Photographing Lake Tahoe

Winter Dawn.  Tahoe Keys.  Lake Tahoe, California.

Winter Dawn. Tahoe Keys. Lake Tahoe, California.

Every time I set up the camera, my goal is to create a photograph worthy of a patron’s wall.  To attract an audience the work must first be beautiful.  To persevere, it must be insightful and create awareness. Photographing in the large format tradition with normal perspective lenses subtly conveys the historical  perspective.  It was the view of many early 19th Century photographers that wide angle lenses distorted reality.  To paraphrase Michael Carey Lea in his Manual of Photography from 1871, gardens should not appear as parks.

Lake Tahoe: A Fragile Beauty begins with the beautiful and often subdued images of land, light, and shape.  So much of our affection for Tahoe comes from a sense of awe and wonder upon seeing its shores.  Slowly the imagery shifts toward, what I term, the intersecting landscape.  To quote the Forward: “While Tahoe’s sublime vistas always capture me, it is upon closer contemplation that I inevitably find myself at those intersecting landscapes, those brought on by our industriousness, dreams, and ambitions.”

The Approach: More Than Beautiful Photography

Cedar in snow.  Tahoma, California

Decayed stump.  Sugar Pine Point State Park, California

The challenge of the Lake Tahoe: A Fragile Beauty photography book project, was to utilize the photographic vocabulary to capture not only Lake Tahoe’s breathtaking grandeur, but also the ecological issues facing the basin and the historical context from which they arise. We wanted a book that would build upon earlier works of photography on Tahoe and remain relevant for years to come.

Lake Tahoe is revealed through images of both the majestic landscape and our interactions with the natural world. With an introduction by preeminent Tahoe research scientist Dr. Charles Goldman, poetry by former US Poet Laureate and 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Hass, and historical content by literary icon Mark Twain and 19th Century photographer Carleton Watkins, this important work not only expresses the beauty of Lake Tahoe but examines it as a microcosm of the environmental challenges confronting our time. Supporters include the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, the Oakland Museum, the Phoebe Hearst Museum, Adobe, and Hasselblad.

Since publication, I have found that this multifaceted approach is bridging disparate audiences and broadening the conversation – in terms of both the environment and photography.

Why Tahoe?

When I first began working on my new book of landscape photography, “Lake Tahoe: A Fragile Beauty,”  I had been visiting Lake Tahoe for decades and was familiar with its history and challenges.   Tahoe presents a rich story.  As a microcosm of many of the environmental challenges confronting our time, Lake Tahoe speaks, on many levels, to our culture’s attitude toward the land.

In recent decades, Tahoe’s immense popularity, along with the tremendous growth in northern California and western Nevada, has threatened the very vitality of the lake’s ecosystem.  The greening of the Lake’s legendary clear waters has become a siren song to those romanced by Tahoe’s charms.  Worldwide, communities and individuals, some as far away as Siberia, have come together to both understand and save this smothered jewel.  In many respects, Tahoe is a case study in America’s challenge to manage consumption pressures while sustaining the environment.

As a landscape photographer, the relevancy of this project was very appealing.  The challenge became how best to tell the story.

Read the Forward here.