The desert can be a mesmerizing place. Whether it's the vast, open expanse of land or the amazing scope of the night sky when the sun goes down, the desert is rife with opportunities for photographers looking for the perfect vista. For Juror’s Choice winner, Brian Van de Wetering, this environment has provided an endless stream of inspiration and is the featured landscape in his winning image, Far Ridge.
It’s hard to put my finger on one thing that keeps drawing me back there. I love the wide-open spaces, the solitude, how every wrinkle and buckle in the earth’s crust is visible through the sparse vegetation. Away from the city lights the night sky is a significant draw for me. It’s also been significant to my development as an artist.
As a software engineer, Van de Wetering says his engineering skills have been a great help to him in his artistic career. Understanding the technical aspects of digital photography was one of the things that initially sparked his interest in photography. Now he is using his engineering skills to build cameras out of old flat-bed scanners, modifying the drivers in the devices to his own specifications. “It is definitely pushing my boundaries both as a software developer and a photographer.”
Van de Wetering’s technical background has also had a huge influence on his art, inspiring his newest project: light paintings. Set against serene backdrops such as recently abandoned structures or his go-to location, the desert, Van de Wetering creates striking shapes with many different types of light. The precision required to create these geometric forms hearkens back to his scientific background. It also indicates a great deal of planning to get his technique down as well as making sure the light levels will be adequately low at his chosen location.
In my light painting work there is quite a bit of visualization necessary due to the nature of the techniques. […] When I arrive I walk the area looking for shots and angles and imagining the light painted forms. Framing and focusing is difficult under dark conditions so I usually take several test shots at high ISO first to set up the camera. The real planning is to go through in my head the sequence of moves that I’ll make in front of the camera while the shutter is open. […] Then it’s a process of trial and error until I get the shot that I’m pleased with. I can usually get 3-5 good shots out of a night of light painting.
In the end, Van de Wetering creates art to convey ideas, “I would like to communicate the wonder I feel in a particular location, or the sense of fun and curiosity in my light paintings,” and for his own personal growth, “There are so many possibilities with this medium and I have only begun to explore.” And though there are always stressful periods in any project, he also recognizes that every successful venture must have passion behind it. “If photography stops being fun, it’s time for me to reevaluate what I’m doing.”
Terrain is on view through September 29, 2012.