Craig McCord has been photographing landscapes for over 40 years. Through experimentation and practice, Craig has returned to his roots in black & white film photography and a renewed passion for a slower paced photograph. His dramatic landscapes often portray the wilderness of national parks. Craig’s artwork will be on display at the Corinth branch until August 21, 2023.
Talk about the work on view. What would you like people to know about it?
I have always been intrigued by the mountains. Growing up in northern Florida, I never saw a mountain until I was an adult. These selections of my work focus on some of the mountains and buttes I have had the pleasure of visiting. Their beauty is truly captivating. The prints displayed are from several national parks or other protected areas. But it’s not about the location so much as the power of the peaks and the various unique shapes of butte formations having an element of awe-inspiring majesty. As the environmentalist John Muir was quoted as saying, “The mountains are calling, and I must go”.
Describe your creative process. How often are you on location vs in the studio?
When I am out shooting a new location, I try not to just get out of my vehicle and start taking pictures. It’s important to get your mind in the right place. If you are still thinking about other issues or worries, it tends to interfere with your creative process. Also, I feel it take a bit just to get to know the surroundings or area you are in. I may walk around for a bit and observe what might make an interesting photograph, not worrying about the immediate need for my camera. I do carry a little viewing card, which is nothing more than a 4x6 piece of scrap mat board with a cutout window approximating the aspect ratio of my camera. Only after I feel a connection with a potential composition do I reach for my camera. Since I am now shooting mostly 4x5 and medium format film, it tends to slow things down quite a bit. There are times when I might shoot no more than a few sheets of film on a particular outing. If just one turns out successful in terms of my intent, I am satisfied.
My studio consists of my computer and my work area for printing and mounting my prints. I no longer use a wet darkroom but post processing on the computer is still quite time consuming. So, I would say 75 % of my time is studio vs location shooting.
What are some of the challenges of nature photography?
Nature and landscape photography can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. From dealing with unpredictable weather and ever-changing lighting conditions to finding the right angle and capturing the perfect shot, one must be prepared for any situation. Furthermore, you must also be aware of your surroundings and understand the impact that your presence can have on the environment.
In addition to dealing with the elements of nature, the nature photographer must also consider their own physical limitations when taking photographs. They must be prepared for sometimes long hikes, carrying heavy equipment and being exposed to at times adverse weather conditions. Admittedly, as I have aged, I am more discriminating in what risks I am willing to take.
Nonetheless, like many with the passion for this type of photography, I at times push the limits on what is wise to get a shot I want.
Finally, I would say photographers must also have an eye for composition when taking photos in natural environments. They need to be able to identify interesting subjects and capture them in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible while still maintaining a sense of realism in their shots. In this sense, I feel I have more of a classical style in my approach to landscape photography.
Who are other artists you look to for inspiration, and what about their works do you like?
Well, like many landscape photographers, this could not be answered without mentioning Ansel Adams. While I studied his work early on, because of the part of the country where I lived there were not the grand vistas he was much known for. However, I did learn a lot about exposure using his zone system. And to see one of his actual prints is an inspiration in itself.
A protégé of Ansel’s, John Sexton, was also inspirational. His black and white images are iconic. His images are renowned for their use of soft light, quiet light, and inspirational qualities. In his photography he has captured the essence of nature's beauty in its most raw form.
Two other photographers that influenced me early were Eliot Porter and David Muench, both of whom worked in color. Eliot’s style was characterized by his use of bold colors, vivid textures and intimate landscape. He was able to create order out of chaos and capture the beauty of nature in his photographs. I believe I was drawn to his work because it more reflected types of subject matter proximate to my part of the country at the time.
David Muench is a landscape photographer known for his unique style and approach to color photography. He has a knack for capturing stunning scenes with strong foregrounds and wide-angle views, often making the most of natural light. His photos are characterized by vibrant colors and bold compositions that draw the viewer in. He often uses long exposures to capture movement in his shots, creating a dreamy atmosphere that evokes emotion. I was particularly influenced by his use of strong foregrounds. Often, I will use this technique to help lead the viewer through the image.
What is your most important artistic tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
In the field I would say two things: my light meter and my viewing card. I use a Pentax 1degree spot meter to measure the range of brightness of a scene and determine where I want my shadows to fall. This may also determine how I want to develop the film to either increase or decrease contrast. These are some of the decisions related to previsualization of what you want the final print to look like. This of course is all related to shooting film. The viewing card I mentioned earlier. It helps in bringing order to the chaos, as Eliot Porter might suggest.
In the studio of course it would have to be my computer, scanner, and editing software. This is essentially, my modern darkroom. My primary editing software is Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and a few plugins for certain refining work in making the master file.
What books, movies and/or music have inspired you recently?
I am not much of a fiction reader. More likely drawn to non-fiction biographies or history. I do have a military background and have always enjoyed studying the battles and leaders of the civil war. Related to photography, I have studied Ansel Adam’s writings. I am currently revisiting his book The Negative. I read it years ago but now things seem to be increasing clear. I guess that’s how years of mistakes can clear your mind.
Movies are simply an escape. But the recent release of Top Gun was a joy to watch. I guess that’s the military part of me. As far as music, I really enjoy the blues. Always have for some odd reason. Both old blues and more contemporary blues rock I do enjoy. Often, I will have blues playing as I mount and mat prints or even doing post processing. I will say though, when I am out scouting, there is no music or radio. I am totally focused on tuning in my creative side.