Photography is unique among the arts for carrying an assumption of authenticity. The camera captures light from a subject, and the viewer at least starts with a faith that the image reproduces what was seen. That’s kind of an illusion, because any photograph is an interpretation, it can never be the real thing somehow re-created in two dimensions. But there are degrees of authenticity that resonate less and more to different aspects of our experience.
After seeing my most recent multi-media show, Mountains of the Blue Sheep, viewers have told me they love the photographs, but more importantly they comment that they “look real.” That’s good, because that’s the message I wanted to bring, especially in this case. This place along the India-China border–where I climbed with Canadian and Indian friends and then stayed in a village as the first foreign visitor–has a living story that sounds like myth. It’s a mountain area beyond the Himalaya that’s still barely explored, where people have been living successfully and so removed from the modern world that until recently they weren’t operating with money, and were almost apart from any country. The place calls to us like an apparition from a pre-modern, simple happiness we want to believe in, yet of course I found a rare, present-day place. The people know both hard work in their fields and homes and leisure with no schedule but the sun and season. They know the security of having most everything they need coming from their own land and hands, and they fear for what weather, illness, or accident might befall them. They have curiosity and visions for the promises of the modern world, in some ways not unlike we ourselves do, but at such a seminal stage.
I felt so fortunate to explore an unexplored area, climb some peaks, and befriend some of the villagers. And I feel charged to bring back a message that both awakens myths and presents reality. I hope that in learning about this place you are challenged (as I’ve been) to wonder: what was life like before we became “modern,” and what forces brought us from there to now? In gathering the story of this place I’ve felt a special responsibility to make photographs that both stimulate our wonder and convey authenticity.
To be in charge of your photograph these days, you have to start from a RAW file. Then you process and adjust. I use Iridient Developer, Photoshop, and Photokit Sharpener, with the simple intent to clarify the subject message. The Eastern Karakoram and the people and animals there are amazing yet of this earth, and in inviting viewers to appreciate this as a real place I was not tempted to over-saturate colors, to over-draw contrast, or to otherwise make the images grab the eye like candy.
Please enjoy a few of the images: