Photography is a paradoxical technology.
It is an efficient method to document ephemeral moments-a
family vacation, a child’s birthday. Those of us
who use photography for this means value its veracity at
reflecting exactly what the eye perceives through the lens
of the camera. We also value the fact that a successful
photo can be reproduced over and over again, allowing us
to send the same image to relatives, friends and anyone
Photography also lends itself to art since the equipment
allows for the manipulation of light, clarity and composition.
Artistic vision can be interpreted through the lens and
recorded on film. No matter how unique the artistry is,
however, the actual photo can be copied time and time again,
unlike a painting, sculpture or other piece of visual art.
This propensity for reproduction plays an important and
complex role in creating the value and uniqueness of a
photograph, and this is one of the most thought-provoking
elements of this technology for photographer, adventurer
and local resident, Chris Conrad.
Conrad began exploring photography as an art form with
a 35mm camera in 2000, a crossroads in the technology of
this art since digital photography was going mainstream.
Being part of this seminal moment has given Conrad the
opportunity both to develop expertise in the different
technologies available to photographers and to contemplate
the value, limits and possibilities of each one.
He now uses various equipment and materials
to create his original images, including Polaroid, medium
format and 4x5 negatives.
Like many artists inspired by the dramatic desert scenery
of this area, Conrad began by photographing landscapes, or
as he describes, “the standard pretty pictures.” He’s
right that many of the photographs taken of the iconic rock
formations, such as Delicate Arch or Balanced Rock, capture
the stark beauty of the subject, but often seem interchangeable
with other photos of the same area.
Conrad succeeds in immortalizing this landscape in its most
striking moments, portions set ablaze with morning or evening
sunlight. A photo depicting Mesa Arch, through which Washer
Woman Arch appears, exhibits Conrad’s artistry in capturing
the fiery red reflective glow and a soft blue sky, while
the rest of the image seems almost monochromatic, intensifying
the apparent colors.
He soon craved a way of making his images
distinctive, personal and unique. One element that Conrad
admires about other visual arts is how they are inherently
one-of-a-kind. For example, a painter can paint the same
subject matter a number of times, but each painting is unique.
This desire to express his individual
artistic vision through the lens of a camera led Conrad to
explore black-and-white photography. He explains that he
finds it, “more abstract, and therefore, more artistic
because there is so much latitude in exposure, which allows
the photographer to read the tones of a scene.” Since
he develops his own film, he finds freedom to alter the image
further in that process.
Although Conrad does not eschew digital technology, he prefers
traditional film, which he regards as requiring more participation
from the photographer to capture an artistic image.
He has recently gathered the culmination of his best work
in black-and-white photos and produced a limited edition
book entitled Oases-Ephemeral Visions of the Colorado Plateau.
The theme of this collection reflects the way Conrad views
the desert through its complex relationship with water. Though
this edition was printed as gifts for family, Conrad expects
to release the book more widely by the end of 2007.
The first photograph in the book is entitled “Cracked
Mud,” and depicts a highly detailed close-up of the
fissured, curled dried earth, representing the desert at
its most arid. The progression of the photos depicts the
landscape through reflections in puddles and streams, whose
existence depends on fleeting rain and snow falls.
These landscape photos evoke a poignant
mood by portraying pristine areas void of human traces and
by using a complete range of shading from bright white to
obsidian. In many of the images, the subject matter is abstracted,
making it difficult to recognize what has been captured outright
and what is being reflected in water.
“Sipapu Bridge Reflection” is
a good example of how Conrad uses this abstraction effectively.
The waterline in the photo is almost impossible to discern
without his help, making it difficult to recognize that the
image of the bridge is actually a reflection in the stream.
A closer inspection of the photo reveals the river pebbles
underneath the reflection of the rock formation.
Water appears in its various forms throughout this collection.
In “Portal,” he captures the reflection of bare
trees and sandstone in ice. Because the actual subject matter,
a puddle of ice, isn’t easily discernible in this photo,
the scene resembles a miniature winter fairy land. Through
the ephemeral appearance of ice, Conrad depicts what appears
to be an ethereal wonderland.
He continues to achieve this ethereal
effect with his current photography, in which he explores
various ways of creating abstract images. For the recent
annual art exhibit, “Moab Abstracts,” Conrad
contributed several works, including “Sego Polaroid.” From
afar, the image looks like a piece of dark lace gathered
and glued to the page, belying the durability of the actual
subject of the photo, a wall. He took the picture with a
Polaroid, then distressed the photo by boiling it and separating
the top layer of film. Conrad is pushing the boundaries of
photography by working in the third dimension with his images
and, at the same time, producing a unique piece that cannot
be duplicated simply by subsequent prints.
Conrad feels privileged to have entered
this field when it was at such a crossroads in its development.
Although he appreciates the new horizons digital photography
opens, he prefers the traditional technologies. This ability
to straddle two paths and appreciate what each may have to
offer is a quality that Conrad exhibits in many areas of
his life, particularly as he is part of the crossroads Moab
has reached in its development as a community.
Wanting to put his money where his mouth is, he is donating
a quarter of the proceeds he makes from the sale of any of
his art work from February through the month of April to
help finance an economic impact study, primarily to evaluate
the effect large franchise stores would have on the economy
of Moab. Although he has holds opinions on the subject, he
wants to honestly weigh the consequences of altering the
current economic structure of this community. He values making
well-informed decisions, to which a study group can contribute.
After spending 2006 traveling around the world, he returned
to his beloved desert town with a fresh perspective, able
to see it through a new “lens.” He explains that “Moab
is in a unique position to see the future by looking at other
similar communities who have already gone through the growth
our town is beginning to experience. We need to consider
the next steps we take because once we’ve taken them,
we can’t turn back and start over.”
Conrad’s chosen medium, photography, seems particularly
compatible with his acute sensitivity to the ephemerality
of his world, whether in the form of water in the desert
or the delicate bonds that create a distinctive community
like Moab. The images he captures, depicting an ethereal
world within the one the rest of us perceives, exhibit Conrad’s
keen vision and intuitive insight.
Chris Conrad’s photographs are on exhibit indefinitely
at The Red Rock Bakery (74 S. Main Street) and new work will
be shown during the month of May at Moab Art Works (35 N.
Main Street). They can also be seen on his website www.PetroScans.com
and he can be contacted at email@example.com or at (435)