range in the Smokies and a broad swath of Monument Valley with those great buttes towering above the desert. The largest print in the exhibit is 50” x 35”. I’ve made prints of these scenes in smaller sizes – even note cards. They look good, I think, but the larger size adds to the impact. In this exhibit, all of the prints are on canvas with no matting or frame and that enhances the overall effect. These are photos of awesome scenes and I want my prints to convey that feeling. Large prints help me do that.
MBG: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, talk a bit about what it takes to obtain these images such as being in the right spot at the right moment; knowledge of the correct lens, and other factors that make a difference. Is your process one of "just take a bunch of pictures and hopefully there will be a good one", or is your process more deliberate?
RB: Photography is about capturing the light. I spend a lot of time waiting for good light; chasing the light and looking for soft morning light that can make the difference between a dramatic photograph and just another nice snapshot. Go out and look at your favorite river or mountain just before dawn and again when the sun is directly overhead. Around noon, the scene will look relatively flat and dull. My favorite time to shoot is about 40 minutes before sunrise. On a good day, I see amazing colors and shapes. An hour later, they will look very different and often not nearly as dramatic. Good light doesn’t come every day. I’ve got to be patient and keep going back. When the light comes, I’ve got to be ready to shoot. Mother Nature can be very stingy with her charms and most days you don’t get a lot of chances. A few months ago, I was in Death Valley high above a dry salt lake called Badwater Basin. It was before dawn on a raw, rainy morning. I looked across Badwater at the Black Mountains in the distance. Everything was gray and flat. I waited, squeezing the hand warmers in my pockets and asking Mother Nature to smile for me that day. The rain slowly let up, the winds died down, the clouds parted a bit and golden light bathed the mountains and part of the basin. It was beautiful light but it lasted less than five minutes. My first years as a photographer were very frustrating. I’d go out and go out and come back with nothing. There were days when I felt like throwing my cameras for a ten-yard loss. Then I began to understand light. And I started to zone in on the fundamentals. What is my foreground? Where are my leading lines? What am I shooting? I learned the hard way you can’t just go out and photograph a river or a grove of trees. That’s way too simple and you’ll end up with some pretty boring stuff. What is it about the river that you want to shoot? Most visual artists use light to control the viewer’s eye. When someone looks at one of my photographs, they are not going to “see” the entire image at once. Their eye will fall on the brightest part of the photograph and that’s where my central element should be. I try to get up high or down low to give my images a different perspective. I use filters to help control the light, and I look for things that will bring a sense of depth to my photographs – a line of trees or boulders or maybe a desert trail. I’ve learned how to ensure everything in the photograph is in focus; front to back and side to side.
My go-to lens for landscapes is a Nikon 17-35mm zoom. I bought it used years ago and I treasure it. For some landscapes, such as a mountain range with lots of ridgelines, I switch to my 70-200mm. It’s a truly great lens for virtually any type of photography and I wouldn’t be without it. My main camera these days is a Nikon D800E. It’s very versatile and generates a huge image – 36 megapixels – and seems designed with the landscape artist in mind. I usually shoot in manual mode because it gives me the maximum amount of information and enables maximum control of the light.
Whenever I talk about cameras and lenses, I add this important note: You don’t need leading edge gear to take good photographs. I’ve seen outstanding images shot with phone cameras.
MBG: What is your advice to those who want to improve their photos?
RB: Do not to run out and buy a lot of high-end stuff. It’s far more important to focus on the fundamentals, learn how to photograph the light and develop a vision. Learn to shoot by shooting. Get out there often, keep shooting and sooner or later Mother Nature will smile for you.
About the artist Rick Barnard:
Rick photographs the natural world to capture fresh images of waterfalls, rivers, mountains and deserts. He looks for compelling compositions that offer a unique perspective on the iconic vistas of the mid-South and American West. Rick is owner of the photographic gallery rickbarnardphotography.com. His solo exhibits include a presentation of his prints in February 2014 at The Beverly and Sam Ross Gallery, Christian Brothers University, Memphis, TN. Recently, Rick has broadened the scope of his work with candid portraits. Rick Barnard was named “Photographer of the Year” for 2014 and 2012 by the Memphis Camera Club.
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