Whether you’re talking about auto racing, the old west, or photographers, I’ve always had a sweet spot in my heart for the outlaws. Not law breakers, just rule breakers with an outlaw spirit. They refuse to walk the road most traveled. That road is so often boring.
When I was a teenager and frequenting the “beer bars” (18 years old age), I realized that there were some girls that liked outlaws. They were intrigued by guys who were just a little dangerous. They were usually the “preacher’s daughter” type. Notice I did not say they liked me. I returned to nightlife in my 30s, and found that there were grown woman who were much like those teenage girls. Except they were divorced with three kids, and they were more dangerous than the outlaws they sought.
I have always loved my rock n roll music but country’s outlaws eventually found a place in my life. Johnny Cash, Waylon and Willie, Hank Williams Jr. There is a time for music and there is a time to raise a little hell.
There’s a whole auto racing series for sprint cars and stock cars called The World of Outlaws. They really aren’t outlaws at all, but they got that name from real racing outlaws. Names like Rick Ferkel and Doug Wolfgang (sprint cars), Billy Moyer and Freddie Smith (dirt track stock cars), and Wisconsin’s own Dick Trickle and Tom Reffner ( asphalt stock cars), crossed this nation like old-fashioned barnstormers. You never knew where they would show up. When they stopped at a track near you, they would likely “steal” the prize money. Just like any good outlaw.
Life has always had its outlaws and even nature photography has had its share.
Galen Rowell was a nice, articulate man who once owned a car repair shop. Just the same he was an outlaw. He refused to use the road most traveled. He didn’t just photograph mountains…..he climbed them. He camped in the wilderness to get the perfect light on this planet’s most inaccessible places. He ignored many of America’s most photographed locations. He proved that color nature photography is art, and his images hung in New York’s premier galleries. He stood up for that new photography thing called digital, but refused to alter his slides. He was an outlaw.
Leonard Lee Rue wasn’t like modern-day nature photographers. He cared deeply about the environment but he never used that fact to “belong” to the in crowd as so many do today. He didn’t wear it on his sleeve. We often see politically correct words from nature photographers, he spoke as though words were important enough to say something different. He had been a wilderness guide, a trapper and hunter in his earlier years. A wildlife photographer today wouldn’t mention those last two facts, but Lenny walked the road less traveled. He was also a God believing man and that would not exactly ingratiate him as a favorite at a NANPA convention. Despite having more magazine covers to his credit than any nature photographer ever, he was so humble that when the digital age arrived he never even put up a biography on his website. He was an outlaw.
He began his interest in nature as a logger in the Pacific Northwest. At a time when most large format color landscape photographers were only making straight forward grand landscapes, Pat O’Hara included 35mm gear with a 300mm lens to compress and abstract “pieces” of the land. He made his grand landscapes too, but even with his 4×5 he found ways to interpret light and texture that the 4×5 crowd wasn’t suppose to do. He was one of the few versatile large format artists. He also had a macro lens for that 35mm camera and his close-up detail work is sublime. It may not sound like much, but the photography world and the art world expects certain things, and 4×5 shooters have a tradition to uphold. Pat had to do things his own way. I don’t believe Pat has ever completely embraced the internet world, but he has chugged on, doing things his way. Outlaws come in all forms and he was sort of an outlaw among the outlaws.
Finding a current generation outlaw was not at all difficult for me. Macro photographer Mike Moats may not be as well-known as the previously mentioned photographers, but he is a modern-day outlaw. Macro photography is the domain of nature photography. Mike photographs a lot of nature but he is just as likely to make a super macro of a rusty nail, or a small scene of the grill of an antique car. I know it doesn’t seem like something I would say, but I commend Mike for photographing anything that makes a great shot, in an endeavor like macro photography where nature rules the roost. I like outlaws. While much of Mike’s work is sensitive and artistic, Mike himself remains who he really is. I have a feeling that on any given Sunday, if Mike cannot be out making pictures, he would settle for the couch, a six pack of beer and watching the Detroit Lions play football. Sometimes in life when we are who we are…..well….we are outlaws.
If an outlaw chooses to be an outlaw, he rarely becomes one. Some things just have to come naturally, and it is other people who will decide whether or not you deserve to be called outlaw.
I am pretty sure that I’ve never been good enough at working at the fringes to be called an outlaw, but I have been called an outcast. My ex-mother-in-law used to say that I “traveled to the beat of a different drummer”. Maybe having been both an outcast and different, is enough for me to pretend for at least one day to be an outlaw.
Bless the outlaws, they enrich our lives and give hope that there is still a chance for us too.
Old Scruffy. Maybe not an outlaw but certainly an outcast. I photographed this immature Yellow-headed Blackbird a few years ago. He may not be an outcast among YHBBs, but he would be among most bird photographers I have known.
It’s Just Not You. When you’re a photographer, whatever you are first known for is what people expect from you. Even the top-tier of nature photographers have gone through this. John Shaw was known for his macro photography and it took years for his wildlife and landscapes images to receive the respect they deserved. Art Wolfe was considered a wildlife photographer. He buried himself in landscapes and non-nature work for a while until the public realized he was a multidimensional photographer. With the internet this is true even among hobbyists. If you join Flickr and put up all bird photos, then you are certainly a bird photographer. Going back all the way to the 1970s I have always had work published from many varying subjects. The one exception was abstracts and abstractions. This despite the fact that I have been creating them ever since I began serious photography at the age of 19. Not an outlaw just an outcast?
Thank you, Wayne