Galen Rowell: A Retrospective
A stunning collection of images and essays pays tribute to one of the country’s most accomplished — and adventurous — photographers.
Last week, for the first time, I visited the tranquil town of Bishop, California, just east of the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. Until that visit I had known Bishop for only one reason: It was for many years the home base for photographer Galen Rowell, a man whose work I had always greatly admired. Passing through Bishop reminded me of Galen's life and work.
As the Travel Editor at the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, I had the privilege of meeting the then Berkeley-based photographer and climber and of publishing his extraordinary photographs a number of times. What I remember best about him as a person is his pure single-mindedness, his absolute devotion to his art and the wild places he loved. What I remember best about the mountainscapes – or maybe more appropriately, wilderness-scapes – that I published were the clarity, texture, light and sense of scale that immediately identified them as Galen Rowell photographs. His photos – and the arduous physical challenges he overcame to create them – were awe-inspiring.
His art and achievement are spectacularly captured in Galen Rowell: A Retrospective, the gorgeous and poignant collection published last year by Sierra Club Books. This collaboration, clearly a labor of love on the part of family, friends, co-workers and colleagues, combines 180 of Rowell’s photographs with essay appreciations by a robust mix of climbers, photographers, writers and conservationists. The whole is, like Rowell’s images, both intimately illuminating and expansively inspiring.
Part of the pleasure of the book is re-appreciating some of Rowell’s iconic images, such as the 1981 shot of a rainbow seeming to illuminate the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet – so familiar that it has become almost a part of our national image bank; but for me another equally potent pleasure has been viewing a previously unseen side of Rowell’s art, embodied in muscular mountainside shots of fellow climbers and rolling, brilliant-palette California landscapes. The essays also illuminate the less-seen sides of Rowell, from the prodigiously talented and tenacious climber, to the trailblazing technician of light and sight, to the ardent behind-the-scenes supporter of wild places and peoples.
Kudos to the folks at Sierra Club Books for so lovingly assembling and designing such a simultaneously sharply focused and wide-angled portrait of this passionate man and his passionate work – a life, a work, and a book to treasure.
[Galen Rowell: A Retrospective, $50 hardcover, 288 pages, Sierra Club Books]