Like other visual artists let’s have the courage to create images that express how we imagine a scene was,
rather than just what the camera saw.
Publisers Note: Today it has been three months since Michael passing. All of us miss him. I thought Alain’s article was a nice tribute and has some old videos which are fun to watch. I also published a Rant about my feelings under Rantatorials.
1 – Introduction
I met Michael Reichmann in 1998, somewhat by accident, when I submitted a series of panoramic photographs to him for possible publication on Luminous Landscape. It was the Holiday Season and Michael had announced a call for entries on his website, asking for photographers to submit their work. I had been working extensively with the Fuji 617 Panoramic camera system around that time so I submitted a portfolio of 6×17 images. Michael accepted it and published it on the Luminous Landscape. This was my first contact with him and it took place over email.
Michael liked my work and he called me later on, after the photographs had been published, and offered to photograph together. This is when I first met him in person. When we met we talked about the 6×17 images I had submitted and I mentioned that this was the first time I submitted my work to a website, or to any publication for that time because my focus at the time was on selling my work rather than on getting published. Michael asked why I submitted images to him then. I answered that it was because this was the Holiday Season and I made an exception because of that. Michael answered that I was superstitious, a remark that made me think about my reasons for doing this. Perhaps I was superstitious, at least for certain things. I also thought that Michael was most likely not superstitious otherwise he would not have made this remark.
Over the following years Michael and I photographed several times together, always accompanied by Christopher Sanderson who filmed our outings to create content for the Luminous-Landscape Video Journal. This was the very beginning of the Video Journal and I was in fact featured in issue number one. For this video we photographed in Canyonlands National Park and Michael interviewed me at Dead Horse Point. I was not using 4×5 yet at that time, this is why the video shows me using a Hasselblad medium format. I believe I purchased my first 4×5 camera the following year. Michael was also using film. He moved to digital the following year while I moved to digital three years later.
2 – Photographing with Michael
Much of creating visual art does not lend itself to description in words.
Photographing with Michael was an experience. I had photographed with other professional photographers before meeting Michael, with Al Weber for example, but I had failed to realize that the photographers I had photographed with had an approach to photography that was similar to mine. They were all let’s say ‘contemplative’ photographers, meaning they, and I, liked to find a location, set up our tripods and cameras, and wait for the light.
Michael had a different approach. For him the shot was not something you wait for, it was something you look for. For me, if the shot was not there now it meant it may come later on and it was worth waiting. For Michael it meant that the shot was elsewhere. His goal was to find out where and that meant being constantly on the move, searching for it.
This is exactly what we did when we photographed together. At least until we found out that our approaches were not compatible. With Michael we were constantly on the move. While this approach was interesting it was also challenging. Not only did it not come naturally to me, it was further complicated by the fact that Michael was using cameras that were far quicker to set up and use than mine. When we first met I was using medium format film while Michael was using 35mm film. Later on things got more challenging because Michael moved to 35mm digital while I moved to 4×5 film. Not only was my approach slower than his, the cameras I used took longer to set up and use as well.
When we photographed together a typical shoot would go something like this: Michael would set up, take the shot then move on while I was still trying to compose an image on the ground glass. If I did not follow him, which I rarely did since it took me much longer to get the shot, Michael would be on the talkie-walkie telling me that he was moving on in quest of another shot. Usually this meant driving who knows where, so I would try to hurry and get the shot, then pack up while trying to not forget some of my gear. We would then drive to the next location, him excited about the prospect of finding the next shot and me wondering if the light got better after I left the previous location.
This worked fine when we had our own cars but not so well if we travelled in the same vehicle. In the same vehicle the driver, which was Michael, was in control and I had to be in the car or be abandoned in the landscape. In separate vehicles we had the freedom of finishing what we were doing on our own schedule and then, hopefully, meet each other again down the road. I say ‘hopefully’ because sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not work. On one instance we lost each other for good in Capitol Reef and met again by accident the next morning at breakfast after checking in the same motel unaware of where the other one was.
3 – Yucca at White Sands
The differences between our respective approaches to landscape photography were never more obvious than during a shoot we did at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. One morning we drove to the National Monument before sunrise and set up on foot in the dunes looking for a promising subject. I found one quickly, set up my camera and tripod, composed the image and started shooting right away.
I exposed 40 sheets of 4×5 film, all of them with the same composition, photographing from pre-dawn to post-sunrise and not moving my tripod or my camera for over an hour. During the same time Michael took, in my estimate, 40 different compositions, not two of the same thing, moving constantly from one location to the next. There may have been more than 40 different compositions, I really don’t know. I am using the same number for the sake of comparison. I don’t know for sure how many he took, we did not discuss it and he did not mention it. It did not matter in any case.
Fact is, Michael was a hunter, a photographic hunter. I was, and still am, a fisherman. I waited for the light while he hunted for it. For me the light would eventually come. Form him the light was elsewhere. We both sought the same thing, the elusive ultimate light, we just did it in two different ways.
We were both successful in what we did because our respective approaches suited our personalities. They were the expression of our passion for photography, a passion expressed in two markedly different ways. I am not sure if those unaware of our respective approaches can tell how much we differ when they look at our photographs. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Surely it doesn’t. Why would it?
4 – Briot’s View
Briot’s View is my monthly column on Luminous Landscape. It has been running continuously since 2001 and it started out of a discussion that Michael and I had during a photography trip. At the time I was writing essentially what we may call ‘product reviews.’ These were reviews of photographic gear I owned and used and these reviews consisted essentially of my personal experience with these products.
However writing product reviews was not my cup of tea. It was more a first attempt at writing about photography than anything else. It was clear to me that Michael’s reviews were far more in depth than mine, and that he had access to much more gear than me. So much more gear in fact that I realized very early on that I should not attempt to compete with Michael in regards to gear acquisition. Doing so would spell my financial demise very quickly while it would have no effect on him whatsoever.
In any case acquiring gear, and incidentally reviewing it, was never my thing. This is what I told Michael when we had the conversation I mentioned above. By then Michael knew enough about me to understand my motivation for writing and he told me: ‘why don’t you write about aesthetics?’ This took me by surprise because I had never thought of it so I asked Michael what he meant by this. His response was: ‘composition, color, contrast, etc. Write about what goes into the making of a fine art photograph.’
When I returned to my ‘studio’ (see below) I wrote a list of subjects that fit under the heading of ‘aesthetics’ and sent it to Michael who suggested we call it ‘Briot’s View’ and that we make it a monthly series of essays.
This is where we lived and what we drove when Michael visited us in Chinle, Arizona, at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly. Michael spent about 5 minutes inside. We spent the rest of the time photographing in Canyon de Chelly and in the surrounding areas. Natalie and I took him to many places we had discovered on our own. We moved from Chinle to Phoenix, Arizona, in 2003. Our car and house are quite different now.
5 – Mastering Landscape Photography: The Luminous Landscape essays
This series of essays eventually culminated in the publication of my first book: Mastering Landscape Photography: the Luminous-Landscape essays. The editor of Rocky Nook, a publishing company, called me and asked me if I wanted to publish the essays I wrote for luminous-landscape in book format. When an editor calls you with a question such as this one the answer has to be yes, especially if you live in the conditions shown above. The book was published a year later. It is the first of the four books I published as physical books so far. All are available on my website, on Amazon.com and wherever good books are sold as they say.
6 – Business
Companies are like people, they have personalities. Some are slow and methodical, others aggressive and adventurous.
Michael was the first businessman I met. Until then I had lived what some may call a sheltered life in regards to business, studying photography, communication and rhetoric up to the PhD level. When I met Michael I had been selling my work for several years but my knowledge of business was still minimal. For me, at the time, marketing was putting a price tag on my photographs. I had competitors but I would not have called them business people. They were artists selling their work and making money, when they did, often in spite of themselves. I was, to say the least, unimpressed by them.
Michael was different. He had built and run successful companies, made money and moved on. Even though the details of his business life were relatively unknown to me, being shared through occasional remarks rather than through a detailed account, I could tell that his experience was in a different league than the photographers I was competing against when I was selling my work.
His advice, when I sought it, was short and to the point. For example, when I started accepting credit cards I asked him how I should handle the credit card fees since I had no idea how to do that. His answer was simple: just increase your prices by 5% and move on. Today his advice seem obvious and my question unnecessary. However, at the time it was not because I had no experience being in business whatsoever. In retrospect suppose that I would have figured it out, or that I would have lost 5% on every transaction. Who knows?
7 – The Fine Art Summit
Michael was the guest speaker at the first Fine Art Photography Summit. The Summit is a yearly event held in a different location and with different guest speakers. It was originally organized jointly by Uwe Steinmueller and myself. I continued organizing it with Natalie, my wife, when Uwe passed away in 2014.
The first summit was held in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2003. It has been held continuously since then, each year in a different location and with a variety of guest speakers. It is now in its 14th year. This year’s summit takes place in Page Arizona and our guest speaker is Jeff Schewe.
8 – Humor
Michael enjoyed having a good time and telling jokes. Dinner was always accompanied by a good bottle of wine and stories were told. Here is one of them, saved from one of Michael’s Luminous-landscape forum entry. I saved it as a screenshot the day I read that entry because I liked it. It may or may not be one Michael said in person, but it is representative of Michael’s sense of humor. Michael had a taste for irony, a figure of speech in which one offers the opposite, or something significantly different, than what is expected:
9 – The Luminous-Landscape Endowment
In mid-2014 Michael Reichmann and Kevin Raber created the Luminous Endowment for Photographers: http://www.luminous-endowment.org. The Endowment is a charitable fund whose goal is to provide financial assistance through grants to help deserving photographers worldwide fulfill their vision and complete their projects.
I was invited to be one of the judges for the Luminous Endowment for Photographers. This is a non-paid position that I accepted because I wanted to return something to the photographic community.
The first round of applications took place in the fall of 2014 and the winners were announced in late November 2014. As a judge I had to provide my selection of winning entries by November 15th.
This was my first experience judging entries for grant applications. Because having judging experience is useful to decide who gets the awards, I asked Natalie, my wife, to help me because she had been a contest judge on several occasions before. I wrote an essay describing my experience being on the judging panel for The Luminous Endowment. This essay is titled The Granting Process and it is available on this site.
The Luminous Endowment for Photographers represents Michael’s desire to support photographers and photography today and tomorrow. It is part of his legacy. I support it and I encourage you to support it as well.
10 – The last email
My last email exchange with Michael took place in April 2016. Michael forwarded me an email he received from a reader in response to my April 2016 Briot’s View essay: From Pre to Post Visualization. This reader disagreed with the opinion I shared in this essay and asked Michael to retract it. Michael answered by saying ‘I enjoyed Alain’s perspective, and find nothing at all inappropriate about it. In fact I find it is closer to the way that I work than anything else.’
I appreciated Michael’s response and it did not surprise me that he was supportive of a position which was displeasing to some readers. Michael never feared being in support of controversial opinions, provided they were backed by facts, whether in the articles I wrote or in his own essays. I always admired this in Michael because it is something which is easily lost when one deals with a large audience. To me, being French, it was refreshing to know someone for whom argumentation was part of life. Perhaps it was due to his Quebecois origin, perhaps it was due to his own personality, or to his experience, or to the fact that sharing his opinion took precedence over other concerns. Perhaps it was a mix of all that. Whatever it was I enjoyed it and I believe we shared this in common, together with our passion for photography.
Michael encouraged freethinking and did not shy away from controversy if sharing one’s opinion meant being controversial. To see an approach that I practiced endorsed by someone who had such a large readership brought hope that alternate viewpoints could be shared. In a world where sharing one’s opinion is increasingly mitigated against the desire to ‘cover one’s butt’ Michael’s approach was refreshing and liberating.
I was coming out of Academia when I first met Michael, having turned my back to an academic career in part because sharing one’s opinion had to be approached carefully if one wanted to become a tenured professor. In Academia, nontenured professors operate on a one-year contract basis which means that their position is up for grabs every year. Tenured professors on the other hand benefit from long-term job security. Unfortunately being tenured often means ‘pleasing’ the establishment, something which, to me, is contrary to the process of critical thinking. By deciding to become self-employed I gave myself the freedom to write what I thought instead of what others wanted me to write. Meeting Michael meant I could share my thinking with a wide audience and in doing so express myself better than I could have through academia. For this, and for everything else, I am forever thankful to Michael.
11 – From Natalie Briot
Natalie was just as affected as me when she learned of Michael’s passing. I asked her to write her memories of Michael for this essay. Here is what she wrote:
When I think of Michael I see his beautiful smile.
He was generous, encouraging and always supportive of Alain and I in our photographic endeavors, whether it was selling photographs at the El Tovar hotel at Grand Canyon, writing articles or teaching workshops.
I remember when he came to Chinle with Chris Sanderson to videotape the first Luminous Landscape Journal. That was awesome!
He encouraged freethinking articles to be written for his website. If you can explain why you do what you do or why you think the way you think, Michael was very encouraging and supportive. He did not care what others thought about these controversial articles that he published on his website. The more controversial the article, the more he seemed to enjoy publishing them.
12 – About Alain and Natalie Briot
You can find more information about our workshops, photographs, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to our Free Monthly Newsletter on our website. You will receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.
Alain creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops with Natalie and offers DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website at this link:. Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.
Alain and Natalie Briot
Vistancia, Arizona, 2016