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NWP Interview - Steve Kossack #35591
06/26/11 09:10 PM
06/26/11 09:10 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
I am proud to republish this interview with my friend, Steve Kossack. This interview was lost in the forum migration. I am excited about joining Steve for his Glacier Workshop this August 12th to the 16th.

Photographer at Badwater (c) Steve Kossack

Re: NWP Interview - Steve Kossack [Re: James Morrissey] #35592
06/26/11 09:24 PM
06/26/11 09:24 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
We are trying to develop a community where photographers can come and discuss nature, wildlife and pet photography related matters. We encourage you to enter the forums to share, make comments or ask questions about this interview or any other content of NWP.

The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum
Artist Showcase: Steve Kossack
by James Morrissey

Part I: About Steve Kossack

Moose in the Morning (c) Steve Kossack

About this photo: A case where the animals walked into my landscape set up. It was one in a million! We were shooting a moonset on Medicine Lake near Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies and these two took about 20 minutes below feeding during predawn. Slowly they approached a little at a time and finally were perfectly in frame. A more complete story can be found here: http://stevekossack.com/notes/Moose.htm

JM: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
SK: I was born in Los Angeles California in 1947. A baby boomer. I was raised somewhat close to the inner city in a working class neighborhood with great recreation facilities close at hand. My interests early on were athletics and music. Although the talent for a musical instrument was not there, I faired much better in athletics. Elementary school brought the diversity of another culture into my life by way of a an earthquake and the subsequent closure of a nearby Hispanic school and the resulting relocation of its students into ours. Lessons about differences, similarities and tolerance learned there have lasted a lifetime.

A younger brother, mother and father were the nucleus of our family with infrequent time spent together at a premium. My father was in the dry cleaning industry and my mother returned to her education when I entered middle school. Music (mostly listening and collecting), sports, girls and cars became the focal point of this very American life. Independence and discipline played a major role in the structure of the family. With time divided mostly elsewhere by my parents, the importance of duties and order were very important. It was always made clear what needed to be done along with how and when. There was not lot of democracy involved and to question was usually not an option, however, the conversations and discussions were always meaningful and with purpose. The country in the 1950's and 60's was a fast and radically changing place. I was never to wonder how my parents felt about social issues or personal commitment. There was never doubt about what was considered right or wrong. "We are not here to simply take up time and space" I was often told, "You must make a contribution." Again lessons never to be forgotten but at times almost impossible to live up to.

I was married in 1974 and have 2 children. For over 25 years I worked, owned and managed the family dry cleaning business. It grew and along with it the adult obligations. As with many, the daily struggle became the rational and the reason It is a period I both benefited from and would just as soon forget. After my marriage failed, I returned to college to study Fine Arts/Photography with a couple of stops in between.

JM: When I hear you talk about your childhood, I hear strong personalities in your parents. If what I am hearing is correct, how do you feel that your family's world view has affected your own visions?
SK: Leadership and inspiration is what my parents provided. A plan for the day, the week, the month and the year is what we were taught. "You can always change it later" is what was said. I still feel the same and the structure that was provided for me is what I try to apply to my photography and workshops. To do something to the best of your abilities is all you can ask. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right!

JM: When and how did you first begin to photograph? Who were your influences, personally and professionally?
SK: My mother was always the inspiration. She saw that I admired snap shots she had done and gave me her Kodak instamatic camera and invited me to try it for myself. I always had some sort of sense about the way things should look in an image. I don't know where this came from or how it actually worked, but I do know it was there in someway from the start. The first time I seriously used a camera was when my children were born. Since I had one of the largest camera stores in Los Angeles directly across the street from my business, finding one wasn't much of a problem. The make was Canon, the model was FTb and I still have it! I'm not just sure what influenced that brand decision that day, it was most likely what the salesperson wanted to sell me, but I can tell you that it is still the reason I use Canon to this day. I don't fix stuff that's not broken. I learned that the camera and all others that followed were just a progression. It was nothing more complicated than that!

One day in the early 1980's I entered the Ansel Adams gallery in Yosemite Valley. I had been a casual shooter for sometime and was never much interested in pursuing it further. I was struck by the images displayed there. For some strange reason there arose in me the feeling that I wanted to actually touch the print. I came to understand later about texture and detail but what I realized then was the desire to know more about the process. It occurred to me then that I'd like to photograph this beautiful and vast landscape and just as fast I found out I couldn't! I didn't know how and returned to college to find out. I was under the impression for some years that photography was magic. Three years of training later I came away KNOWING it was! I found myself in an art department where I was sure I did not fit. I was a few moments from quitting many times. Landscape was considered an abstract notion or passe' and at times my work was laughed at. However, I soon started to appreciate the dedication and art that the people around me felt so deeply about. They were mostly doing product and commercial design work but I saw in them something that I knew I would like about myself if I could just stay and watch and hopefully learn. It was a most exciting and stimulating time and remains the highlight of my life!

Watching a large group of students looking at work hung for a critique, the department head asked me to watch the students. A short but very complex statement that I've never forgotten followed. I was told that this (seeing, as I understood it) was what it was all about. There were two parts. "Finding what you want to say and then how to say it. The first was the hard part, the second the easier. The first you have to decide on your own but the second can usually be taught". I try to pass this along in some form or in some way to each person that I work with. I think I can have a very positive effect staying with the how to say it part and just watch as the what you want to say part takes shape. I have always enjoyed working with creative people no matter the level.

JM: What other types of professional photography have you done outside of Nature and Wildlife Photography?
SK: In school I saw, learned and did most everything. I made great looking menus, but others were always better. I did product and model photography along with some pretty creative performance pieces as well. The great lesson for me was the fact that there were always those that did it better. I learned that the competition I was really interested in was within myself and those that could talk about their work were always the most interesting no matter the quality of their work.

I did wedding photography, which I enjoyed at first, for about 3 years and then 3 years of on mountain ski portraiture at resorts in the states of Washington and California. This period was one of the most interesting for me in both development and learning. Looking back on this period is like looking at someone else. It was certainly the hardest I have ever worked in my life!

JM: How are the skill sets that you developed doing wedding photography different from what you employ in landscape photography?
SK: As I mentioned earlier, I learned wedding photography doing on mountain ski portraiture. I was there because needed an entry level photography job after college and wanted to combine my interests. It seems strange but most of what I have done has been a continuation of that thought. Doing ski portraiture taught me the structure of the family and how formal photography was done. The off hours gave me the access to great landscape to photograph and I had access to film and a processor to boot!

JM: When you decided to go back to college, how old were you? What was it like?
SK: It was just great! I was in my early 40's and it was a completely different world from the one I had come to know. Without it, I simply would not do what I do today. I was recovering from an injury at the time and had the time, so I almost lived there! I remember quite clearly coming from hours in the darkroom and being surprised that is was either dark or light outside. I lost track of not only time but sometimes days!

Since my time was my own completely, my support came from those in the direction I was headed, rather than the one from which I had come. Everything and everyone was new at the time to me. It was very exciting and very threatening at the same time. I look back on it now as a very special time in my life. The influence from this period is very much in evidence in most everything I do today.

My schooling was the base for everything. In the art department the emphasis was always on manipulating images. There was not much concern for the way they were made but instead what they said. How they 'said it' was always what the lessons were about. I came away having no rules or dogma about what could or could not be done. To make a strong image that delivered what was intended was the only rule. It still is with me. Although Landscape photography was never even discussed as subject matter there, I applied this training to what I saw and did in the field and today most of what I learned is still in evidence in some way in the way I see and how I process my images.

Lightning Over Aguereberry (c) Steve Kossack

About this Image: A result of a quick passing thunderstorm and the use of the Lightning Trigger. This is a very rare case for me in that with the use of this great tool, I'm usually forced to frame the image much wider than I would like, as to have a chance at capturing the bolt. The storm moved through very quickly and this was the only frame with a bolt. It covered two thirds of the sky!

JM: You said earlier that , "Landscape was considered an abstract notion or passe" yet for you the concept of the landscape is living and magical. How did you justify these very different values?
SK: It was a magical time for me as I've said. I was there because I wanted to learn to photograph so I could make better landscape images. If that was not to be the case, then I knew I didn't belong. I did question this but only for a short time. I became really enamored by the creative process, those that did it and what was going on around me. It was very foreign to me, yet exciting,and I didn't want to leave it. I also found that I was, all of a sudden, much more secure in myself than I had ever been. I knew what I wanted to do and found a way to make what they were teaching work for me. I had the great escape of rationalizing that I did not have to do this, I was not there to learn a profession, rather just for my enjoyment and I could quit at anytime. I quickly realized they were not going to become one of me so I became one of them. In retrospect, it wasn't all that different. The goal was the same, making strong images that say something.

JM: "In the art department the emphasis was always on manipulating images. There was not much concern for the way they were made but instead what they said." Do you feel that this view of art affected how you view photography? Specifically, how has it affected your use of post processing?
SK: Absolutely! There were very few rules about how you said what you wanted to say. The emphasis was on what it said. If the process was important then it was part of the presentation. Things like brand of a camera or type of film or paper were only important if it was evident in the image. No hard and fast rules or restrictions on what could or could not be done to achieve the effect desired. I found that aspect of thought only after I left. Consequently, I have never had any misgivings about how to make the image I'm looking for. A good image is a good image! If I feel the need to explain how it was done, I do, but usually only if I think it adds something to the image. As a child and when thinking that everything was as easy as it looked, my mother would always stop me with the statement, "if you think it's so easy, let's see yours!"

JM: Were you still running your dry cleaning business during this entire time (i.e. returning to college, photographing weddings, etc).
SK: The businessman aspect of my life at that time ended, with great relief, with the dissolution of the family. What I was left with was a struggle to find myself and then, thankfully, the time to find what I wanted to do with myself. It was not an easy road and it included coming to terms with tobacco and alcohol abuse.

JM: What motivates you in your photographic work? What are you looking for in your photography (I know this is vague)?
SK: It's the landscape. The planet. I see the earth as fine art. Texture and shapes. Harsh and quiet. There is an ebb and flow that is magic to watch and trying to make a statement with all this is always a challenge. A challenge that I'm not often up to. I realized this early on and I've always considered any success I have doing it a gift, or more precisely, the result of very long and hard work that I enjoy thoroughly.

I see myself as being very different in approach to my subject than most I have met. I think most photographers fall in love with the process of photography itself and learn and study it in some form. Along this path they discover something that they like to photograph. My journey was much different. It was the other way around for me. I first found the landscape. I was out there exploring and experiencing for many years before the idea to try and photograph it arose. The motivation was, and continues to be simply to be there, with a camera if possible, or as my favorite phrase states, f/8 and be there!

Magic Light (c) Steve Kossack

About the Image: A personal favorite of mine. I think this image is the most subtle and effective effort I have from all my years of exploring and photographing the slot canyons. Winter light is quiet and soft. We are all used to seeing the great beams of light in the summer months but I find the other seasons more challenging.

JM: Did you ever consider giving it up photography as a professional venture?
SK: Since my workshops and now the new DVD project , were never a planned profession, instead they came about as the result of what I was doing at the time. I really have not had the notion of not doing what I do. I'm fortunate in this respect I believe. Sure, I run into people that do this professionally with egos and with the open grasp for fortune and fame that has made me step away, or at least back,at times. So far I've found that I can continue to do what I think is right for myself. The darkest it gets for me is an infrequent thought that I've not offered or done enough on a workshop. The happiest is when I know I have! I have been very careful not to let people or money influence my passion for what I do. I think if I had to do this I couldn't ...and wouldn't.

JM: Where do you like to photograph the most? Why?
SK: One of my strongest themes is "in order to photograph the Navajo you must first live with the Navajo." It simply means that to be familiar with your subject is everything. When asked to choose one over another I find that a lot of time I am comparing apples to oranges. Is the question really... Where have you photographed the most? Where have you been most successful? What is your favorite National Park? I think these are all great questions and the answer to your question is the culmination of all of these with emphasis on my first statement. Yosemite! Because it's where I've been the most, photographed the most, I'm comfortable the most and I think as a result, been successful the most ..... Actually though, the answer to the favorite national park is ..... the one I'm in now or will be next! :-)

JM: How does the photography that you do impact your choice in gear?
SK: When I started this photographic journey so many moons ago now, money was extremely limiting in my choice of equipment. I started and stayed with 35mm for the reasons most of us do. That being that 35mm does a lot of things fairly well and at a price that is more affordable than most other formats. The convenience and availability also strongly figured into the decision. I came to understand that 35mm was far from the ideal format for landscape but very good for wedding and ski photography. As I progressed and did more learning and practical field work in landscape, I realized that although the wrong format, if proper attention was paid to technique a competitive image could be made. In other words, I needed to do everything right every time to have the results I wanted. It was a valuable lesson that has never been forgotten. When thoughts turned to larger formats, there were those that were sure if we just hung on and waited for digital, we would get results that would rival larger formats. I did and I think this has proved true.

The move to a digital camera came some three years ago. I waited for a full frame DSLR to come to market. Although I wanted to move to digital earlier, the thought was that I did not want to sacrifice either the quality of the image or the equipment to do so. My constant use in the field of my gear(yes I drop them and worse) has long made a series one camera a must for me. Of course, all the bells and whistles now available to us are also a plus in 35mm and with the range of Canon lenses also available I find the idea of a larger format less appealing now. 35mm allows both backpacking and car shooting with everything in between and I think my prints are highly satisfying.

JM: I am still surprised that you would not consider moving to a larger format considering your passion for the landscape.
SK: I'm always quick to tell people that those of us that do landscape in 35 mm are dong so in the wrong
format. In order to be successful and compete with the larger formats we must have perfect technique. Saying this, of course I would have loved to shoot in the larger formats but the cost was always beyond my means. Today I'm tempted to go there but I see so many advantages in 35mm that the thought is a fleeting one. Every time I think I might, there is a leap in 35 mm digital that makes the thought moot for the moment. And then I see work by Art Wolfe, Jack Dykinga, David Muench, Tom Till etc. ... and the thought reappears :-)

If you are interested in learning more about Steve Kossack, you can visit his home page at http://www.stevekossack.com/
As always, we encourage you to come join the community and to be participants in the forums! If you have not registered yet, please do!

Just a friendly reminder that this article is Copyright 2005-2011, James Morrissey, and may not, in part or in whole, be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. The images in this article are the property of Steve Kossack and have been licensed to James Morrissey and the NWP Photo Forum for the purpose of this interview.

NWP Interview - Steve Kossack [Re: James Morrissey] #35595
06/27/11 12:11 AM
06/27/11 12:11 AM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
Part II: The Business Aspect of Photography

Photographer at Badwater (c) Steve Kossack

About The Image: I use this as my signature image. I think it represents all of us that do and love doing landscape photography. Done in Death Valley in 1997 and one of several images made that evening. The detail in the cliffs just above the water line is key and it was several years before I was satisfied with a print.

JM: Please describe what your business looks like currently - what are your primary sources of income photographically?
SK: My business consists of my workshops workshops and the DVD sales of Steve Kossack Photographing The Great American Landscape. Both are the result of circumstance and interaction with people that I have met while doing landscape photography. Through the years, many relationships have developed and grown.
I never intended to do photography as a business and I'm very careful not to let the fact that it has become one interfere with my desire to do and share landscape photography. My workshops developed slowly and remain small in both the amount I do and the group size. I'm proud to say that I have over a 70% return of participants.

JM: When was the first time you were published?
SK: When I was still in school a graphic arts design firm came looking for images for a CD cover. The subject was fire and they viewed somewhere a couple of images that I had made while working on, and participating in, a fireworks display with a company that did pyrotechnics. Some of the rockets were hand fired and I was allowed to move freely while the show was being preformed. It was quite exciting! The selling price was not memorable and I never followed the fate of that CD. I have no idea what became of the group but I still have and treasure the CDs. I'm sure if they were opening for the Rolling Stones today, I'd know :-)
Like all things today, with the growing popularity of the internet, being published is somewhat easier today. I had an image on a bible early on. Many ad campaigns have used my work. Since my main emphasis is on field photography both with and without my workshops, I've been fortunate not to have to shoot to sell my images, I don't do much to promote them but do enjoy seeing them elsewhere. My inclusion with the names in the Singh-Ray Filters Gallery is a real thrill for me. For more information please visit: http://singh-ray.com/gallery/galleryi.html.

JM: What is it you wish to provide in your workshops?
SK: My workshops were the result of people asking me where my images were made and then asking if I could show them. I started with one person and have kept my group size small over the years so as to keep the feel in the same sprit as when I began.

I think that the experience is enhanced with personal care and attention to detail. I go to great lengths to see that participants are taken care of from the time they arrive until departure. Everything from lodging, transportation to the actual shooting locations. Having said this, I have become a travel agent, tour guide and photography instructor. I put in a great amount of research and scouting. The time taken on the actual workshop is small in comparison, but I see the results during and after. I know this is how it must and should be done.

I find that I like people who do landscape photography at all levels. I enjoy showing great places to photograph and seeing the reaction to them. I want my participants to understand a little bit about what they are seeing and most of all to share in a group atmosphere. As artists, most of us do this endeavor alone. It's a solitary sport, as I like to say. So when I see people making friends and exchanging thoughts and ideas, I think I've provided something unique. We work very hard, put in long hours and go home with a lot accomplished. Most come for the photography but they all come back for the fun! I'm driven by the positive reaction to these workshops and the will to do more. The business element does not enter into it on this level.

Toroweep Sunrise (c) Steve Kossak

About the Image: This classic image was in the making for years. I had viewed many extraordinary images of this area for a long time but was never able to make one of my own that compared. Because of my fear of heights, I could not bring myself to get where I wanted to be but finally made it!

JM: When doing a 5 day workshop, I am SURE that you have had periods where the weather has not cooperated. How do you help 'make it happen' with your participants?
SK: I have always viewed my workshops as introductions to the area we are covering. I pick an area and explore it in depth. I take my workshops only to places where I have been myself many times and only to places where I have been successful making images. That's what I would expect from a workshop and think my participants deserve. If I've done my job properly, I think they will want to return either on a return workshop or individually - so the itinerary usually goes as scheduled (even during inclement weather). When it's your day at Disneyland, you go! I learned my locations by scouting. A first trip into an area is for me is a scouting trip. If the conditions are conducive to photography, you shoot and if not you still have learned something that will serve you well at another time. It think this is an important lesson and I practice it both by myself and on workshops.

JM: How does your website play into your business?
SK: The website is the outgrowth of the workshops. Started simply as a place to list the workshops, it has grown something that I enjoy when I'm here. I did not want a website for a long time. I thought it would keep me from doing what I like most, that being in the field, but I now find enough time to update it frequently and I do like the response it generates. What the website has done as a byproduct is given me the opportunity to write about what I do and how I feel about it. I've never been much interested in the websites that push products or seem to be concerned about popularity and I see mine as a place where we can share the passion and thought process involved in doing landscape photography. With the introduction of the DVD series, Steve Kossack Photographing the Great American Landscape, the website has now become the base for it's sales also.

JM: Have you thought about how you would like to further develop the website?
SK: I'm always looking for a way to highlight the photographer. I'm not so much interested in the equipment or even the image for that matter. I like and appreciate what goes into the mental aspect and execution of the process of doing and making landscape photography in the field. The workings of the photographer are of far more interest to me than the workings of the equipment or the equipment manufacturers. People that can talk about their passion are the heart of the matter for me. I'd love to see the website showcase this.

JM: What are your current business goals?
SK: I did not and could not have envisioned a business that came from photography. I see the same odds as everyone else. Those odds are hugely stacked against. One of the great poets said something like, "lucky is the man who's hobby is his profession." Someone also said "without bad luck, I'd have no luck at all." I consider myself most fortunate to do what I do, an how I do it. I tell people that, "I like what I do and I hope it shows!" Doing more of the same in the future would be just fine with me. The next DVD issue is Death Valley with Canyonlands to follow. Workshops are in place for next year. For more information please visit: http://stevekossack.com/workshops/workshops.htm

JM: How did running the family business impact you in your photographic work?
SK: Once I came to realize that what I do had become a business, I had very little problem in running it that way. My prior experience was very helpful. The toughest aspect was and continues to be separating myself from the two. I find that once I have everything in place business wise, I can then revert back to being a landscape photographer/instructor/guide. I can not be both at the same time!

JM: What advice do you have for people in terms of developing a successful financial strategy for running a photographic business?
SK: Art and business have absolutely nothing in common as I see it. They usually don't mix well and I think for good reason. When I ran a previous business that was not photography related, it was just that, a business. The means to the end was only a matter of physically doing the work that brought in the money. Nothing in the creative process works that way for me. I have known a few that look into a viewfinder and see dollar signs, but I never have. If the thought process were bogged down with cost of equipment, time involved and income, I know I would not do this at all!

I think most of us do photography as passion, art and pleasure. Not necessarily in that order but the point is that this is not how a business is usually viewed or handled. I'm forced to separate my field photography from the bookkeeping and other chores that make it successful. It's a dance of the hats that is sometimes very uncomfortable but extremely necessary. Having been in business before photography is a great help. It only works for me if the pieces are in place first, making the rest possible.

While in the field, the dedication and discipline it takes to make a successful workshop is intense. Usually five days in length, most every minute of the itinerary is planned. My thought is to get in as many setups as possible in as many varied locations as possible in the time allowed. Most people have limited time and want to make the most of the experience. This means very long days with very short nights between those sunsets and sunrises. We work hard and play hard. Most come back with thousands of frames, and as mentioned previously, most come back!

The routine is sometimes a hard pace to keep up with. Demanding both physically and mentally, they drain energy but are most satisfying. Leaving and coming home are facts that are both dreaded and looked forward to. I find the lifestyle exciting.

Top Rock (c) Steve Kossak

About the Image: I've been out and lead workshops to the Wave formation in the Vermillion Wilderness on the Arizona, Utah border in all seasons. My most hoped for situation is water in the entrance. The reflection has many possibilities and I think this one is a fine example.

JM: We have not talked much about your DVD. Do you want to talk about it a bit more? How does it compliment your workshops, if at all?
SK: The DVD was born out of an idea mostly of my partner's expertise. He owns a video production company and had been a participant on many of my workshops. Together we have created a project that pretty much presents the workshop experience. You can view it as a step by step photo shoot of an area or a casual photo travel guide. We have provided maps an detailed explanations of where we are, what we are planning and what we hope to come away with and how. We show the places, the time, the people and equipment. I think it's a workshop in a box in many ways but the production quality is that of a first class travelogue as well. We concentrate on the the art of doing landscape photography but at the same time add enough technique and gear talk to be of interest to all photographers. We are very proud of what we offer and we don't see anything quite like it out there today.

We are very gratified at the reception to the DVD. Our advertising for it has begun in Outdoor Photographer Magazine and we continue to believe that if people know of it they will find help and inspiration from it. We've put a lot in it and into it and there are two more in the working stages right now. This along with the associated workshops present me with what I see as a full plate for the foreseeable future.

JM: Prior to your DVD and recent advertising, how was word about your workshop getting out to the mass market?
SK: Word of mouth has been my main source of people for my workshops from the beginning. It started slowly and continued to build. I've always wanted to keep the workshops small and don't need a lot of people to make them work, just the right ones. To learn more about this, you can visit: http://stevekossack.com/others.htm. In the beginning I assisted others that already had a following. I saw what I thought I could improve the workshop experience and concentrated on what I thought were my strengths and what people seemed to respond to. I started with my assumption that I personally, would never take a workshop and tried to eliminate all the reasons why. Above all, I have always listened. I listened to everyone, and then tried to bring to my operation and art, that what I thought had merit and what I thought I could do.

As always, we encourage you to come join the community and to be participants in the forums.

Just a friendly reminder that this article is Copyright 2005, James Morrissey, and may not, in part or in whole, be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. The images in this article are the property of Steve Kossack and have been licensed to James Morrissey and the NWP Photo Forum for the purpose of this interview.

NWP Interview - Steve Kossack [Re: James Morrissey] #35596
06/27/11 12:17 AM
06/27/11 12:17 AM
Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
James Morrissey Offline OP
James Morrissey  Offline OP
Carpal Tunnel

Joined: Feb 2005
Manhattan, New York, New York
Part III: Steve Kossack On The Environment

Gates of the Valley (c) Steve Kossak

About The Image: One of the first transition images from film to digital. Shot on 35 mm Velvia and scanned to digital. It was the result of getting out of the sleeping bag at 5 AM in February in Yosemite and standing in the Merced River at dawn. With gray overcast I turned my back to the scene in preparation to pack it in and saw this wonderful red glow in the water at my feet. A quick turnabout, a horizontal and vertical version made and the light was gone in just over a minute!

JM: Do you consider yourself an environmental activist?
SK: This part has great interest for me. I do consider myself an environmental activist. As I've stated before, I came to photography rather late in life and I came for the implicit reason of photographing landscapes. In many ways I see the earth as fine art. I have begun to understand photographically how it was formed and shaped and how fortunate we are to be able to view these treasures of nature. In most countries around the world these places are set aside for royalty and the affluent. So far, we have been able to struggle to hold on to our right to see, use and even photograph. It's a privilege to have experienced and shoot where I have. I do not take the opportunity lightly and I think of myself as extremely grateful and fortunate.

Years ago, I considered everyone doing landscape and nature photography to be environmentally aware and involved. It was a given. Not so any longer. My experience is that with the advent of digital and the growing wealth of and influence of North America, it has brought more diverse and different people into the field.

JM: "... digital... it has brought more diverse and different people into the field." This is a value statement. How do you feel that this proliferation has affected the environment? Why?
SK: 9 out of 10 digital photographers today tell the same story. It usually is something like, I did photography for years and quit and now with the advent of digital I'm back and enjoying it more than ever. Digital is simply a huge revolution in photography. So much more can be done much more easily by so many more! In my world of workshops it's changed everything. I realized a long time ago, when I found myself as the only film shooter on the workshop, that I wanted and needed to be there also. Without digital I'm quite sure I would not be doing what I'm doing today. The number of people that have entered or returned to photography bring the diversity, but again, I still feel that the more people that experience our fast depleting wilderness, the better our chances to present our point of view.

As photographers we have the power to do a lot of things with images. One of them is to show the environment as beautiful and fragile. Another is to show it as easy and everywhere. I think there are a lot more of the latter now. That is to say that the remote locations we see are confused with the "road shooter images" and gives birth to the thought that these places are common and need not be protected. I use to see all great landscape fine art as a promotion for preservation. I'm not sure others do today. I still believe that some good happens when people witness nature, through photographs or personally. If good information is attached to images, we all benefit.

JM: What are the most significant environmental problems that you see coming?
SK: I think that the issue always comes down to habitat. Or more directly the lack of it. We simply are running out of space for what is needed by all the planets creatures. The bottom line for me is I don't think we can support what we have now, let alone what is in the future. The warning signs became apparent long ago and they, for the most part have been overlooked or blatantly ignored. I think at our own peril.

JM: You talk about habitat and the warning signs that we 'cannot support what we have now.' What realistic things can be done to address these issues?
SK: Wilderness must be protected. It's fairly simple in concept. Roads bring people and people bring all the things that lead to the unstoppable construction and destruction. The laws that protected roadless areas are now being turned over to the states by our federal government. This is a not so concealed attempt to open what we have left to profiteers. What we do have left will now quickly disappear. It's too complex in detail to go into here but I strongly endorse and support the National Resources Defense Council for information and related issues if there is interest.

JM: What is it that you hope to achieve in your work?
SK: It is always the hope that my images of these beautiful, and to me, sacred places will bring to anyone that sees them the feeling of importance and protection. I do understand that these places, for many different reasons, are being over used and are suffering as a consequence. However, I see this as a double edged sword. I have come to embrace the thought that we benefit from anyone and everyone that sees these places and it can only help if they do. I also understand that the only way that it has worked for us is if we as a people collectively, as our government, see the need and then act on that need. I don't think it is a stretch to say that our current situation is as far removed from this thought as possible. I see the planet under attack from a lot of different sides and think that the answer, as always is in our judicial system. Laws that protect from those that would and will abuse.

I contribute both time and funds where possible. I have been a member and continue to support most of the environmental organizations. Since John Muir and Ansel Adams were two of the guiding lights on my journey, the Sierra Club was a natural for me, both on a local, regional and national level. My photographs are always offered to any and all that might find benefit from their use. Personally, I find this is currently a dark and difficult time. The gains of the last 30 years are being wiped away. Our voices are needed now more than ever. The camera is one of the most powerful tools ever invented by man. It's important to remember that this tool gives us all voice. Bad things happen while good people stand silent!

From Hunt's Mesa (c) Steve Kossak

About The Image: A location from Monument Valley that took years of planning. A area that is hard to reach and required a camping trip in the rain along with a rope ladder climb, this image was made in light that only lasted about 5 minutes. A stunning X-Pan image, this one is also on my wall.

JM: When you talk about gains of the last 30 years being wiped away, is this a political statement or a practical one?
SK: I have trouble separating the two. We've made many gains if only to enlighten and educate. In order to solve a problem you must first know you have one. I think it's impossible to address anything when you run up against the intellect that says we don't have or need to. The job now as I see it, is to maintain a way of life for those on this planet while the human population is growing at an unmanageable rate. This presents both political and practical problems. A change in lifestyle and dedication of money and recourses must occur. Unless there is a major shift in the way we see our environment and our role in it along with the will to do what is needed, I don't see solutions. I wish I felt better about the prospects.

Thanks again to Steve for having taken the time to perform this interview. If you are interested in learning more about Steve Kossack, you can visit his home page at http://www.stevekossack.com/

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