PHOTOGRAPHER FOCUS · Will Koeppen.
The notion of what may be landscape photography seems perfectly defined by our cultural conventions. We usually consider it -in an almost unconscious automatic mode-, as a faithful depiction of natural reality to which we attribute almost a strictly documentary function. That idea has been well established for at least one hundred and fifty years, from the time at which the popularization of the early photography deprived of much of its meaning to the figurative painting, -landscapes, portraits…-, and forced it to start a process of finding other patterns of representation of reality whose first stage was the impressionism. But conceiving that landscape photography is nothing more than a mere procedure to document -with varying sensitivity- a natural reality, can lead us to assimilate it to something close to the topography.
Will seems to be perfectly aware of it when he defines himself as an environmental photographer; someone involved in the attempt of documenting that stress -sometimes, the collision- that can be noticed between the natural and human environments, and which cannot be separated from the concept of landscape in itself, and its evolution. Man interacts with the landscape, and puts pressure on it in a way that not only modifies it physically, but also prints emotions on it, becoming tied to those places.
In the work of Will -a photographer based in the area of Anchorage, Alaska- his immediate environment has, by all means, a huge specific weight. His northern photography is simply breathtaking, and it cannot surprise to us to discover that it is wonderfully influenced by the light and the open spaces of his homeland. On it, he shows us -in such a way that we can almost perceive it physically- the beautiful severity of the environments and the harshness of the climatological conditions. Here we’re captivated by those mountainous horizons, the raging sea of a thousand metallic tones, or the cold light in the icy valleys. In such places, Will tries to capture those emotions that, he feels, are embedded in them, and the opposition between timelessness and temporariness, the connection that links man and nature, and the search for the most remote places. And there is something that he attempts to convey somehow in the viewer: the sense of sehnsucht (the longing for places you’ve never been to) because, he tells me, it’s a feeling that he gets all the time. In the capture of these landscapes, Will does not need large focals to generate a sense of vastness, of spaciousness, but he compensates with a wonderful sense of composition what other photographers would live as an expressive constraint. In his captures the work with that northern light is gorgeous, in a way in which the palette of his landscapes is seen as vivid and saturated, and the air thin and transparent.
But in addition, when winter solstice approaches he feels the moment to fly away and seek out some warmth, Will makes wonderful travel photography. In it you will discover, more than in no other part of his work, the beautiful contrast between natural and human landscape. Looking at these snapshots, I have the feeling that I can approach it with the attitude of one who observes the layers that make up the onion. The outer level, perhaps the most obvious, is the one which presupposes what the genuine travel photographer must show, what we seek primarily when traveling: whether it be that rushed streetscape, a beautiful temple or the landscape that seems exotic to our eyes and bringing out unusual shapes and colors. But there is, however, in that travel photography other internal levels in which Will enters in a sensitive way, subtly, to show us a human geography, the brushstrokes of daily life of the inhabitants of the places he has visited, their immediate objects , their homes … I love this aspect of Will’s work: for it is substantially descriptive -documentary if you want- but mostly because in it emerges in a marvelous way those feelings before mentioned which, through his photography, remain indelibly linked to those places. It may possibly be the point in which his work reaches the highest levels of lyricism and sensitivity.
And -you may wonder- what equipment Will uses to develop that creativity? I cannot resist to answer you in his own words that really embody the spirit of joy and adventure with which Will enjoys his photography. Read them: it’s worthwhile: “I don’t spend very much time thinking about gear, honestly. My main criteria is for it to be able to fit into a backpack, be sturdy enough for adventures up mountains in the winter, on boats splashed with salt-water in the summer, and have good enough low-light capabilities for Alaskan twilights and my occasional event photography. For now, that is a Canon 5DmIII and a 50mm lens”. And I think it’s a great bet!