Galen Rowell’s Artist’s Statement

“My interest in photography did not begin with a burning desire to see the world through a camera. It evolved through an intense devotion to wilderness that eventually shaped all parts of my life and brought them together. I began to express this devotion in a physical way through climbing and hiking, and in words through lectures and articles.

Yosemite book cover

“Photography was a means of visual expression to communicate what I had seen to people who weren’t there. At first I was disturbed that 99 percent of my images didn’t look as good as what I had seen. The other one percent, however, contained some element–a beam of light, a texture, a reflection–that looked more powerful on film than to my eye. Without this I never would have been drawn toward photography as a career. I became fascinated with trying to consistently combine photographic vision and a visualization in my mind’s eye to make images that exceeded the normal perception before my eyes.

Climber on Pinnacle near Mt. Whitney

“The publication of Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape in 1986 put my philosophy on the line with the story behind my work. Before Mountain Light the many magazines I had worked for never let me say what really motivated my work, and how different my style of participatory photography is compared to that of an observer with a camera who is not part of the events being photographed. It is the difference between a landscape viewed as scenery from a highway turnout and a portrait of the earth as a living, breathing being that will never look the same twice.

“Although I plan to continue traveling to and photographing exotic places indefinitely, I have a confession to make. I’ve known all along that more of what I am seeking in the wilds is right here in my home state of California than anywhere else on earth. But there’s a ‘Catch-22.’ I couldn’t say it with authority until I had all those journeys to Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, China, South America, Antarctica, and Alaska behind me.”

—Galen Rowell, 2001

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