A Visit to the Rodney Lough Jr. Gallery in San Francisco
America loves photographers. They seem so much more appreciated than photographers within the UK and photography there is truly accepted as an art form and also one that is highly collectable too. I’m not talking about fashion or news photography here either, I’m referring to landscape photography. If you had to name a selection of so called big name landscape photographers from the UK, then I’m sure Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, and people like David Noton may come to mind, but I bet none of them come anyway close to reaping the type of financial rewards that of some of the big name American landscape photographers are able to command. For a select few, landscape photography in the USA is big, big business. Sure it’s highly commercial, and the USA is a huge market compared to the UK, and lets face it, they have so many dramatic, spectacular landscapes to photograph too. It seems everything in America is bigger and that goes for the galleries too.
My first experience of one of these big name landscape photographers was when I visited the Peter Lik gallery in Las Vegas whilst on holiday there a couple of years ago. Surprisingly Lik is an Australian, although his main market for pictures is within US as is a large proportion of his subject matter. He comes across as a bit like the “Crocodile Dundee” of the photography world and video clips on his website portray him running around the wilderness in shirts with torn off sleeves. It’s all rather Hollywood, very commercial and a tad unbelievable but he reputedly sold one picture for a million dollars in 2010 so it certainly pays. Can you ever imagine a Joe Cornish image ever going for that?
San Francisco Gallery
Just recently I had the chance to visit the Rodney Lough Jr. Galley in San Francisco, which opened on August the 6th this year. Rodney Lough Jr.,is another big name, commercial, landscape photographer in the US who’s gallery presence is expanding. His pictures are stunning, if perhaps a tad over saturated to the English taste (a trait rather common amongst the American photographic fraternity). The gallery however, which is one of several now, is mightily impressive too and contains a vast array of beautifully presented, stunning photographs, some of which are presented as absolutely huge prints. Many are panoramas some of which must be 8 or 9 feet wide, and would make a commanding presence on any wall. I was informed that these are printed on Fujicolor Crystal Archive paper which, under the discrete overhead halogen lighting, makes the pictures positively glow set against the black gallery walls, so much in fact some you’d swear they were back lit. No matter what your taste in pictures you can’t help be but impressed by some (if not most) of Mr. Lough’s collection of photographs.
His repertoire comprises the great American wilderness, and many of his shots are the classic scenes that adorn many books and walls of countless other galleries, and include images of Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Tetons, Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and so on. However, what makes Rodney Lough just that little bit different, is that he does try to make his views unique and every one of his images are just about as perfectly composed as you can get. His panoramic shot of the Mesa Arch sunrise demonstrates this perfectly where he omits (crops?) the foreground cliff edge from the frame and creates a panoramic view of the arch that I’d not seen before and found most appealing. This perhaps, was my favourite of all his pictures, but I guess that may be because it’s one location I’m pretty familiar with and have shot myself. There are many other panoramas and one other shot that caught my eye was a foggy scene of an old weathered, leaning outhouse, taken amongst the grassland in Square Top Mountain National Forest, Montana, entitled “Can You Spare a Square”. It was so sharp you can literally see every blade of grass. He does profess to venture deeper into the wilderness than most other photographers do, and his YouTube video here portrays him as a “Modern day explorer and photographer”. While that moniker may be a leaf out the Peter Lik style of marketing, it would certainly seem that he works hard for his art. If you like the great American wilderness, which I do immensely, then you’ll enjoy his pictures.
Equipment & Print Quality
Rodney shoots large format using an 8 x 10 Arca-Swiss line camera, with either a 150mm f/5.6 Schneider or a Super-Symmar XL lens or a Fujinon 300mm F5.6 lens. The large format certainly captures an extraordinary amount of fine detail which can be seem in his photographs. In some cases the pictures were shot with a P65 Phase-One digital back, but I wasn’t able to find out how his panoramic shots were done, and whether they have been either cropped from 8 x 10’s or stitched. The gallery assistant told me that the pictures are largely untouched, and not ‘photoshopped’, but that was clearly not the case in some. As I mentioned above, many are over saturated to the point of looking slightly unnatural, but I guess at the end of the day this is just a matter of personal taste, and this look certainly seems to be the ‘norm’ and popular amongst USA landscape photographers, and something I have laso been quilty of doing myself. One or two of the pictures were a tad over sharpened too, and just look too detailed. On close inspection clear, fine, bright halo’s around some mountain skyline edges could be seen; his shot of Kings Canyon NP, California being one of them, or though to be perfectly honest you’d never ever notice this from any reasonable viewing distance, but you just know how we other photographers like to be pixel peepers. I just couldn’t resist looking real close.
To Buy or Not?
I was told by one of the gallery assistants that Rodney Lough is an old acquaintance of Peter Lik, and without doubt he has taken a page out of his book and is following similar footsteps with the big, expensive, high profile galleries. I can’t see that approach ever being successful within the UK and even in the US it must be a huge financial undertaking. That sort of real estate in prime tourist territory near the famous Pier 39 of the San Francisco wharf area and the gallery conversion must have cost millions. However, no doubt once you’ve made your name it can potentially reap a huge financial reward too. As you’d expect his pictures, which are generally limited editions of 500, don’t come cheap either, starting at around $1000 for a small print, and going up to well over 8 or 9 times that amount for much larger framed prints. One wonders who just can afford these, certainly not the casual tourist like me of whom the majority of the visitors appeared to be. Then again, Americans, certainly wealthy ones (and of those no doubt there are quite a few), seem much more liable to invest large sums for what to they may deem highly collectable and desirable items than us frugal Brits. You’d also need a pretty big house or office with capacious wall space to be able to hang such prints, and most Brits do not posses such wall space, whereas the much bigger American properties are much more suited to large works of art. The prices were well out of my league, although several pictures I admired immensely, but I would perhaps would be tempted by a book; sadly there were none to buy.
If you have any interest in American landscape photography or even just photography and are visiting San Francisco, then the Rodney Lough Gallery is well worth a visit. For me it was one of the more interesting attractions near Pier 39, and one I found most inspiring, but then again I’m a photographer too.
The Rodney Lough Gallery, One Jefferson Street, San Francisco, CA 94965.
Telephone: toll free at (877) 274-3739 or at (415) 399-9959.