Yogi Bera once said “If you come to a fork in the road, take it”
Twenty-one years ago, with the help of an Artist-in-Residence grant in Rocky Mountain National Park, I began a project to photograph the landscape using a pinhole camera and blue sensitive film. Created with a classical, Pictorialist composition, the black and white photographs were soft, ethereal, and enduring. Time itself slowed down with long exposures and old-fashioned development of film. In a digital age, tools of cardboard, wood, tape, and hand craftsmanship prevailed over a key stroke or artificial effect generated by software. The body of work expanded to an extensive study of the wilderness landscape with hundreds of photographs spread over several states and mountain ranges.
In the winter of 2014 I had a serious heart operation to replace two heart valves. It’s always amusing to describe a heart operation as ‘serious’ because anytime someone opens your chest, it’s serious. The main thing to derive from this bit of information is that, having experienced such an operation, I expected to have a renewed sense of photography, a creative burst of energy in having lived to fight another day.
On the contrary, I found myself uninspired and flat. My lack of enthusiasm, of ‘seeing’ the photograph, turned into a bit of a crisis. Had I lost the ability to compose a photograph? Had I lost the passion that has always driven my photography? Was I at an end instead of a new beginning? How could that happen?
Sometimes we simply fail to see the larger picture and the spiritual forces at work in our lives. Lamenting my fate one afternoon with family, the hard truth of my situation became clear: the long pinhole landscape project was coming to close. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of that which is comfortable and familiar.
Yet, as one door closes, another door opens. A quiet voice was beckoning from the wilderness of 1820. That voice belonged to my distant ancestor, Edwin James. A little-known fact of Colorado history is that Edwin was the first successful, documented ascent of Pikes Peak in 1820 while on the Major Long Expedition. Zebulon Pike tried to gain the summit, but failed. The bicentennial year of Edwin’s accomplishment will be in 2020. I offered a proposal to a museum in Colorado Springs to produce an exhibit of photographs that will recreate the wilderness of Pikes Peak that Edwin might have encountered on his climb. This new project will require an entirely different photographic aesthetic quite different from the pinhole.
Thus begins a new project and a new blog. Future posts will provide the history of Edwin James, report on the progress of this endeavor, introduce the various artists that have come together, anecdotes of the photo journey, fund-raising success, and just about everything else that will bring this project to a successful conclusion in 2020.
In consideration of all of the above, I am pleased to announce the Edwin James Bicentennial Project: 1820 – 2020.