Tulips #44, 2004

Review: Forward In Reverse


Forward In Reverse

by Richard Pitnik


Huntington Witherill sees the future of photography driven by the past. 

For photographer Huntington Witherill, a highly regarded landscape photographer who has served as a former assistant at the Ansel Adams Workshops in Yosemite, and as first president of the Center for Photographic Art's Board of Trustees, the greatest challenge for any contemporary art photographer is how to forge ahead with a new vision for the future without abandoning the legacy of the past. 

"All those working today, including myself, must admit that they're standing on the shoulders of great people who went before them," explains Witherill, commenting on the profound influence of such photographers as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. 

"One of the things that can be a trap is being classified as a West-Coast landscape photographer," adds Witherill. "If taken seriously, those kinds of characterizations can be limiting as they only represent someone else's view of my work, often based solely upon the particular subject matter that I choose to photograph. There is, of course, a lot of stereotyping when it comes to art. One of the reasons I’ve embraced different types of subject matter and approach is to try to rebuff that particular stereotype.” 

In his latest exhibition at the Ansel Adams Gallery, Witherill stands revealed as a truly independent artist with a peripatetic eye whose elegantly luminous prints of natural landscapes, still lifes and man-made objects seamlessly blend the aesthetic traditions of the past with the imaging technologies of the future. 

All of the black and white silver gelatin prints in the exhibit are printed from both conventional negatives and digitally produced negatives that are manipulated with a computer and then contact printed. 

Witherill likens his 30-year career as a fine art photographer to a creative odyssey, a journey of limitless artistic discovery in which the artist seeks no final destination and draws upon the past as a guide toward the future. 

"The only way I can see where I'm going is to look at what I've done in the past," explains Witherill. "It's like driving down the road using only the rear view mirror as a point of reference to give a hint where I'm headed. One of the greatest things about all art is that one will never quite figure out how to master it. It is by its very nature a lifelong pursuit." 

For Witherill, working with computer technologies has given him greater creative control and freedom, while staying faithful to the high standards of the "fine print" espoused by Adams. "What the computer gives you is unlimited control of the contrast and tonal range," notes Witherill. "The process allows me to get a more refined resolution to the image." Despite all the technological advances in photography, Witherill insists that it is the vision of the artist that truly determines the nature of the end result. 

"To a certain extent, technology does drive the vision," comments Witherill, "but I firmly believe the vision is what makes the photograph, not the tools. When I look at a photograph, I don't care how it was made, but whether it evokes emotion and feeling and causes me to reflect. If it does, it's successful and it doesn't matter how it was put together." 

Reprinted from Coast Weekly, July, 1999