Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Art Wolfe Broadens his Horizons

With almost a grin, this sleepy Argentine gray fox sits in plain sight, but is almost invisible among rocks, lichen and vegetation on a Chilean hillside. With almost a grin, this sleepy Argentine gray fox sits in plain sight, but is almost invisible among rocks, lichen and vegetation on a Chilean hillside.
© Art Wolfe

Like nature, the diverse and intriguing subject he is best known for capturing photographically, Art Wolfe continues to evolve.

Harnessing an impressive amount of inner energy, Wolfe has never been one to rest on his laurels, preferring instead to try something new, rethink the plan, explore another angle.

His newest books — "Vanishing Act" (named one of the best new science books of the year by Discover magazine, and winner of the German Fotobook Award in 2005) and hometown favorite "Seven Summits: The High Peaks of the Pacific Northwest" — are just two in a continuing line of art offerings filled with creative and masterful photographs. Even after his three decades as an award-winning and successful photographer, who has published more than 60 books, Wolfe's business is still changing.

This spring, Wolfe's most recent bout of business renewal will bear fruit. He has revived an environmental photography contest he began 10 years ago, remodeled and expanded his gallery space, consolidated sales, and added an education component to his business. These blossoming ventures will come together under one roof, which Wolfe intends to make a center for photography in Seattle.

"I'm pretty excited about it. The timing's right for me," Wolfe told PhotoMedia recently from his office on First Avenue. "I'm broadening my horizons."

The gallery

Originally, Wolfe's space in the artsy SoDo (south of downtown) neighborhood housed office space for his crew of about a dozen worker bees. He decided, however, to take advantage of some unused portions of the building for a grand expansion.

Wolfe is turning the front portion of the building into a 1,900-square-foot, New York-style gallery, with cement floors, white walls, high-tech lighting and room to hang about 70 pieces. Once the project is completed in April, visitors will have access to hundreds of additional images through plasma screens in the gallery. The building facade also is getting a face-lift, making it more inviting to the public.

There is an extraordinary drive to develop our natural heritage. Photographers bear witness to what's going on.

"I want to [get] people excited when they walk in," Wolfe said of the gallery. "I want to overwhelm them." At press time, Wolfe also had plans to close his gallery within REI's Seattle flagship store in March and to consolidate his operations at the First Avenue gallery. He had closed two similar REI galleries in Minneapolis and Denver within the past several years. "We closed the other two because, to run a gallery effectively, I think, you need to be in the community, driving commerce there with talks and connections," he said. "Quite honestly, I just didn't have the time."

In sync with the gallery remodel, Wolfe's web site (artwolfe.com), which offers prints, books, posters and calendars for sale, has been upgraded to take advantage of an increasing interest in the photographer's work, adding hundreds, potentially thousands, of images.

"We're putting more emphasis on the print aspect of the business," Wolfe said. "As our web site becomes more effective, more prints are being purchased, and there's more walk-in traffic [through the web site] than at REI. We see growth in that."

Although he's best known for his photographs and books of nature and landscapes, Wolfe's work also includes images of cultures, urban landscapes and other subjects that he's eager to display to wid-er audiences through the gallery. He noted that his limited-edition prints are popular with interior designers and decorators on a national scale, and he wants to cultivate more relationships in that area.

The remodeling will include a more intimate space, in which Wolfe will host other photographers' one-person shows as a service to the photographic community. "We're not getting into the business of representing other people," Wolfe explained, "but we're giving them a nice space to show their work and have a reception, which is the hardest thing [to find] for most photographers."

The school

Part of the building's remodeling includes the construction of state-of-the-art digital classroom space, with work stations for 12 students and enough room for groups of 60 to 75 to meet. Dubbed the Art Wolfe Digital Photographic Center, the curriculum will offer Photoshop classes and digital darkroom workshops geared for every level of expertise. Wolfe envisions it as a "destination photo school," with both amateurs and professionals attending from all over the country.

"Businesswomen and men with a strong interest in photography will take time off to fly in and immerse themselves into the world of digital," Wolfe said, adding that the center will offer various levels of classes on subjects ranging from taking first pictures to how to color-profile for the printing process.

"With the advent of digital technology, suddenly everybody's got a camera again; they're excited about taking pictures," Wolfe said. "And yet, many of them, from amateur to semi-pro, aren't aware of really what to do after the fact. They may know a little about Photoshop, but they certainly aren't aware of archival storing, organizing and doing a lot more with the image. I think there's a need for that."

Rick Holt, a well-known professional instructor — whose credentials include 25 years in photography, eight years' teaching experience and an Adobe certification in Photoshop — will be moving from his home in Pennsylvania to the Seattle area to be the primary instructor.

Eagerly anticipating the new venture, Holt is confident that the school will be successful. "It's the only school like it in a population center," he pointed out. "People will travel across the country, too. Art's name will be a draw." Holt said he's known Wolfe for about 30 years and was in the first class that Wolfe taught.

Holt will be doing about half of the teaching, but will be on site to lend a hand when other photographers come in to instruct. He said that he's excited about bringing in well-known photographers who are good at teaching, and that the school will offer additional workshops to take advantage of those photographers' particular skills. Along with his enthusiasm, Holt also most likely will instill his students with a healthy dose of skepticism; on his web site (rwhimages.com), Holt described the effects of the digital revolution as, "both a curse and the best thing since sliced bread."

"There is an extraordinary drive to develop our natural heritage. Photographers bear witness to what's going on." Art Wolfe Wolfe said in February that he still was talking with other high-caliber instructors about joining his educational mission. "I'll be looking at bringing in people beyond nature and travel photography," he said. "We'll bring in people who may do workshops in lighting models or taking formal portraits." His hope, he said, is to attract repeat customers who will want to learn from different instructors. "I'm of the opinion that if you bring in 10 different instructors, you're going to get 10 different ideas," he added.

When it's not needed for classes, Wolfe plans to offer the space to area photographic clubs and groups for meetings and special projects.

The contest

A decade ago, the Art Wolfe Invitational began as a vehicle to spotlight environmental photographers and their subject matter. Since then, it's been renamed several times; in 2003, for instance, it was called the World in Focus competition and was produced by PhotoMedia. This year it returns as the Environmental Photography Invitational (EPI), hosted by Wolfe. PhotoMedia magazine will be involved again, as the official media partner and co-sponsor of the event.

The regional contest is open to anyone living in the Rocky Mountains region or points west, including British Columbia and Alaska. All photographic formats will be eligible, including digital images. Cash prizes totaling at least $10,000, as well as merchandise, will be awarded in six categories: Landscape, Wildlife, Flora, Man in the Environment, Environment at Risk, and Student. Winning images will be published in the Summer 2006 issue of PhotoMedia. The deadline for entries is March 14, at 4 p.m. PST. Contest rules and entry applications are available on the web site, epinvitational.com (no longer running).

The jurors for the competition are Patrick Donehue, vice presi dent, commercial photography, with Corbis Images; Jane Perovich, senior photo editor, with Getty Images; and Ed Marquand, book designer and producer, president of Marquand Books, and director of the Hector Acebes Archive. The three will review the entries, choose between 75 and 85 images to be exhibited in a six-week show (to be held in Wolfe's new gallery from May 20 to June 30) and select the winners. The opening reception is scheduled for May 19.

Philip Kramer, executive director of the EPI contest, said that chosen photographers will print and submit the selected images, which contest organizers will then mount and frame. "Everything's going to be very uniform," he said. "It'll be like a museum exhibit." Wolfe added that the blind jury process and the manner of presentation will put all entrants on an equal footing.

The competition will bring together other environmentally concerned people beyond the photographic community. "We're teaming with regional foundations that have a very strong environmental stance," Wolfe said. For instance, the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation, an EPI sponsor, supports efforts in human rights, civic development, environmental protection and restoration, and the arts and humanities. Kramer said that local politicians who support environmental issues, such as Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), will be invited to the gala opening of the EPI show.

The role of photography in environmental protection is vital, Wolfe noted. "There is an extraordinary drive to develop our natural heritage — to cultivate forests into housing lots — and a lot of it goes unseen," he said. "Photographers bear witness to what's going on. Teaming up with the foundations and environmental groups is a perfect place to go with photography."

The visual image is becoming one of the most powerful tools for effecting environmental change, Wolfe said. "You can build entire campaigns over one very salient photo," he said. "What we're trying to do is provide the platform where nature photographers and environmental groups work together to get the attention of the greater community who have moved here because they love the environment.

"But it's all going to be squandered if we don't wake up," he added.

Wolfe and his team are excited about the possibilities these new ventures create, especially in supporting the photographic community. "We're thinking, 'Who else can we team with, who else can [we] provide the space to, to drive people through here?'" he said. "We're limited [only] by our imagination."

Beth Luce
Story Author: Beth Luce

Beth Luce is a Seattle-based freelance writer.

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