Picturing the Wilderness: Photographs by Josef Muench, Macduff Everton, and David Maisel

January 13, 2002

Wildling Art Museum Opens New Exhibition of Wilderness Photography Los Olivos ~ A new exhibition at the Wildling Art Museum in Los Olivos, “Picturing the Wilderness: Photographs by Josef Muench, Macduff Everton, and David Maisel,” opened on January 26. Karen Sinsheimer, Curator of Photography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, who organized this exhibition for the Wildling, selected these three artists for their different points of view on the wilderness subject.

Josef Muench (1904-1998), a German immigrant who is best known for his photographs published in the magazine Arizona Highways, pictured the great landscapes of the West and Alaska since the 1930‘s. “Like many photographers of his generation,” Sinsheimer says, “Muench valued simplicity, using a single 4 X 5 Speed Graphic camera and not more than five lenses most the time.” Using the camera as a mnemonic device to preserve forever the images he loved,” Muench’s vision of the American wilderness “carries both the hope of the newly arrived and the fascination that the immensity of the place has evoked in Europeans since Colonial times.

In contrast, contemporary Santa Barbara-based photographer Macduff Everton pictures the Western wilderness in sweeping panoramic views of an almost mythical character. Before becoming a photographer, Everton worked as a cowboy and rafting guide, and he believes that those experiences sensitized him to the “wild and romantic aspects of the Western experience.” These aspects are conveyed through his use of the large-format camera and selective use of filters that intensify dramatic skies and atmospheric effects. Everton’s book, The Western Horizon, published in collaboration with his artist wife, Mary Heebner, features scenes from national parks such as Death Valley, Yellowstone and Monument Valley, but seen with fresh eyes.

Another contemporary artist from Sausalito, California, David Maisel, is the third artist featured in the “Picturing the Wilderness” exhibition. In the 21 st century, Maisel takes an abstracted view of the wilderness in his photographs of environmentally altered landscape. Photographing a mile above the earth, Maisel is a detached observer of an unfamiliar landscape that reveals itself in a new way. Unfamiliar patterns, forms and symmetries emerge from his distanced focus. In Maisel’s work there is a fascinating dichotomy between abstract form and documented reality. As Sinsheimer points out, “our response to Maisel’s images may not be unlike those of 19 th century viewers when they were first shown the strange and curious images of mineral springs from Yellowstone or the giant sequoias of the Northwest.”

Each of these photographers, as well as countless others that have gone before, offered a different conception, taken from a particular stance, of wilderness. And it is certain that the infinite intrigue of the natural world will continue to be revealed in ways we cannot yet imagine.

The public was invited to an opening reception for the exhibition 2-5 p.m. on January 26 at the Wildling Art Museum, 2329 Jonata Street, in Los Olivos.