INTERVIEW WITH MITCH DOBROWNER
Mitch Dobrowner discovers photography as a young man through the works of Ansel Adams and Minor White. This meeting will mark him for the rest of his career guiding him on his travels in search of natural phenomena and events. In his works, mother nature is captured by the photographer's lens who, through his black and white images, stops a moment and gives it to eternity.
All images © courtesy of Mitch Dobrowner
How did your interest in photography start?
The first time I picked up a camera I was 17; I quickly became addicted. As I was searching for who I was and what photography was all about I eventually stumbled onto the images of both Ansel Adams and Minor White. They were the ones that inspired me in my late teens. I had never been exposed to photographic images such as theirs before then. The first time I saw their work I was floored. It was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It may sound a bit cliche, but the images left a major mark on my life. Their work was mind-boggling to me. Ansel was all about light, composition, making order out of disorder, being in touch with the environment while addressing all the technical aspects of photography. Ansel’s books The Camera, The Print and The Negative became my bibles. I became infused with his images and because of that I began experimenting with surreal abstract forms and closely watching how light would move across an environment. There will never be another Ansel Adams. There will never be another Minor White. I owe much to these great photographers of the past, especially Ansel Adams, for their dedication to the craft. Their dedication, determination, craftsmanship and vision still inspire me. Though I have never met them, they helped me determine the course my life would take.
How do you practically plan your travels to portray the storms?
I usually plan my trips around 9 months ahead. I like heading out in late June or early July with my friend Roger Hill. I like doing that as I think it's unexpected things that Mother Nature throws at you that makes photographing them exciting.
Why did you choose to photograph in black and white? And why did you choose to portray storm?
It's pretty simple: B&W interprets reality in a way that I “see” as a photographer. My wife (who is a designer and painter) always teases me and says I’m color blind. But I’m not – I just don't know the names of all the colors. How do you describe terracotta if you don’t know the name of that color? And the only time I see in color is when I’m listening to music. I see music/orchestrations in their various tones. Not sure why… but it's what I see. Color work also seems too realistic, boring and ‘every day’ to me. It’s what I see every time I look around so it's boring to me. I also get bombarded with color imagery, whether it’s over the Internet, on TV, billboards, movies, magazines, etc. I’m pretty visual so most of it just leads to sensory overload. So I decided to leave color photography to the great color photographers out there. I also see black and white prints as my final vision, the final product. The JPGs on the Internet are only a proxy of that final vision. I love the aesthetic and technical challenges (as an artist) of generating museum quality black and white printing.
Can you tell us about the Trees series? What do you want to tell with this series? What inspired you?
Growing up on the East Coast of the United States I've always loved trees. When I first picked up my camera again in 2005 the first subject I started shooting was trees, as for whatever reason they were the subject at the time that most intrigued and inspired me.
Wind Swept Tree
Is there any particular anecdote you would like to tell about your travels?
The most impressive location I’ve ever photographed has to be Shiprock New Mexico (USA), though there were others that came a close 2nd (ie: the Valentine Nebraska storm being another). But Shiprock was very special to me for a variety of reasons. Though I hadn’t seen the formation in person, this rock touched something deep inside me. I think it was because I knew that it is the spiritual center of the Navajo Nation, or maybe it was because it is the remnant of an ancient volcano. But this combination of history and geology ignited something inside me. So I traveled to the Four Corners area of New Mexico with my family to photograph it.When I arrived (in Farmington NM) I was totally overwhelmed by my first distant sighting of this formation. Over the next ten days I woke up at ungodly hours to drive long distances in order to arrive at first light, and then left after sundown each day in order to catch the last light driving over rocks, in mud, snow, rain, and sand. As we arrived in late December, the weather conditions made for cold/freezing, moody, atmospheric photographs, as well as freezing my fingers and toes. I spent the first eight days driving, scouting, and sitting quietly in the area surrounding Shiprock. It also seemed like the more time I spent in the area, the more I knew that I would need to be patient despite the cold. The morning of the eighth day I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and got into my truck in the freezing rain and snow – with a warm cup of coffee. From Farmington, the drive to Shiprock was about 50 miles one way. It was snowing, and then raining, dark, and freezing. The thermometer on my truck read between two and twelve degrees above zero (Fahrenheit). As this was the eight time in eight days that I was making this trip (during this visit), my mind kept saying, “Why are you going out again when you could have stayed with your family in a warm bed? You’re an idiot. You’re not going to get anything.” But I felt driven, as I wanted to capture the image I had driven 800 miles from California to get.
When I finally arrived at Shiprock that morning it was approx 5:45 a.m. The sun was just coming up and the Shiprock was behind a wall of clouds. When I finally stopped and stepped out with my camera and tripod, I sank ankle deep into cold mud. But when I looked up I knew that what was about to happen in front of me was the thing I had come all this way for. So for the next three hours I sat in front of Shiprock…not a soul around, and I felt like we had a conversation. These are the times when it’s almost like Mother Nature says, ‘Oh yeah, you’re out here for a snapshot? Prove to me that you’re for real.’ And eventually if you’re there, when you really tune it in…that’s what happened with Shiprock. This experience showed me that if I was tenacious, didn't give up and believed in myself that I could achieve anything. My hope is that the image presented helps communicate what I saw and the humility I felt while photographing this amazing structure.
You talked about the artists who have influenced you in the past, is there any artist today that you find particularly interesting?
I don't look at a lot of other photographers' work as in my daily world of busyness,family responsibilities, the dailudge of images on the internet and all the hustle-and-bustle of life I can easily get overwhelmed and experience sensory overload. But the three artists today that do inspire me are Nick Brandt, Pentti Sammallahti and Michael Kenna as all three are original, passionate and have unique visions.
Helix and Trees
After a pause of a few years, in 2005, you resumed photography. How much has your photography changed?
I think the break was beneficial as during the years I think my vision of what life really is became more focused. So I think my photography has changed as I have changed and grown as a person; and that the way I see the world today is different that the way I saw it 25+ years ago. Today photography is my way for me to communicate how I feel without words. When I’m out shooting things seem simple again, time slows down and the world around me gets quiet. It’s then that I’m able to focus in a manner that allows me to connect with my imagination. Those moments are how I’ve learned to ‘still my soul’; it’s my happy place.
Where do you think your artistic research will take you in the future?
I’d like somehow to advance the legacy of black and white photography, though that is not my intent. And though I’m happy about some of the accolades I had in the past, the part I like the most is the recognition of black & white landscape photography as a force again. And that’s not for me, but for the thousands+ of great landscape photographers in the world. I think people sometimes think that the work of Ansel, Minor White or Edward Weston were the end of the era (of great black and white landscape photography) but I believe that there are others out there that can expand on their point of vision and foundation. And I know that this is what Ansel and the others would want... as art has always had an intrinsic value and, as with music too, is a staple and foundational piece of society. It has been a part of us since the beginning of mankind. It's important that art continues to evolve and inspire.... especially with the changes in our society and how it will affect future generations.. ART represents that quiet place, a place that can inspire and allow people to get back in touch with themselves. It's important that art continues to evolve and inspire mankind.. That passion to improve yourself and express how you can somehow improve the world for future generations, through your art, should alone reignite people.