Peter Lik Just Sold a Photo for 6.5 Million Dollars, But Is It Art?

Peter Lik Phantom

Peter Lik Phantom: PRNewswire

Surely by now you’ve heard that the most expensive photo in history has recently been sold by photographer Peter Lik to an undisclosed collector for a record-breaking price of 6.5 Million Dollars. Peter Lik is better known for his television personality and his decadent galleries in posh retail locations in cities like Aspen, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas than for his dominance in the realm of fine art. But whether you like it or not, his work has just created the new pinnacle in art photography sales, and it undoubtedly raises some interesting questions.

Peter Lik is certainly a personality, and has doubtless created an amazing brand, but is he an artist? Can photography even be considered art?

My favorite stance – actually two stances, but we’ll get to that – comes via the Guardian UK art section, and is penned by one Jonathan Jones. He begins:

Photography is not an art. It is a technology.

Mr. Jones goes into the shortcomings of photography as an artistic medium, and then unleashes an all out assault on the quality of this particular image. He closes as follows:

It is a cliche: easy on the eye, easy on the brain, hackneyed and third-hand. If this is the most valuable “fine art photograph” in history, God help fine art photography. For this hollow and overblown creation exposes the illusion that lures us all, when we’re having a good day with a good camera – the fantasy that taking a picture is the same thing as making a work of art.

Well, there we have it. Clearly photography is not art, most especially when the image under the microscope is this particular one by Mr. Lik. But, to be fair, we should really find a counter argument. Surely there’s another perspective to be had.

Yes, here it is. I’ve found the perfect argument for photography as art, in the very same Guardian UK, penned by the very same Jonathan Jones! In his article from 2013, not so very long ago, titled ‘Photography Is the Art of Our Time’, Mr. Jones espouses the recognition of photography as an art form as follows:

It has taken me a long time to see this, and you can laugh at me if you like. But here goes.
Photography is the serious art of our time. It also happens to be the most accessible and democratic way of making art that has ever been invented.

Moving or still, and however it is taken, whether by pinhole camera or phone, the photographic image is the successor to the great art of the past…Why? Because photography relishes human life. The greatness of art lies in human insight. What matters most is not the oil paints Rembrandt used, but his compassion. Photography is the quickest, most exact tool ever invented to record our lives and deaths – 17th-century painters would have loved it.

Whammy! Take that Jonathan Jones, you just got served by…um, Jonathan Jones. So, while Jon argues with himself in the pages of the newspaper, I’ll weigh in with my perspective.

I have, out of professional curiosity, wandered through a few of Peter Lik’s galleries. His work is striking, beautifully presented and lit, and is supported by a masterful sales team and a cubic ton of marketing mojo. It’s also heavily retouched and composited, and suffers from a distinct excess of digital special sauce. In short, upon close inspection, it doesn’t float my boat. But that really couldn’t be more beside the point. Here’s the point.

Peter Lik believes he is an artist and has successfully built a business on that foundation. The Smithsonian has cared enough for his images to give them generous wall space. Buyers of photography around the world have decided he is an artist and have opted to purchase and display his pieces when selecting work for the winter house in Aspen or the summer getaway in Key West. And this latest buyer? He has stated, with his checkbook, that Peter Lik is among the greatest photographic artists in history.

As far as I’m concerned, it only takes two people to decide that something deserves the title of ‘art’ – an artist who believes in the artistic value of his creation, and one single viewer who feels the same way. This work, like all works must be foremost subject to the Eye of the Beholder clause. Or, as Macklemore put it, “One man’s junk is another man’s come-up”. In this case, we have an artist and we have an appreciator, therefore the criteria is met and all I have to say is, congratulations Mr. Lik.

Either that, or the purchase was an inside job and this is all a well orchestrated and very successful publicity stunt…but you didn’t hear that from me.

Art or Not? What do you think?

5 Reasons I’m Focusing on ART This Year (and maybe you should be too).

Focusing on Art

As we come to the end of this amazing year, it’s time to reflect on the past and to make plans for the future. I feel fortunate to have had another year of success in photography and business, and am looking forward with a sense of optimism and freedom. As an independent artist I am fortunate to be able to pursue any avenue I can make sustainable. This year, I’m markedly moving my focus toward the creation and business of art, and I think there’s a good case for anyone in a creative field to start moving in this direction as well. Here’s why.

1. Personal Vision – There is really only one reason that I feel able to justify selling my work to private collectors or commercial institutions at a rate that affords a sustainable lifestyle. That reason? Personal Vision. If I can’t bring something unique and captivating to the table throughout my career, I’m just a commodity, easily replaced by a cheaper version. But if I’m in a constant process of refining a truly personal view of the world, then I’m the only one who can create the work that I create. Refined art from the soul is irreplaceable and has immense value.

2. Creative Freedom – If Personal Vision is the end, Creative Freedom is the means. As I look back on my body of work after three years as an independent artist, much of the work that speaks to me most strongly was created in the days before I had steady commercial work. It was created when I was on missions of exploration, self funded and self driven. I’ve had the good fortune to have collaborated with some fantastic, creative people at some great companies in the recent years, but one approaches the creative process differently when there is a defined deliverable and there’s cash on the table. My current mode is one of hunger to get back to a state of pure exploration, literally and artistically. From this wellspring comes my energy, my vision and my sustenance.

3. Safety – The wilderness can be a harsh and unforgiving place. Survival requires preparation, luck and a great deal of clarity. There are a lot of people who have merged the worlds of commercialism and adventure. There are big dollars attached to many a life-or-death pursuit in the outdoors. Projects built on this foundation are in danger of lacking that critical element of clarity that makes long term survival possible. I intend to continue to explore the rugged and remote places of the world, but my aim is to keep my plans liquid, my goals artistic and to place  the safety of myself and my partners at the pinnacle. When creating art, the experience, whatever that may be, is the destination. When working on assignments, ‘success’ is the destination. I seek to create art.

4. Longevity – Hardcore adventuring in the mountains with professional camera gear is a young person’s game. I train hard to keep up with the athletes I shoot, while carrying more gear and covering the same technical terrain. For the time being, this is a viable pursuit for me, but there will come a time when I can no longer hang with the fast kids. It’s just life. If my entire identity as a photographer is based on this foundation, then my career is a ticking time bomb. On the other hand, if my foundation is one of unique artistic vision, I can apply the vision to infinite subjects and it can evolve with me as my interests and skills change.

5. Permanence – If you’re in any way involved in the creation of content these days, whether it’s photography, writing or making cat videos, you have probably experienced disappointment around the fact that a piece of work that cost you blood, sweat and tears to create is just an infinitesimal blip on the screen. It will invariably be replaced almost immediately by the next photo, story or cat video with some mass appeal. This is neither the fault of the content consumer, nor the next creator who bumps your content out of the spotlight. It’s just the nature of a world wherein we have access to an unending stream of amazing work. But this impermanence has limits. Printed art beautifully displayed tends to stay put. Incredible photography books are not frequently replaced. Museums do not rotate their exhibits at the whim of an algorithm. Work that is elevated above the concept of ‘content’ and respected as art has a chance of leaving a lasting impression. I seek to chisel my way into this pantheon as I continue to refine my craft.

This is my framework for creating a lasting legacy. I’m interested to hear what you’re doing in your craft to play the long game and to stay engaged and relevant throughout your career. Holler in the comments, I can’t wait to hear your game plans.

Story Behind the Top 5 Grams of 2014 – #4

Behind the Gram 2014 – #4 Forbidden Peak Dusk, AKA, How I (Almost) Ruined Our Climb

Forbidden Peak Sunset

Caption: The soft hues of winter over Forbidden Peak on Saturday night.

Technical Details: Captured with the iPhone 6. Instagram LoFi Filter.

Story: Soon after pulling my bare hand out of my glove to snap a quick shot of the evening light on Forbidden Peak with my iPhone, during which it was instantly stung by the biting east wind and single digit temperatures, we had the tent erected and were inside ready to hunker down for an extremely cold night by Washington standards. All we had left to do was fire up the stove, melt some snow for water and cook up the dehydrated dinners. Then it was off to sleep for an early morning run up Eldorado Peak.

I must have dug through my backpack at least four times before finally being convinced that I had indeed left the stove in the car, some 5,000 feet of rugged climbers’ trail below. The stove that was going to cook our dinner, provide a warming beverage and, most importantly provide our water for the next day’s long mission, was very much out of reach.

It took me a second to come up with the words to share with my climbing partner, Matt Henry, who had carried the rope because I had the stove, and who was relying on the same Whisper Light for his comfort and joy. In the end I took the most direct path. “I left the stove in the car.”

And so began the process of creating water by any means necessary, the most efficient of which is to sleep with bottles of snow in your sleeping bag until it melts, at which point you add more snow, and repeat until the bottle contains more water than snow.

We’ve been having some odd weather here in Washington this year. Today, as I write this, it’s 15 degrees warmer than normal. On the particular day that I took this photo, it was about 25 degrees below normal, or, if I did the math right, about -5 degrees at the 7000’ elevation at which we were camped. Fine by arctic standards, but in the temperate Pacific Northwest, this is somewhat unusual, and serves as a shock to the system. All of which makes sleeping with bottles of slush in your 15 degree sleeping bag sound less than ideal, but such was our plight.

Two things of note happened in consequence. First, we tested whether or not a dehydrated dinner (Mountain House in this case), really needs to be rehydrated. We kept an open mind, but in the end must strongly recommend adding water, as per the directions…If you have that luxury.

Second, for the first time in my life, I slept in every single stitch of clothing I was carrying. My torso was covered with the following:

Short Sleeve Capeline Shirt
Long Sleeve Shirt
Thick Insulated Shirt
Nano Puff Jacket
Wind Breaker
Shell Jacket
Expedition Weight Down Jacket

The bottles of slush were the little spoon, and my camera gear (which was misbehaving due to the low temperatures) was the big spoon in the snuggle party that happened with my gear in my sleeping bag. A couple of damp ski boot liners down in the bottom of the bag rounded out the party.

In the morning we were able to spare some ice water for cold oatmeal and managed to summit Eldorado via the non-technical but uber-classic east ridge. The cup of tea I brewed up in the parking lot 10 hours later in the dark of evening was the best I ever had. Lesson learned. Double check the stove.

Story Behind the Top 5 Grams of 2014 – #5

Behind the Gram 2014 – #5 Bryce Phillips in Snoqualmie Pass Backcountry

Bryce Phillips on Guye Peak

Much of my work is consumed these days on Instagram (I’m @scottrinck), and it’s there that I find the most interaction in the online world. I also learn a lot about what images resonate with people and why. In looking at this info, I decided that it would be fun to take this time at the end of the year and share my 5 most popular Instagram posts of 2014 and give the story of how the image was created. This is the first of 5 posts. I hope you dig it.

Original Caption: Yesterday’s photo was half of the equation. Here’s the other half. Mountains are best experienced on foot. Runs earned with sweat trump ones earned with money every time. Park the sleds, leave the heli in the barn, let the chairlifts rust. Climb+Ski=perfection. Bryce Phillips in the Snoqualmie backcountry.

Technical Details: Captured with Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus 9-18 4.0-5.6 Lens @ 9mm (18mm equivalent). Exposure 1/1000 sec, f/10, ISO 200. Color and contrast adjustments in Adobe Lightroom. Cropped and uploaded via Instagram.

Story: Bryce Phillips is one of the more interesting people you’ll find to take some turns with. He and I met at the beginning of the century when we were both aspiring pro skiers sponsored by K2. Bryce has since turned this youthful obsession into an incredible and complex vision, merging outdoor sports, retail, art, real estate, philanthropy, culture and design. His handiest title is CEO of evo, an outdoor sports retailer with a major presence online and stores in Seattle and Portland, but his worldview is far broader than the title indicates. If it’s future thinking and it’s happening in the northwest, odds are, Bryce is in on it. To get the whole debrief on the man, the myth, the legend, pick up the October issue of Powder Magazine and check out the big ol’ Bryce Phillips feature article, including photos by yours truly. All that aside, he’s still an absolute crusher on the skis, and we like to get out in the hills, snap some photos and rip lines like we did in the good ol’ days.

Bryce and I were recently back from a trip to Japan, and were riding a wave of stoke about skiing, so when a classic NW storm deposited a foot of stable, low elevation snow, we decided to run up I-90 to Snoqualmie Pass to make a couple quick morning laps in the nearby backcountry.

As we reached the summit of our peak, an amazing mixture of sun and clouds rendered incredible depth in the textures of the new snow on the almost vertical east face of the peak. Bryce was kind enough to hustle up the final pitch of the climb in order for me to catch the shot. If the day had ended right there, I would have been pleased, but that was just the start. We were still atop one of the best steep skiing destinations around, and the snow was PERFECT.

Bryce Phillips East Couloir

Bryce opted for the uber-classic east couloir, while Brian Fletcher and I clawed our way into one of my favorite lines of that year, a face of incredible complexity and joy, the shot of which landed on the Powder Magazine Intro page. Here’s the video of the rest of the descent (hit refresh if the video doesn’t load).

Beyond pleased with our morning thus far, we put the skins back on the skins and headed up for another lap…and then another. These are the days when it all comes together.

Inspired by Jim Harris AKA Perpetual Weekend.

Inspired by Jim Harris
I’m inspired by Jim Harris. Jim is a photographer and adventurer based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. His company goes by the name ‘Perpetual Weekend’, and his work is fantastic. I already knew all of the above, and while I have followed and enjoyed Jim’s work, that’s not what has been the source of inspiration.

The true inspiration I’ve found from Jim comes from an inauspicious place. Earlier this month, Jim was badly injured. This from the webpage setup to raise funds for his evacuation from the mountains: ‘Jim Harris suffered spinal and cranial trauma from an accident while preparing for a Trans-Patagonia expedition in Punta Arenas, Chile.’

So far, so not good. That is until you started to see the outpouring of support for Jim. From all corners of the globe, people wrote, called, tweeted, visited and otherwise raised their voices and opened their coffers in support of Jim in this crucial time. Apparently Jim not only knows everyone on earth, he’s also loved by every single person with whom he’s interacted. It seems that his karmic account balance has been growing for quite some time, and now that he’s had to make a withdrawal, there’s more than enough love to go around.

Jim is back in the states now, and the prognosis is good, but he’s still involved in some major surgeries and the family is still seeking help with the costs. You can learn more and donate via this link: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/let-s-bring-jim-home/269288

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Jim. Perhaps I never will. But I think it’s far more likely that we’ll cross paths at some point, and if past performances are any indication of future success, we’ll have a grand time and will remain good friends regardless of any distances between us. But until the time that we finally do cross paths, I’ll do my best to be like Jim, stacking karma points in the game of life by spreading friendship and love across the globe. That is, I gather, how Jim rolls.

Heal soon, we’re all pulling for you Jim.

Photoshop is a Great Place to Play

After Photoshop

There are shots that are created as God intended. Where the conditions, the subject, the technical elements and the composition all line up to create perfection at the moment of capture. Anyone who is an accomplished photographer has experienced this synergetic beauty, and strives to recreate the magic as often as possible.

I’m no exception to this aspiration. I like to think that I’m just as likely as the next pro to make it happen on a regular basis. On the other hand, there are plenty of times when most of the elements line up, but there’s something missing. Maybe it’s a blown exposure, perhaps the subject is making a goofy face when they’re supposed to be stoic, or perhaps, as in this case, the composition is safe but far from captivating.

When I get a shot that’s almost super but not quite, I’ve found a happy solution; throw out the rules and play. Tweak the exposure, add some noise, go grayscale, blow some highlights, block some shadows, rotate, crop and otherwise hammer on the composition.

There are two things that can happen after a bit of playing. One, I’ll look at a bunch of convoluted versions of an average image and still declare that it’s less than stellar and move on to the next image. Or, two, I’ll fall in love with a couple of elements in the image and find a way to highlight these elements while removing distractions.

Before Photoshop

Before Photoshop

In this case, I knew that there was good movement in the foot drag and that the light was fantastic, but I wasn’t in love with the composition, and didn’t find myself overly attached to the colors.

When I cropped into a tight horizontal, so many of the distracting elements were eliminated that the eye now automatically goes to the dragging foot and the dynamic rock and dust explosion. A crop this significant definitely begins to generate potential image quality issues as it takes the 16MP of the Nikon D4s and reduces it to a 6MP file. To combat this, I threw the idea of a technically perfect image out the window and embraced grit. I also generated a black and white conversion that creates a filmic look, therein reducing the expectation of digital perfection. I even added some grain to prove that I’m not messing around. I wanted this image to be dirty.

Whether or not you dig the end result, the primary point stands. You only get a millisecond to capture an image, but you’ve got all of the time in the world to experiment with the results. Why not have some fun and see if you can create something better than before. The creative process for imagery doesn’t end until someone hits print or publish. It’s good to keep playing.

How do you feel about using Photoshop as a creative tool?

Analog Inspiration: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherLately, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading the histories of people and places that resonate with me, including biographies of great photographers. Photography is a brilliant art form in its inherent individuality, and each photographer’s journey is a perfectly unique; often equal parts epic triumph and heartbreaking tragedy.

Such is the story of Edward Curtis – Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. Told in vivid detail by master storyteller, journalist and novelist, Timothy Egan, this book evokes the entire gamut of emotions and left me with a far deeper understanding of what it means to devote your life to your craft.

Edward Curtis is famous for his iconic portraits of Native Americans in the early part of the 20th century, and has in recent years been the target of criticism that he was a profiteer, more interested in creating an illusion on film than faithfully documenting a way of life.

The truth is far more complex, and the story is infinitely more nuanced. It is every bit worth the 300+ pages it takes to gain a more complete understanding. What is clear is that beyond the photography, which is doubtlessly breathtaking, Edward Curtis devoted his entire life to trying to understand and document every Native American tribe in the country, as ‘progress’ literally erased his subjects as he was attempting to study, document, integrate with and photograph them.

This is the epic and tragic tale of a true artist, an explorer and a hero facing insurmountable odds and charging forward nonetheless. Highly recommended. Or, in other words, read this book.

If you’ve got other titles that you’ve found captivating or inspiring, I’d love to hear about them. Drop a note in the comments below!

Q&A – Best Micro 4/3 Lenses

Olympus Micro 4/3 KitI get a lot of questions about my techniques and equipment, and try my best to respond when I have time. Generally these dialogues stay hidden in emails, Facebook messages and Twitter DMs. Yesterday as I was responding to a question my friend John sent me  about my choice of lenses for my Olympus Micro 4/3 system (my light and fast kit for long human-powered missions), I figured that there might be more people who would be interested in the discussion. Therefore, I introduce the Q&A concept on my blog, where I share questions and answers about my approach to photography. Without further ado, here’s the skinny on my lens selections for my Olympus E-M1 Micro 4/3 system.

Q: Hey Scott, How’s it going? Hope all is well. Hey I wanted to ask you something about the Olympus gear you have. I am looking at getting my wife one of the the Olympus mirrorless cameras (well maybe myself too and sell my D600) and wanted to ask want lenses you have, use or have used for yours and any opinions on them. I am looking at a few of them and have read all the reviews and what not but nice to get some input from someone who uses them. The ones I am looking at the the 9-18, the 12-50, the 12-40 2.8 and the 14-150. Thoughts? Others I should consider? Thanks. John

 

A: Hi John, Here’s my Olympus Lens kit:

Olympus 9-18 – Super small and lightweight, a little bit of a pain to extend the lens to shoot, not the sharpest, but not bad. It’s fast enough, small enough and useful enough that I bring it everywhere I bring my Olympus camera.
Olympus 12-40 2.8 – Badass. Tough, sharp, fast, weather sealed. The best zoom lens they have by far. This lens stays attached to the camera and is my go-to.
Panasonic 35-100 2.8 – Very sharp and quick to focus, but for some reason, the camera motor drives slower with the Panasonic lens. I’ll replace this with the Olympus 40-150 2.8 lens when it’s released early next year. I almost always carry this lens with the kit.
Olympus 14-150 – This used to be my go-to lens before they released the 12-40. It’s an incredible tool if you want to keep one lens on your camera 90% of the time, which has a huge speed benefit. It’s not as sharp as the 12-40, nor as fast to focus, but for what it is, the utility is amazing. It mostly stays in my gear locker, but when I need to go super light, I bring it out.
Olympus 75-300 – With the 2x crop factor you get on a Micro 4/3 camera, this lens is the 35mm equivalent of a 150-600 and is smaller than my Nikon 24-70. Again, not the fastest or the sharpest lens in the world, but a 600mm lens that you can toss in a jacket pocket is a beautiful thing. Mostly reserved for special outings because even though it’s small for a 600, it’s big for a micro 4/3 kit.

I’ve published photos in commercial and art environments with all of these lenses, so you needn’t be excessively concerned about issues with sharpness, etc.
For the best bang for the buck, you may well be very happy with the 9-18 and 14-150. I was for years.

If you’d like to keep the conversation going or are looking for more info on this equipment, drop a note in the comments below. Also, let me know if you’d like me to keep sharing this type of content.

If you like my work, please follow me online at: FacebookInstagramGoogle+500px and Twitter.  More importantly, share it with a friend and give me a hi-5 when you see me next; let’s keep things in the real world here.  Thanks!

Happy 50th Birthday, Wilderness Act!

North Cascades Sunrise

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” – President Lyndon Johnson upon signing the Wilderness Act 50 years ago today.

To those of us who frequent the Wilderness, this act of legislation is at the pinnacle of governance. It exists within a realm that values permanence, sustainability and legacy over business and expedience. It recognizes that time tested fact that freedom cannot be purchased, but can be experienced by anyone who spends a night under an unpolluted summer sky.

By protecting the wilderness areas against development, we have created sanctuaries from our overbearing human footprint. In these beautifully balanced systems, we find an equilibrium wherein humans can coexist with our animal siblings, where the air and land are self-maintained. Where we quickly find that we are not outside or above the natural order, and thrill in every step we take that moves us closer to seamless integration.

This way of life must always be maintained. And the pursuit cannot just stop at the wilderness borders. The lessons learned in the wilderness apply in all places. We must seek to lessen our impact, to coexist with nature and to build ways of thinking and operating that serve not to benefit us, but to benefit the world for all generations to come.

Thank you to the pioneers who blazed this path 50 years ago, and may it continue to inspire our achievements both within the wild places, and beyond.

Best Boxer Briefs for Outdoor Sports – A Totally Unscientific Review

Boxer Brief ReviewAnd now for my most ridiculous blog post yet. Laugh it up now, but you’ll thank me later.

For years I’ve had a go-to in the performance underwear department. I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve put a LOT of miles on a particular pair. So earlier this summer when I was packing for a couple of weeks on an Alaskan glacier, I decided I’d bolster my collection.

I purchased a pair identical to the aforementioned heavily utilized garment, but then decided that I may as well give a few others a chance as well. I picked up a pair of the REI Boxer Briefs, the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs, the Patagonia Cap 1 Stretch Boxer Briefs, and online I ordered a set of MyPackage Weekday Boxer Briefs.

I have now had a chance to put each and every one of these pairs of undies through the ringer, and there is a clear winner. But first, the criteria:

Smooth Fabric: how nice is the fabric against the skin?
Wedgie Proof: does the boxer brief stay in place, in the leg and rear-end areas?
Crotch Comfort: how nice is the banana hammock?
Quick Dry: if I get inspired to swim, do they dry quickly?
Supportive: is my equipment supported when it’s time to run or jump?
Easy Access: when it’s time for a trailside pee-break, how quick is the front panel access?

The Results:

Boxer Brief Review Chart

Yes, friends, this is one of the moments we all dream of. When the cheapest option turns out to be the best one. The REI Boxer Briefs are fantastic to the touch, wedgie proof, provide crotch comfort, dry quickly, support the junk and offer easy access – all for the very reasonable price of $22.50. Get ‘em here, and enjoy years of comfort in your nether regions.

*Disclosure – While REI is a client of mine, they had no part in this review, and I’ve received no compensation or oversight on this product comparison. This is purely my unsolicited opinion after some sweaty days in the backcountry.