Photographer Spotlight : Edward Riddell

 In News, Photographer Spotlight
Crashing Waves – Oregon Coast

Tell us about you! 

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. My formative years were during the sixties and seventies. The Bay Area was one of the early hotbeds of environmentalism, mostly because the Sierra Club was based there. David Brower and the Sierra Club were really the impetus behind environmentalism as we came to know it for the following 40-50 years. Many of my friends joined the Boy Scouts. I joined the Sierra Club, and that was a life-changing decision. From that moment on my life revolved around exploring wild places. I spent summers backpacking and mountaineering, and in the summer of my junior year at Stanford I was a Park Ranger in Grand Teton National Park. After moving to Jackson Hole after college, I met my wife, Lee, in Jackson Hole, and we were married there. We have lived in Jackson Hole ever since.

Aspens – Jackson Hole, Wyoming

How did you discover your love for photography?

Without a doubt, it was through David Brower’s Sierra Club book series. I poured over every one of those books often at bookstores because they were too expensive to buy. The photographs in those large format, coffee table books transported me to wild places I could only dream of seeing. Three of the books, The Place No One Knew by Eliot Porter, The Range of Light by Richard Kauffman with quotes by John Muir, and Eloquent Light by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, became my bibles. I was determined to make those kind of moving images of wild places. I began with a Kodak Instamatic, then progressed to a Nikon single lens reflex, then a 4×5 Linhof Technica, then a 4×5, 5×7, and 8×10 Deardorff. I read every book I could get my hands on, particularly Ansel Adams’ 5-volume Basic Photography Series. But I was hooked on photography from the first time I saw those Sierra Club books.

Receding Tides – Bandon, Oregon

Who are some of your favorite photographers (past or present)?

Eliot Porter for his intimate landscapes. Ansel Adams for his grand landscapes, Edward Weston for his nudes, his abstract dune photos, and sensuous still-life images. Ernst Haas for his book The Creation, which really inspired my belief in photography as a medium for expression and not just for photojournalism. Also, Paul Strand for his portraits and some of his early location photos in New England and the Southwest. Henri-Cartier Bresson for his decisive moment photographs and Alfred Stieglitz for his equivalents. John Phal for his embrace of conceptual projects and love of playing games with parallax. For working photographers, I really love the work of Paul Wakefield and Julian Calverley for the way they capture weather, mood, and atmosphere in their color landscapes. But today, like in every human endeavor, the output of great work is exploding. It’s an amazing time to be a photographer because of all the inspiration that is available to us.

Nez Perce Creek – Yellowstone

What is unique about Italy that inspires you to return and photograph there so often? 

I spent my junior year at Stanford studying art in Florence, Italy. We had to learn Italian, which I am now so thankful for, and I spent long weekends hitchhiking around the hill towns of Tuscany. But I didn’t return to Italy until thirty-plus years later. In all those intervening years my photography consisted of photographing wild places with no sign of the hand of man. My wife and I backpacked, canoed, and fished in wild places. Then, in 2005, after we sold our advertising agency, we decided to take a trip to Italy. I took a 5×7 view camera and was determined to try making photographs like Paul Strand had made in the fifties in his book Un Paese about the small town of Luzarro, Italy. I loaded film holders every night in hotel bathrooms and lugged two Pelican cases of 50 pounds each full of equipment. One of the most important images in the history of photography, called “The Family,” is on the cover of Strand’s book. I wanted to try photographing THAT Italy. I’m still on this quest to this day.

Can you describe a photographically challenging situation that you were confronted with that you were able to resolve on the fly?

Landscape photography is always challenging. You can’t just go to a great location and expect to produce a beautiful image. In fact, you can go to that same location dozens of times and not be guaranteed to produce such an image. Ansel Adams shot from the Wawona Tunnel viewpoint probably hundreds of times before he made Clearing Winter Storm. There are spots in Jackson Hole that I’ve visited several dozen times before getting an image that’s a real keeper. There are some locations that I’m still working on. The key is that when those moments happen you need to be able to react instinctually and call on all your cumulative experience to make the right choice of lens and location to turn a magic moment of light and weather into a meaningful image. It takes both great patience and stamina, as well as craftsmanship, to pull off images like those of my heroes.

Winter Aspens – Grand Teton National Park

Can you elaborate on why the printing process is just as important to you as the picture-taking process? 

Ansel Adams summed it up when he said, “The negative is the score, and the print is the performance.” Making the negative or the capture is only part of the equation. No one can see it until you print it or publish it. It’s the final image that you print or publish (either in a publication or online) that people can actually see and experience. That “performance” is how you share your work with the world, so it’s got to be good. I honestly don’t see how people can have other people make their prints. There is so much decision-making that goes into a final print. And it’s never finished. Every time I make a new print of an image, it’s slightly different from the one before. I don’t just press the “print” button. Each time I make a print, I alter the print to match my current sensibilities. I have to assume that musicians are always tweaking the way they perform a piece of music, too.

Sant’Antimo Abbey, Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

Owning a diversity of camera systems from Leica to Phase One & Fujifilm, what conditions or subject matter influence you to choose each system? 

The type of photograph dictates what tools to use. If you want to make quick, intuitive, unobtrusive, decisive moment photographs a Leica still can’t be beat. For grand landscapes, you need to use today’s equivalent of a view camera, a Phase One with tilt/shift lenses and vertical and horizontal shifts. The medium format Fuji can do both quite well but neither one perfectly. Some day, the Fuji might replace both of those systems, but not quite yet. For very high-quality long lens images, the Fuji system will soon be the “go-to” system. Fuji has just released its first fast, long telephoto for its system. Fuji makes some of the best lenses n the world. As those lense choices expand, they’ll “own” the genre of serious wildlife photography.

Morning Haze, Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

If you were behind your camera and could choose anything you wanted to be in your viewfinder, where would you be and what would you be looking at?

It would be a place I’ve never been but one that is “on my bucket list.” One of those places is the Scottish Highlands. I was there in late November 10 years ago without my camera equipment and have been longing to go back. It was winter light with a dusting of snow and there was still some lingering fall foliage on the trees. I saw dozens of photos in my mind’s eye, wishing I had had the time and proper equipment to do it justice. I know one trip won’t do it because I’ve learned that you have to learn a place before you can really photograph it. But it would be a start.

Lee Hardy Rapids – Yellowstone
Cappella Vitaletta, Val d’Orcia, Italy

What is your favorite underrated photographic tool? Why?

It’s my iPhone. I use my iPhone like a painter uses a sketchbook. I often take shots with my iPhone to “study” a shot like a painter would do a sketch. I have an app on my iPhone that allows me to look at a scene with framing lines for all my Phase One lenses. That way, I can nail the exact tripod location and lens selection before I even set up my camera. It saves an immense amount of time and allows me to work much more quickly and confidently, especially when I need to work fast to catch the light.

Can you provide your insight on the difference between selling your work online vs. a brick-and-mortar gallery?

Photographers often think, “I’ll just sell my own prints online, so I get to keep all the money rather than paying a gallery its commission.”

So, let’s talk about pricing first. Your prints have to be the same price through both outlets. Since a gallery charges a 50% commission on sales, the gallery price has to be 2x what you want to make on the print sale. Theoretically, you could then sell the same print directly online for half the gallery price, but you can’t do that. It’s not fair to galleries and no reputable gallery would allow you to do it. Also, it’s expensive to run a gallery, so galleries earn every penny of their 50% commission.

Don’t be fooled. It’s easy to set up an online shop and sell prints directly, but it’s very hard to find customers. At $2,000 to $10,000, depending on print size and framing options, people want to see the physical print before buying, and rightly so. And you can’t offer returns on big print sales because you’ve spent all the money to make and frame the prints and there might never be a buyer for the print you get back on a return. I also think that galleries are effectively endorsing your work by hanging it in their gallery. And that endorsement means a lot.

Back Street, Montalcino, Italy

Why did you select Capture Integration as your equipment partner?

You should select a photography dealer because they’ll be a great partner in your photography business, not because you’ll get the best price on what you’re buying. Great dealers offer invaluable advice that they learn from extensive experience with a large group of professional customers. Digital photography is progressing at such a rapid rate that it’s impossible for even the most knowledgeable photographers to keep up with all the rapidly developing technology. Finding a dealer to advise you is worth its weight in gold and actually saves you money in the long run.

Evening Light – Oregon Coast

ed riddell headshot

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