Ventura County Star Interview
Artistic Touch: Landscape Photographer Talks About Patience
Interview by Nicole D.
Capturing that perfect image where everything comes together can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially in the Santa Monica Mountains, says successful landscape photographer Tom Gamache of Calabasas. A bit of patience doesn't hurt either.
Gamache explained the process leading up to releasing the shutter in some of his photographs currently on exhibit at the National Park Service Visitor Center. The 30-year retrospective runs through March 15 at 401 W. Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks.
"Many of these photos can only be taken every 10 or 15 years because of atmospheric conditions in this area," Gamache said. Weather is different each year.
"If we don't get rain, the sycamores won't leaf," he said.
Gamache, recognized for his photographs of the Santa Monica Mountains, thinks nothing of standing knee deep in wet grass in the early morning at Malibu Creek, waiting for the sun to illuminate the fog radiating from the earth.
"You are soaking wet because it rained — that's why it's like this," he explained. For "Lone Oak," the iconic image of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, conditions had to be just right for the color Gamache wanted.
"You have about a week's window," he said. "The contrast between the high green of the tree and the darker green of the chaparral in the background lit by the late afternoon sun, shaded by clouds."
For "Sycamore Fog" there were only one or two days of perfect conditions. He hiked in every day for a month, waiting for the ideal moment.
"You only see the reflection, you don't see the trees," he said.
"Landscape is really simple," he said. "It's just land, sky and light."
In the 30 years that he has been photographing scenes in the Santa Monica Mountains, Gamache has acquired a knowledge of the area that would rival a naturalist's.
But before that he had a career in music production and management, advertising and marketing, working out of an office in downtown Hollywood, rarely seeing beyond the confines of his office or recording studio.
Growing up on the East Coast, Gamache enjoyed taking pictures of his friends and cars with his first camera, a Brownie, circa 1950, he said.
"I wasn't consumed with it, I was interested in it," he said of photography.
He majored in photography and broadcasting at Boston University and started his career in broadcasting.
"I am in the record books about progressive radio," he said. He was a pioneer in playing rock and roll and popular music on FM. That was in 1965 on WTBS, the radio station for MIT in Boston.
"It was Saturday Night Live without the visuals," he said. "I wrote them and I performed them."
He and his wife Nanci came to California in 1969 and he worked on air and as program director for KMET for two years, then started his own advertising and radio production company and produced album covers for record companies.
"I ended up having my own label through CBS — Vanity Records," he said.
Eventually, Gamache felt a need to reinvent himself and wanted to get into landscape photography.
"We were living in the Santa Monicas and I had always been an outdoor guy," he said. "I bought large and medium format cameras and started the process. I took the camera and hiked. It's been an amazing ride ever since."
He took pictures for himself and with hopes to sell. He studied photography exhibits at the Getty. He borrowed and purchased books.
"I have become fascinated with the problem-solving talents of the early masters of landscape art, which has since developed into the science of seeing," he said. "I realized once you step out into this road you will never get to your destination. There is so much to learn, it's a lifetime pursuit. I think every one of us looks for that." Improvement comes through attempt, failure and correction, he said. Many artists don't take the time for correction, he added.
He started presenting workshops about 10 years ago and gives about six of them a year in various locations with Van Webster, another landscape photographer. They started through the University of California Reserve System, property people have deeded which is often scenic and rural, he said.
"Initially, through the UCLA Stunt Ranch Reserve, I had visited the UCSB Cedric Reserve in Santa Ynez Valley," he said. "The director suggested we start a workshop because he wanted people to visit the reserve."
Now they do workshops through museums and national parks. They will give one through the Museum of Ventura County March 18-20.
They are unique, he said.
"It's art," he said. "We do deal with the technical side — that is the easy part — but learning how to see by looking (looking is a passive exercise, seeing is active)," he explained. The workshops explain the process landscape painters and photographers have used for centuries, he said.
"A painter has to decide what to put in and a photographer has to decide what to leave out" he said. "The workshops change the way you see the world."
Gamache still uses large and medium format cameras for his landscapes.
"Highlights and shadow create depth in 4-by-5 — you can't get that in digital yet," he said. "We are not at the point where digital can make quality mammoth prints at a competitive price."
Gamache has won numerous awards for his photographs. In 2007 he collaborated with writer Matthew Jaffe in a coffee-table book, "The Santa Monica Mountains: Range on the Edge," now in its second printing.
Article taken from Ventura County Star
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