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Artist of the Month - November 2006

Patrick Paul René
By Annabelle Numaguchi

Patrick Paul René
Patrick Paul René
Photo by Judy Martinez-Ross

Like the world-renowned French singer Edith Piaf, who sings of life seen through pink glasses in her signature song, “La Vie en Rose,” Patrick Paul René sees the world around him in varying hues of rose, ochre and red.

René is a French photographer whose passion for the mystical desert landscapes of the Southwest has inspired him to make Moab his home. Although many people find this area fascinating and mysterious, this photographer distinguishes his work by portraying places off the beaten path in the most glamorous light.
Bathed in reflected morning or evening sunlight, the images René captures evoke an emotional response, including timelessness, tranquility and solitude.

Each image in René’s portfolio is arresting, and represents hours of patience and years of planning. As he succinctly expresses in his artist statement, “I will spend hours and sometimes days waiting for that magic moment when I see with my eyes what my imagination has shown me. It is the possibility of capturing perfection in a photograph that keeps my passion high and my vision in tune with the desert’s solitude and beauty.”

The process he uses to capture these photos can be broken down into two main parts. The first consists of finding the location. An avid outdoor enthusiast, René often hikes and camps to remote areas of wilderness. His wife, Judy Martinez-Ross, who works at Arches National Park, sometimes accompanies him and often encourages him in his pursuit.

When he comes across scenery that speaks to him, he scouts it out with a digital camera. This enables him to explore different possibilities for composition, deciding what part of the landscape to include and what part to focus on.

René claims that the composition is the easy part of capturing the intended image. Once he sees a landscape that he wants to photograph, he envisions the captured image in his mind, and it can take years before he feels like he achieves that photo.

Fallen Moon
Fallen Moon

An entire year was spent on getting the mood he wanted to evoke in the most recent addition to his portfolio, “Fallen Moon.” The photo features storm clouds and a crescent-shaped rock in the foreground set against a butte in the distance whose rim is reflecting fiery morning sunlight.

He discovered the area and composed the shot a year before capturing this particular image on film because he waited patiently for the right light. Rather than relying purely on luck, René envisions an image and pursues it until nature seems to collaborate with him and provides this dramatic light. He claims with a sense of wryness that “it was a huge relief” once he took this particular photo in April of this year because it meant he didn’t have to keep returning to the same place.

To capture the precision of detail he wants and to be able to enlarge his photos, René uses a large-format camera. The film measures 4 x 5 inches. Because of its expense, he takes very few actual shots with it.
René is definitely friendly and easy to talk with, but he is clearly an introspective person, comfortable spending time on his own. This ability to enjoy solitude is reflected in his images, where human tracks rarely appear.

Apart from two photos featuring Ancient Pueblo pictographs, René’s images depict faraway horizons and endless vistas. These vast landscapes represent an entry way into a mystical new world that is as foreign as it is familiar, making the viewer ask, “Where is this and can I go there, too?”

René asserts that part of his purpose in taking these photographs is to encourage people to visit the wilderness. He says, “I want to entice people to get out and see how beautiful it is.”

Because of this desire to represent the landscapes in their true and pure forms, he avoids using special effects to enhance his photos, other than to ensure that the colors on paper are true to the ones he saw in real life.
A unifying element in his photography is the warm, saturated sunlight, where reds and golds linger in the viewer’s mind as an afterimage. The predilection for these glowing colors is not surprising when René reveals that he was born in Rousillon, France, whose name reflects its red coloring.

Desert Lace
Desert Lace

He admits that the large format he uses is particularly adept at reproducing the magnificent colors he finds in nature, and the warm hues of gold, pink, purple and red that illuminate his images are true to reality. René uses his lens and his mastery of photographic techniques to recreate exactly what he perceives in real life.

Besides luminous color, the other feature that stands out in his images is texture. Again, the large format he prefers allows him to portray in detail the striations, roughness and depth of the rocks he photographs.

In “Desert Lace,” the outer layer of thin rock appears deceptively fragile. The shadows cast against the golden wave-like pattern of the underlying sandstone creates the appearance that the lace-like formations almost float above. The depicted texture evokes a strong desire in the viewer to reach out and touch this fantastic formation, whose ephemeral appearance belies the hardness of the rock.

This focus on surface appears again in “Burning Hills,” in which the sandstone striations take on the illusion of flowing lava. The luminous reds and pinks of this photo imbue the landscape with an otherworldliness. Yet, René asserts that this is an earthly image that he feels lucky to have caught on film so quickly.

Where many of his photos have taken months, if not years, to capture under the right light, he discovered this area while it was bathed in this ethereal golden sunset. He went straight for his large format camera, running from one vantage point to another, trying to capture this world gradually morphing in front of his eyes. In the dwindling sunlight, he paused and took a moment to compose this particular image, which turned out the best of the series and resides in his portfolio.

Likening René to his compatriot Edith Piaf in her signature song of viewing life through rose-colored lenses is slightly misleading because he strives to create accurate accounts of wilderness landscapes in their most breath-taking moments and colors. In fact, René eschews filtering the world through a deceptive color, preferring to depict it in its naturally magnificent hues and shapes.

Patrick Paul René can be reached at (435) 259-3199 or at His work can also be seen in Petra Gallery and at Earth Studio, both in Moab, Utah.

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