We met Huntington Witherill during a trip to California, his work is varied and beautiful. We are pleased to share his words and a small sample of his work here.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself? What first drew you to photography?
I was originally trained as a concert pianist, but I suffered with extreme stage fright. Soon after my initial concert debut I realized that I would likely be best served to seek out a new and different career. At the same time, during my formative years, my parents would take the family on yearly camping trips during the summer months. And I always enjoyed being outdoors and soaking up the landscape scenery and natural surroundings. So much so, that when it came time to embark on a new career, I thought I should somehow try to artistically record and express some of those wonderful feelings and visual experiences that I had enjoyed during those camping trips. And because I had been unable to paint or draw at the time, I decided that photography might be the best approach. I began photography in 1970, and have never looked back.
Would you share how you go about editing?
Editing is one of the most critical skills that any photographer must surely develop. My personal editing process begins when I’m out in the field looking for photographs. The trick with this first line of defense is to edit out all of the bad photographs… before you actually take them! Now of course, bad photographs will inevitably break through your first line of defense. So, once the images (both good and bad) have been shot and developed, the next edit comes during the initial viewing of the developed results. And, as the photographic process continues to progress (and here I’m talking about the entire life of any particular photograph) the editing process should never stop. One’s aesthetic sensibilities will (and should) continue to develop and change over time. And (hopefully) the photographer will continue to learn and grow. Therefore, the editing process itself will always continue to remain an integral and ongoing part of being a photographer.
So, what constitutes a “good” photograph and how do I know when a photograph is “bad”? For me personally, a “good” photograph will nearly always exhibit the following three attributes:
1.- First and foremost, the lighting condition under which the photograph was originally taken will be visually remarkable in some way.
2.- A compelling composition (or point of view) has been employed which will help to peak the viewer’s attention and interest.
3.- The craft used to render the photograph itself has been proficient enough so as not to disrupt and/or distract from either #1, or #2, above.
Now… once the above three conditions have been met, it becomes more a matter of employing one’s own aesthetic sensibilities in determining which photographs are to be kept, and which are to be discarded. And of course, those aesthetic decisions comprise the most difficult part of the editing process. However, the more individual images you have to edit from – the easier the process becomes.
Which photographers and other artist work do admire?
I have gained inspiration from many sources including photographers, painters, and musicians. Some names that currently come to mind are; Photographers: Minor White, Paul Caponigro, Brett Weston, and Wynn Bullock. Painters: Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, and most any painter from the Hudson River School. Musicians (composers): Claude Debussy, Frederich Delius, Gerald Finzi, and Aaron Copland.
What challenges do you face as a photographer?
Making a decent living as a photographer is of course always a unique challenge. But beyond the practical day-to-day issues, actively maintaining one’s ongoing passion for the photographic medium (as it pertains to the actual artistic pursuit itself) can be a real challenge. Beyond simply getting that next great photograph, or show, or book, or decent gallery representation, the ability to maintain one’s passion for the artistic pursuit itself – rather than depending upon that passion being generated and maintained by the more measurable and quantifiable results of the pursuit – I think that one’s ability to focus on the pursuit itself (that being the “journey” rather than the “destination”) may well be the key in determining one’s success at continuing to overcome whatever ongoing challenges may arise.
Would you share how you go about editing, and your workflow?
Though I worked predominately with conventional film and darkroom chemistry from 1970 through 2005, I have, for nearly twenty years now, worked digitally. And, I am currently using a Canon 1dx camera (with a variety of lenses), together with Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS5 software. (see above for editing).
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
For me, the one thing that I can always count upon is the fact that, as I continue to photograph, I will continue to see the world in new, different, interesting, and compelling ways. After all, the pursuit of photography is really all about learning to see the world in unique and different ways. One of the great things about any artistic pursuit is the fact that – no matter how long you work at it – it will always remain a learning and (hopefully) growing experience. You’ll never completely figure it out regardless of how long you work at it.
How important is it to your art form to have “creative community”?
Having a “creative community” around you can be extremely helpful in maintaining your ongoing passion for any artistic pursuit. Living on the Monterey Peninsula for more than forty years now, I’ve been both lucky and unusually fortunate to have been surrounded by (and friends with) some of the world’s most outstanding photographers. Knowing and being influenced, encouraged, and (in some cases) mentored by the likes of Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Brett Weston, Morley Baer, Steve Crouch, Al Weber (and a host of others far too numerous to list herein) these influences have been an absolutely critical element of my overall development as a photographer.
If no one else saw your work would you still create it?
Though the above question seems to pose a decidedly impossible hypothetical, I doubt that I’d continue to make photographs if no one else saw the work. Let’s face it, art is, at its most basic, a form of communication. That communication implies, and is dependent upon, an exchange between the artist and an audience (in some form). That audience may be but a handful of individuals. Nevertheless, your audience is an absolutely critical element of your art. Despite the fact that I’ve heard some photographers cavalierly exclaim an inexplicable disregard or lack of need for an audience, without your audience you are simply not communicating. All you’re doing is shouting into the abyss.
How did the series “Virtual Realities” come about?
The series, which is titled: Virtual Reality (singular) actually began as a result of my car breaking down, in 1998. And I think the best (perhaps the easiest) way for me to describe the circumstances surrounding the series itself would be to simply offer the text of an Introduction that I wrote (in 2009) for a publication of the series itself, as follows:
From an Introduction written by Huntington Witherill- July, 2009
“Between 1970 and 1980, my primary goal was to spend as much of my time, as possible, photographing desert landscapes in the American Southwest. Places like Central and Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern Colorado called to me with such astonishing regularity that memory now fails to produce an accurate count of the individual trips made to these locations. Nevertheless, because my home base was (and remains) located in Central California, it wasn’t long before I realized that nearly every road leading to the American Southwest managed, somehow, to intersect the city of Las Vegas, Nevada.
And, as a mostly inexperienced photographer back in those days, my admittedly limited mind-set dictated that the best vantage point for viewing Las Vegas would be obtained by peering into my rear-view mirror! In short, a chaotic and frenzied location like Las Vegas was to be avoided at all costs. Make sure you have enough gas to get to Mesquite, or Henderson, put the pedal to the metal, and pray that you would approach the outskirts of the city in time to beat the rush-hour traffic!
As the years and trips to the Southwest continued to mount, I began to notice, despite my own ignorance, that Las Vegas (like every other city) was continuously evolving and changing. I also began to notice that I too was evolving and changing. Each successive time that I passed by the city of lights its irresistible lure seemed to gain in strength. And in the fall of 1998, fate finally intervened. I found myself stuck in Las Vegas with a broken-down vehicle requiring several days to repair. I needed a good long walk in order to cool off.
Through fate and circumstance I had been compelled to experience the hypnotic trance that is the Las Vegas Strip. Something about standing in one spot and being able to survey a scaled replica of the Eiffel Tower, an erupting volcano, and a pirate ship, all within the very same field of view – my imagination had been thoroughly captured. And I was also convinced that there was something of genuine cultural significance going on in this strange and unusual place that needed, somehow, to be photographically documented. The very idea that much of what I was seeing appeared to be so out of character and context with that which one might normally expect to see – I felt that I had been magically transported into a spectacular world of virtual reality, and visual excess. And needless to say, my first real journey into this fantasy world would not be my last.”
Any advice or just a statement you would like to share with us?
Here, I might like to offer one of my all-time favorite quotes:
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique… just like everyone else!”
Thank you Huntington for sharing your art and your thoughts.