Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathan McCreery, a professional landscape photographer based in Clovis, New Mexico. He is well known for creating exquisite photographs of the American West. He is often one of the most popular members on the photography network.
How would you describe your photographic style?
I would describe my photographic style as the “classic landscape”. I have been influenced, very heavily, by the work of Edward Weston, Morley Baer, Philip Hyde, Eliot Porter, Ernst Haas, and of course Ansel Adams. One of my goals, in the photographic realm is to be a master printer.
At one time I wanted to be a master printer both in black and white and color, since I really admire the work of Eliot Porter. Eliot was one of the absolute masters of the dye transfer process, just as Adams was a master of the black and white print. Digital changed all that.
With the advent of digital media, the materials needed to print my own Cibachromes (later changed to Ilfochrome) have become very difficult to obtain. With that change I have completely changed direction in my photographic work and I work very little in color. Almost all of my work is in black and white now, although occasionally I do expose a piece of color film.
How did you first get into photography?
When I was in art school, to be a graphic designer, I was required to take a course in photography. When I saw the first photograph appear, as if by magic, I was instantly hooked. Shortly after that friends learned I had a camera, and sort of knew how to use it, they began asking me to make photographs for them. By the time I graduated from art school I had an established clientele.
Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
The way I usually work is to park my truck at a likely location, strap on my backpack, gather my tripod and go for a walk. I look for patterns and materials that are visually interesting to me. When I find something that catches my attention I then begin the process of seeing how it will fit into a composition. If I find something that will be the main subject of my photograph and then find supporting elements that will reinforce the main material, and they can be built into a composition I will set my tripod, and then get out my camera, attach a lens and begin the process of refining my visual ideas until I arrive at a final solution.
Needless to say this is not a “run and gun” proposition. Everything is very deliberate and disciplined. I have a hard time that Michelangelo got up the day before the work on the Cistine chapel began and said, …”ummmm, think I’ll paint on the ceiling tomorrow, maybe I ought to figure out some compositions”. While it is true that in photography we must be able to respond spontaneously I also believe that photographic master works are the result of careful planning. It has been said that genius is what happens when careful preparation meets opportunity.
What is typically in your camera bag?
I typically carry a Toyo 45A, a Schneider 47XL, 65mm Grandagon, 90mm Sinaron-S, 150mm Sinaron-S, 210mm Sironar-S and 300mm Rodagon lens. If you will note, all of the lenses, except the 47XL, are made by Rodenstock. I believe them to be the very finest lenses ever made. They are all much sharper than the film I put behind them. There will also be an assortment of filters, such as a yellow, dark orange, red and green, as well as a UV15 and polarizer, several cable releases, lens cleaning tissue and fluid, a flashlight and level as well as some protein bars. My tripod is either a Velbon 530 or 630 with a Linhoff quick release device.
What are you looking forward to purchasing next?
My ideal would be a square digital back for my Hasselblads, but those are at least $10,000.00 so the chances are that won’t happen. Other than that I have hardly any equipment lusts.
Did you have any formal training in photography?
Yes! After my art school teaching I have been fortunate to have been trained by several master photographers. Several were either assistants to Adams or worked in his workshop programs. I have always sought out people that were at the very top in their fields in photography, to train me. It is an amazing thing to me that many times the very finest people in their fields are very accessible to interested beginners who are willing to ask questions and incorporate the principles the masters are teaching. I have been in several workshop settings with some of the worlds most accomplished photographers when an opinionated workshop attendee actually tried to “correct” the master. It is very annoying.
Do you post-process your photos?
Post processing is an interesting term. We used to call it darkroom work, and yes! I do gobs of darkroom work, and computer work. I use the computer to do my color processing now, and the conventional darkroom for my black and white film processing and printing. The only software I use is gray matter, in the darkroom, and Photoshop in the computer.
How do you approach printing? What is your process?
In black and white, the first thing I do after the film has been processed is to make a contact proof of each negative. Typically I then scan each neg. and create a file for that image. Often I will do some preliminary work with the negative on the computer to get a “feel” for the information the negative wants to give me, then go to the darkroom and begin printing. I am very old school. By that I mean that I have a number of techniques I have developed in the darkroom that allow me to arrive at a print that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying to me. Some of these are contrast masking, dodge masking, Potassium ferracyanide reduction and others. I find that most often the negative almost tells me what I should do in printing as long as I follow a very careful regimen. My wife tells me that my personality type changes completely when I am in the darkroom
What has been your favorite photo location?
That’s a difficult question to pin down. Usually it’s wherever it is that I happened to work last. The location I return to most often is the area around Page, Arizona and the mountains above Pagosa Springs and Estes Park, Colorado. My last location to work in is a place I hadn’t been to for 30 years and it’s amazing; Valle Vidal, New Mexico.
What lies ahead for you?
I am 62. I want to spend the next 60 years in the American West, specifically the Rocky Mountains and the Desert Southwest. I am currently about 35-40% complete on a project called “Rio Pecos; Requiem for a Wild River”. In it I am doing a fine art documentary project on the Pecos river from its genesis in the mountains of New Mexico to its terminus at the Rio Grande River just south of Langtry, texas. I’ve been on that one for about ten years and expect to wrap it up in the next two years. Hopefully I’ll get a book deal out for it.
What tips or advice do you have for other aspiring photographers?
There is no substitute for knowledge and good technique. Instead of buying a new lens the photographer would be more well served going to a workshop with an established pro whose work they admire. Be yourself! Don’t look for Ansel’s tripod holes. The only one who can be you is you, and that’s the only thing you’ll ever be really good at. People ask me why I use film and hand print when digital is so much faster. For me, creating art isn’t about speed or convenience. It’s about making in image that is self expressive, which is the essence of art. For me it’s important that my art pieces be personally produced by me. They should have my DNA on them, and as long as the materials are available I’ll keep it that way.
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