Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Eddie Soloway: Capturing Magic Moments

A sugar maple forest in autumn provided the color for one of Soloway’s “Forest Abstracts” images. This series of photos, he adds, “took a new turn when I let the abstraction be created by wind and water movement.” A sugar maple forest in autumn provided the color for one of Soloway’s “Forest Abstracts” images. This series of photos, he adds, “took a new turn when I let the abstraction be created by wind and water movement.”
© Eddie Soloway

Eddie Soloway wants his nature and landscape photography to be more than just beautiful images with bright blue skies and crisp details that stretch for miles into the distance.

"I will always work on those classic landscapes," Soloway says. "But what really drives me is this search for how I can show the essence of different natural communities in a way that really cuts to the heart of what they're about."

Soloway's goal is to get away from shooting an overall location and concentrate on getting to the essence of the scene.

"I'm thinking less about the particular "here is the place' and thinking much more about what it's like to sit in a dark summer hardwood forest, what it's like to be in the forest at night in a windy storm, and trying to come in and capture that more universally," he explains.

That approach is what helps set Soloway's images apart from those of his peers, popularizing his work at galleries and shows and making him a sought-after instructor at photography workshops around the country. In 1998, he was the first recipient of the Excellence in Photographic Teaching Award presented by the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts.

One of the reasons for his popularity as a workshop instructor is his emphasis, first and foremost, on seeing, and then later on the actual capturing of an image.

"In my workshops we do a lot of activities outdoors where I'm trying to get them to see, with a child's eye in many ways," Soloway says. "I lead with that and then bring the skills of photography up to these exciting things that they're seeing."

Moments, not things

The Santa Fe, N.M., resident has always had a passion for the outdoors but admits that it wasn't until around 1990, when he was in his early 30s, that he seriously considered photography as a career.

Soloway grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spent summers with his family in the north woods in Minnesota, Michigan and Maine, and eventually went on to study ecology at the University of Wisconsin.

I like to think that the shift I made was from making pictures of objects and things to making photographs that captured the magic of moments or the essence of a place.

His first foray into landscape photography was a natural outgrowth of his love for nature and the outdoors.

"What I was really doing was photographing things: flowers, birds, all those sorts of things," he recalls. Looking back, he describes those early photographs as "boring."

For nearly a decade, while he was working for an environmental group, he put his camera aside. He subsequently moved to San Francisco and apprenticed at an imaging lab, creating dye transfers, C-prints and black-and-white work for some of the top shooters nationwide.

It was while he was in the Bay Area that he picked up a camera again and began considering a career as a photographer. The proverbial light bulb went off one day when he sat down and viewed some images he had taken at a stream in northern California, after not using his camera for 10 years.

"Years before, when I had the camera with me in college, I was photographing "things,'" he says. "This roll of film was full of fundamentally different images. … I remember being really excited that, somehow, my eye had changed. It felt different.

"I like to think that the shift I made was from making pictures of objects and things to making photographs that captured the magic of moments or the essence of a place," he recalls. "I really started wrapping my thinking around that kind of idea, more than just "There's a picture, grab it.'"

The written word

The 52-year-old Soloway is a largely self-taught photographer who admits that much of his inspiration came not from other photographers but from writers such as Barry Holstun Lopez, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry and John Muir.

His first book, "One Thousand Moons," features 77 of his images accompanied by 21 essays he wrote. The essays were an outgrowth of writings he would post next to his images at shows. Prior to that, he had limited writing experience. The photo essays were less about the actual image than they were about "the experience, about taking people into the natural world, trying to capture the essence of what happened at that moment," he explains.

The feedback he received about those writings prompted him to include the 21 essays in the book, which he self-published. The book, which is still available and which he sells at workshops, has sold well.

"It's paid for itself and beyond," Soloway says about his "Moons" project.

He also looks for inspiration in abstract painters, who, he says, simplify their work down to the elements he is trying to get to: light, color and shape. One of the artists he admires is Georgia O'Keeffe, who once said, "Details are confusing €¦ it is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things."

"I'm very intrigued by that idea," says Soloway, whose forest and water abstract series on his website (eddiesoloway.com) reflects that approach.

Teaching patience

In his classes, Soloway stresses the slow transition required for success. He advises would-be photographers to put their cameras aside in order to better see and experience the world before trying to capture it on film or digital media. "I think a lot of seeing should just happen without the camera," he says. "It's really important.

"The key thing is to develop an eye," says Soloway, who credits his time "wandering in the wilderness" in his 30s with helping to develop his own eye.

"Take a deep breath," he advises those who want to make a living in photography. "Remember that it's going to take time. I think people need to honor the long path. We have built into our culture the idea that if I just get the stuff, I can do it and I can do it quickly.

"I think what we need to do, or what I've had to do, is to honor this idea that there's a lot of baby steps. It's being persistent. It's making mistakes but believing in what you want to do. Keep moving forward; keep getting your work out there. It's a long process."

Photographers, he notes, often worry that they haven't developed a particular style. That, too, comes with time, Soloway says.

"They want a style right away," he says. "I equate it often to when you're single and you're looking for a relationship. You look, look, look and nothing shows up. Years later, you're not even paying any attention and there's the perfect person in your life. Often it seems that way in photography when it comes to finding your style."

Is it a living?

Soloway splits his time between print sales, teaching and stock, the latter of which is handled through Getty Images (he originally started with Tony Stone, which was purchased by Getty) and accounts for about 20 percent of his business. The balance is split fairly evenly between teaching and print sales, with much of those sales coming from outdoor art shows that keep him on the road and away from home.

He's also striving to move some of his newer photogravure work into galleries. He promotes his workshops to students who have taken his classes, attracting a loyal following with the alumni courses he offers.

Soloway admits that working as a landscape photographer isn't as glamorous as many think. One admirer of his work told him that he would like nothing more than to travel around the world taking photographs for a living.

"I said, "Me, too,'" Soloway says with a laugh.

"People think that it's a glamorous life, but it's not making photographs all the time. For me, I'd bet that 80 percent or 90 percent of the time is figuring out how to run the business. It's a huge amount of time. We fight for creative time."

Even so, Soloway doesn't discourage young students from pursuing a career as a photographer, but, again, stresses the need for them to consider the larger picture. "I don't say no, but I think if a person is really willing to listen, I'll be pretty up front that it's a long, hard path," he says.

He advises older people in his workshops, some of whom may be retired or nearing retirement, to not think about making a living with their images. Instead, he urges them to "celebrate the photography, celebrate the journey of making pictures" and to consider getting involved in a cause or a project where their images can be used.

"Don't think it's just about making a living," he tells his students.

Soloway sees changes happening in landscape photography brought about by marketing on the internet and a move to multimedia, such as combining still images with video.

"In terms of marketing, I think paying attention to what young people are doing is really the key," says Soloway, who plans to launch both a blog and a photo diary on the web. He is also looking at multimedia as well as print making photogravures & and mixed-media print making.

"I'm excited about a lot of different directions right now," he says.

Simple tools

Soloway also warns people that creating outstanding imagery does not happen merely by purchasing the latest and greatest gear.

Soloway, in fact, is no slave to gear. He describes himself as a minimalist when it comes to equipment, preferring to shoot film with his two workhorse 35mm Nikon FM2 cameras. In his bag, he typically carries a Nikon 55 macro and a 28 f/2.8. He shoots using only natural light and eschews the use of filters.

"I have a very tiny camera bag. I prefer to keep Pandora's box shut," he says of the urge to add more equipment. "I'm very much of a minimalist with the gear that I have."

As for shooting 35mm transparency film, he says he has no problem creating large, beautiful prints. After high-end drum scans, he digitally adjusts the images, essentially doing only what could be done in a traditional darkroom, such as dodging and burning; he doesn't Photoshop his images to create something totally new. Then he outputs them to a LightJet printer.

Soloway also shoots on medium- and large-format equipment and has done some digital work for stock. Only recently, with the advent of the new Nikon D3/300 digital cameras, has he taken a more serious look at digital capture.

While some may prefer the immediacy that digital provides, Soloway questions whether it helps or hinders outdoor photographers.

"I'm always anxious to get my film back, but I can also take a deep breath … and not worry about it until the end of the trip, which means I free myself up to write, to paddle in a canoe, to just wander in the woods, just total immersion."

He contrasts that immersion with the times when he's teaching students who are fully engrossed in digital capture.

"Everyone is on their laptop all night long working on images," he says, adding that people too often get so caught up in the technical aspects of photography that they lose sight of the actual image. To counter that, Soloway initially stresses to students "the seeing, the thinking, the feeling" and then follows up with the technical.

"What I'm seeing is people caught up in the technical and never freeing themselves to step into the conceptual: what's this photograph about, or what are the feelings I want to convey? It seems to be a trap that, in many ways, has been exacerbated these days by the digital revolution and all the equipment."

Soloway tells his students to decide where they want to go in photography and then choose the equipment to match that goal. For him, with his slow and contemplative approach, film has been the medium of choice, whether he is using 35mm, medium-format or 4 x 5 cameras.

Enjoying the scenery

While he is always open to new locations, Soloway is a firm believer in returning to places he knows well.

"I think familiarity breeds better images," he explains. "Failures come from going to a place and not allowing much time to get to know it."

Among Soloway's latest projects is a series of educational photo cards to help inspire other photographers. He is also looking at creating some new nighttime landscape images.

"I'm very intrigued by a couple of images made in low light in forests and around water, and want to pursue night landscape more seriously," he says. "I'm thinking these days in terms of bigger ideas; not just the ocean, but how to capture the essence of movement over time, leaving the object aside and moving into conceptual ideas."

Another project in the works his second, after "One Thousand Moons" is a possible book based on his body of work, "Driving," which he created while on the road between teaching, shooting and shows.

He is also maintaining a full teaching schedule, which includes several National Geographic Traveler Seminars, the Sundance Photographic Workshop and the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.

Soloway hopes to continue his move toward seeing the essence or magic of a location and imparting that to other aspiring photographers. In an age of instant gratification, he urges them to slow down to better develop their vision.

"I think it's important for people to understand that it's OK to take a deep breath and honor the journey," he says.

People think that it's a glamorous life, but it's not making photographs all the time. For me, I'd bet that 80 percent or 90 percent of the time is figuring out how to run the business. It's a huge amount of time. We fight for creative time.

IN THE LOUPE: Eddie Soloway

Home and studio location: Santa Fe, N.M.

Website: eddiesoloway.com

Book projects: "One Thousand Moons" (2004). Currently working on second possible project, "Driving," about images he made while traveling between workshops.

Highest honor: First recipient of the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts’ Excellence in Photographic Teaching award (1998).

Preferred equipment: Nikon FM2 35mm film cameras; Nikon 55 macro and 28 f/2.8 lenses; currently experimenting with the Nikon D3/300 digital camera.

Advice to aspiring photographers: "Let go of photographing objects and things in favor of capturing the essence of places and the magic of moments," he writes on his website. "It is that spirit of developing a natural eye first, and then bringing a camera and its technical skills up to that eye that organizes the week in the ‘Natural Eye’ workshops."

P.J. Heller
Story Author: P.J. Heller

P.J. Heller is a freelance writer and photographer based in Southern California.

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