I just received my copy of B&W Issue 53— in which I have a Spotlight article that begins on page 72. I am grateful and honored that the editor, Henry Rasmussen, chose my work to be included in this issue. There are eight photographs in article from the various series I have worked on in the last five years.
For some reason, corrections I made regarding factual errors and misquotes were not applied in the final version of the article.
Below is the article as it should have been printed.
Some of Richard Boutwell’s fondest childhood memories are of the numerous fishing trips he took with his paternal grandfather to California’s Owens Valley. This retired Park Ranger shared his favorite fishing spots with his young grandchild, and instilled in him a sense of respect and awe for the rugged, stunning landscape.
Boutwell’s other grandfather was an amateur photographer who learned his skills in the Army in the late 1940’s. When he died in 2000, Boutwell inherited a cache of camera equipment, and started playing around with his interesting new hobby. Little did he know that the passion he found in photography would eventually allow him to travel around the world.
“In the beginning I was simply intrigued by all this photography equipment,” Boutwell recalls. “But I was a musician at the time, playing upright bass with my own jazz group, and I was planning to make a career of it. I had actually been playing gigs since I was 15— I didn’t even have a driver’s license yet. When I was 18, I was told by a musician from New Orleans that if I moved there I could find work as a bass player seven nights of a week.
“In order to learn how to use this new photography equipment, I enrolled in a darkroom course after graduating from high school. I continued to study music and was preparing to move to New Orleans, but I immediately fell in love with photography and darkroom work. I think it was only two weeks after beginning Photography 101 that I dropped 90% of my music courses, and began living in the dark room five days a week.
“During those first years photographing I was still living in Joshua Tree, California—only five miles from the entrance to the National Park. Partly because it was what I was surrounded by and what I grew up with, I was mostly interested in photographing the ‘Traditional West Coast Landscape’ and making very abstract pictures. I was mostly looking at the Early Modernist Photographers, and especially the work of Edward Weston. I began reading his Daybooks, and connected with the simplicity of his process but even more so with the way in which he lived his life. That is what made me decide to start using an 8×10-inch view camera, and only make contact prints—something I still do to this day.
“In 2002 I began reading B+W Magazine and noticed the pictures from Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee that run in the beginning of every issue. I wanted to know why the photographs were so beautiful—even in reproductions. So I went to their website and learned about how they live and work. I said, ‘That is how I like going about things, and that is how I want my life to be.’ Of course I can now see that I was simply young and romantic.
“I read that later in 2002 Michael and Paula were giving a lecture in Albuquerque for View Camera Magazine’s large format conference. I took a week off my job and drove to Albuquerque in order to meet them. When I showed Michael one of my large prints, which other people had been telling me was great, he said, ‘The corner is out of focus. It’s muddy here. This is unacceptable.’ I showed him some other prints and got the same response. But he saw that I was serious, and interested, and after talking together with Paula, he offered me a job as their assistant. Just like that. I said I’d think about it, but really in my head I was already making plans to move from California to the East Coast. We spoke again soon after and decided that I would start working for them in the spring of 2003. It was maybe a few months later, in the Fall of 2002, that Michael called me and said that he needed someone right away, and asked how soon I could start. Two weeks later I was driving to Pennsylvania to begin working as their assistant. It has been a great job and an incredible learning experience. In addition to working around the studio, I have been able to travel with them to Baja California for three weeks, Iceland for seven weeks and to France for Paris Photo for the last three years
“I recently moved from Bucks County to Philadelphia. And while I still work for Michael and Paula, it is only a few days a week, which allows me to concentrate more on my own work.
“Where early in my photographic development I was concerned with the purely natural landscape, I am now more interested in the social and ecological issues that effect the landscape. This recent change has caused me to think and work more in terms of series of photographs, and I don’t make as many singular landscape or abstract photographs as I did in the past.
“Among the various projects I am working on is the ‘Lower Owens River Project.’ I fly out to California every two to three months to photograph along the 62-miles of the Lower Owens River and delta area that is undergoing an unprecedented ecosystem revitalization and habitat management project. This wetland ecosystem was devastated after the completion of the second Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 which transported Owens Valley water more than 200 miles to the Los Angeles Basin. But now, after twenty-five years of litigation, the river is flowing at its original rate and I am documenting the changes in the area. So I am going back to many of the same places my grandfather took me camping as child, and in the summer I bring along a couple of fishing poles just in case the wind blowing down off the Eastern Sierras is too much for my big old 8×10.” –David Best