Tom Jacobi: Sacred Places

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Tom Jacobi is a Germany-based photographer.  He discovered photography when he was a teenager when he received his first camera as a gift. Before then, he had no interest at all in photography. However, since then, he developed a deep passion for this art form and has never looked back. Six years later, Tom was tapped to be a staff photographer for the highly renowned Stern Magazine  for which he shot images from around the world for nearly a decade. He then focused on freelance work as he delved into commercial, fashion and advertising.  His three-year project, “Where God Resides,” took Tom to sacred places around the world and resulted in a photo book. This week Tom speaks to atlas about his current project Grey Matters and how he traveled across six continents to capture these stunning images which are found in his latest photo book of the same name. (Editor’s Note: As we approach Christmas, we wanted to revisit one of our favorite features this week on Tom’s spectacular series. Enjoy!)

How did you first become interested in photography?

Tom Jacobi: When I was fifteen years old, a friend of my mother gave me his old camera as a present. Until then I had absolutely no interest in photography. However, being a Capricorn and practical at the same time, I thought: “Well, now I have a camera, I might as well use it.“ So I just started taking pictures like every beginner: the cat straying through the garden, my sister eating cake, and much to many underexposed sunsets.

What kind of camera and equipment do you use?

I started with an old Rolleiflex. My first serious camera was a Nikon, I stayed with that brand for many years before I changed over to Canon when they came out with their radical new concept in the 80s. In addition, I got myself a large format Linhof Technika, a Mamiya 6×7 and a Mamiya 645. All of these cameras were analogue. I sold my complete equipment when I became art director at Stern magazine. These days I use Pentax 645Z and Sony.

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Your Grey Matters project is a collection of images that you shot during your travels over six continents. How did the Grey Matters first come about? 

In February 2014, I traveled by ship to the Antarctic with some friends. It was a dream come true. I had seen and read so much about the Antarctic and was at last on my way to that inhospitable place so often referred to as the “blue-white continent.” Reality, however, proved rather different. That icy continent was indeed blue-white — the color of serviettes in a Bavarian beer cellar — but only when the sun gained the upper hand. Most of the time, though, a permanently changing cloud cover ensured the Antarctic presented itself in all possible shades of grey. Yet it wasn’t at all dreary; it was simply beautiful. No color was screaming for attention or calling out: “Hey, you over there, look at me!” That grey landscape radiated unbelievable energy and meditative calm. I was at one with everything around me. This new project saw daylight in the grey light of the Antarctic. When I got back home, I started my research. For days, nights, and weeks on end I roved around websites I had never imagined existed, not even in my wildest dreams.

I also delved deeply into the color grey. Seeing colors is actually a minor miracle. They are nothing more than reflected light absorbed by the cones of our retinas and then individually compiled in our brain — our grey matter, you might say.

Over a period of two years the work on this book took my wife, Katharina, and me to some very remote corners of the earth. We discovered archaic landscapes which had been shaped by nature over thousands of years and yet are timeless, even modern. When they slowly slide into the darkness of night and re-emerge at dawn from the realm of shadows, those landscapes seem like mystical enactments from some other world. No cocoon of color dulls the experience of the essential. The colorless energy of these places is breathtaking and humbling and touches us at the point from which we come — the twilight.

Among the locations you captured for Grey Matters, which location intrigued you the most? Why?

It’s funny. I get asked this question over and over again. My answer is quite simple: I can not give you one. All the places I visited have their individual strength and atmosphere. I have very dear memories to each one of them. There simply isn’t one location which stands out.

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Did you encounter any challenges shooting this project?

Absolutely. It was a very physical project. Many of the places I visited were not easy to reach. We climbed mountains breathlessly, cursed the hard desert floors we slept on, and ran for our lives, so it seemed, from a massive storm cell in New Mexico. On one occasion, in a deserted steppe, Katharina was wondering where the human-like noise was coming from until she spotted a hostile rattlesnake hissing at her feet.

One Icelandic winter, I made my way to a lonely waterfall on my own. I was well equipped but had not thought of bringing crampons. The ground was so icy I must have fallen over at least two dozen times and ended up going most of the way on all fours. A route that should have taken one hour took four and the next morning I was black and blue as if Thor and Odin had used me as a puck in their divine game of ice hockey. They made amends the following summer when I lost five kilos despite the magnificent food in Iceland. With 24 hours of daylight in midsummer, sleep became an overrated luxury for this particular photographer.

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CWC Gallery in Berlin is currently exhibiting Grey Matters. What do you hope your viewers will take away from this work?

From time to time, I give guided tours through the exhibition and I usually tell the visitors the following message: find an image you really like, try to blend out the surroundings, and you will find yourself at peace. If that happens, I am quite content. I once observed a girl standing in front of an image and she was crying. I dared to ask why she was so touched. Her answer was simple: because the images transport a feeling how our planet must have been when it was totally at peace with itself — before the human being arrived and changed everything. It was my turn then to be touched.

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You also spent some time at St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai for your “Where God Resides” project. What was it like spending time at the monastery?

Wonderful and very spiritual. I was a guest at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. The work on my project Where God Resides had brought me to this rocky wasteland. In the grey light of dawn some two dozen monks were scurrying along the passageways and across courtyards to their devotions in the candle-lit basilica. The soft glow of those candles drove out the darkness and bathed the sacred walls of Christendom’s oldest monastery in golden light.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Tom!

To order Tom’s latest photo book Grey Matters, click here. For more information about Tom, visit his website.  All images © Tom Jacobi.

Lee Nordbye: Exploring the New Frontier

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Lee Nordbye is a landscape and astral photographer based in Alberta, Canada. A gifted photographer, Lee has a masterful eye for capturing stunning and beautiful nature scenes that look like paintings you might find in the top museums in the world. After some time dabbling in freelance photography work, Lee recently began a new chapter in his career and launched his own photography business where he will delight and devote full-time to creating magnificent images that will undoubtedly inspire us for years to come. This week Lee speaks to atlas about the launch of his exciting new business, his trips this summer in Canada and Greenland, and what projects he is working on next.

Since we last featured your beautiful work in the summer, where have you been photographing recently? 

Lee Nordbye: I spent the summer exploring the Canadian Rockies near home, the Yukon in June, and Greenland in September.  It is always great to explore the mountains at my doorstep, but I have to say exploring two amazing northern frontiers was the highlight for me this summer. In the Yukon, I was amazed by the variety of landscapes.  Within a four hour drive of our home base, we got to see and document seascapes, deserts, and of course rugged mountains.  As for Greenland, let’s just say I am still piecing together my mind that was blown away. Being witness to the out-of-this-world scenery — whether it was amazing aurora lights shows over icebergs, pastel heavenly sunrises and sunsets or coastlines that were straight out of the movie Lord of the Rings — was truly a privilege.  Being able to document it with a camera alongside great friends was the proverbial icing on the cake.  I am already starting to plan my next trip which I hope to be four to six weeks long in 2018.

Congrats on launching your photography business. What inspired you to take the plunge?

Thank you very much.  It is with a lot of nervous excitement that I set out on this new stage of my career.  In terms of the inspiration to take the plunge, it is coming from the heart in that photography a passion of mine.  Life dealt me a new set of cards in the spring when I lost my job in the oil industry.  I jokingly say that perhaps one of the reasons I lost my job is because somehow my boss knew that at times I would sit in my office staring out the window wishing I was in the mountains capturing those special moments.  I truly believe that things happen for a reason and often those reasons turn out for the positive.  So here I am now trying to make a living by pursing a life passion.

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Is it easy or difficult to switch gears from being a freelance photographer without a formal photography business to now launching your own business?

The short answer is no; it is not easy.  The longer answer is photography is an extraordinarily tough business to become successful in regardless of whether you have formal training or not.  The digital age has made it a highly competitive industry and difficult to make a living.  The successful photographers are those that are about hard work and have a willingness to learn from their mistakes vs. relying on their creative talent.  Photographers need talent, but if you do not work your butt off and want to improve, you will not be very successful.

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If you look on social media like Twitter and Instagram, the number of people identifying themselves as photographers keeps expanding. How do you make yourself and your work stand out from the rest?

The holy grail of the photography business is finding your unique perspective in photography.  As you point out, unique perspectives are becoming as hard to find as the Holy Grail with the big increase in photographers.   I am not sure my artistic vision journey is much different than others.  It starts with focusing on me and what I am passionate about.  It is about exploring different ideas and focusing on those that bring the most excitement to me.  Secondary to this, I spend time on social media looking at other people’s photography to look for inspiration, not replication.  I follow photographers in many different genres because often inspiration comes from something on the other end of the spectrum.  My ultimate goal is that one day people will look at a photo without even knowing who took it and say “Hey, that is a great photo from Lee Nordbye.”

What are you excited the most about running your own business?

The ability to wake up every day and doing something that I am super passionate about.  To enjoy the moments like I did this morning with my very first client where they got excited to capture family photos in the famous Alpen glow. To hear the client at the end of shoot say I had so much fun this despite the 5:30 am wake up call.  To share special moments like this one, that I have had the privilege to experience in the past, with my customers is super exciting.

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Aside from your new business, are you working on any new projects?

To follow up from your earlier question, I set a goal this year to capture five unique perspectives on some of the iconic locations in the national parks.  I have three to five to date.  Before the end of the year, I need to finish this goal.  The funny thing is when I set this goal, I had a number of planned shots in mind but so far the three I have captured were inspired “in the moment.” It is great to get those planned shots, but the spur of the moment inspirations are very gratifying.

You are a father of two. Have your children caught the photography bug?

My oldest son goes through stages where he enjoys taking photos.  We have given him our very first point and shoot digital camera to work with.  However, currently he and his brother have the standard young person bug —  computer games.  I am hoping to reignite the bug next summer when we go on hikes together.

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Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Lee!

For more information about Lee, visit his website.  All images © Lee Nordbye.

LeeAnne Emrick: Celebrating Nature’s Glory

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LeeAnne Emrick is a nature photographer from Seattle. While growing up in West Virginia, she enjoyed shooting the waterfalls, wildlife, forests and other natural beauty in her state. She first began taking pictures as a hobby but then it eventually turned into a full-on passion. Now based in the Pacific Northwest, LeeAnne follows that same passion by capturing the abundant natural beauty in Seattle and the surrounding area. LeeAnne speaks to atlas this week about why she loves shooting waterfalls and nature and how she thinks more women can break into photography. (Editor’s Note: In this profound week in our nation’s history, we wanted to hone in on our nation’s natural beauty which LeeAnne Emrick captures so wonderfully. Enjoy!)

How did you first get started in photography?

LeeAnne Emrick: I began taking photos with a compact digital camera that I bought in anticipation of my son’s birth. Like any new mom, I took tons of photographs of my baby. I then became creative with lighting, posing, and clothing. That was eight years ago. It was not a glamorous beginning.

What do you look for in terms of composition when you are capturing an image?

Connection. I could give you a long list of technical aspects and rules that probably also go into my composition, but ultimately it is about connection. I need to feel connected to my subject. This is true of people, waterfalls, mountains, wildlife, the forest or the city. I need to see and feel something flowing from what’s in front of me into the lens, connecting us. There’s legitimately a little flutter in my chest when I know it has happened.

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Your work covers more than one genre. Which genre do you enjoy shooting the most and why?

Having grown up in West Virginia, I was fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful forests and oldest mountains in the country. Those mountains also happened to be full of waterfalls, which I began exploring shortly after the birth of my son. Initially, going to the waterfalls served as a metamorphical cleansing when I needed to clear my head and just breathe. Over time, though, I have explored many genres from portraits to landscapes; however, the waterfalls remain my constant, my go-to destination for photography. I love the solitude, not being able to hear anything or anyone and getting lost in the moment.

Are there any photographers who inspire you? If so, who?

My boyfriend, Addam, inspires me the most. We have learned so much together over the years, frequently taking turns being each other’s teachers and inspiration. It has been a tremendous symbiotic relationship in terms of creativity, especially during those times when one of us has been in a slump. Watching my boyfriend’s progression fueled my own progression — not out of competition, but out of inspiration.

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While there are growing numbers of women now, photography has been a historically male-dominated field. Do you have any thoughts about why that is so? What can be done to encourage more female photographers to break into the field, if anything?

In the past eight years, I have only had two female shooting partners in contrast to the many men with whom I have shot. I have come up with my own theories as to why photography is so male-dominated.  I always felt somehow slighted by this, having had this conversation with a couple of different photographers and feeling jealous of the relative ease with which they gained on-line and real life recognition. I do not know if it is because men are more naturally competitive and just make a more concerted effort to be seen or if there is some other reason for it but there is no denying its existence.

I think the most important thing women can do to break into the field and be a permanent fixture is to be true to themselves. Do not follow the trends and do what everyone else is doing. There are already enough people tripping all over one another trying to get one up on the last person to get that shot. One of the first things I do when I get to a shooting location is just sit and take it all in.  Let what is in front of you guide you and then you will feel what you are supposed to do. In addition, I think it is important to step back from photography social media sites. It is easy to get caught up in the rat race and lose sight of why we are doing this in the first place.  Be inspired by it. However, the moment it ceases to be inspiring and becomes anything else, that is when it is time to take a break, pick up your camera, and shoot.

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Are you self-taught or did you take formal photography classes?

I am self-taught. I read books, blogs, magazines and my camera’s user manual. I also had some great teachers. I looked at other people’s work and learned a tremendous amount about what worked and what did not work. I talked to my father a lot who dabbled in film photography while I was a teenager. Once I got the hang of the technical aspect of what the camera and the lenses could do, I let myself go and focused on what I could feel in terms of the images I was trying to create.

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How do you see your work evolving over the next few years? Are you working on any new projects?

I am a full-time high school teacher and a mom to a rambunctious eight-year-old boy. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of planning projects when it comes to photography. My best work has usually happened without any prior planning on my part. I just get lucky with the small slivers of time on the weekends or in the summer. “Sage Sunset” (the first image at top) was a spur-of-the-moment opportunity I was able to seize.

For more information about LeeAnne, visit her website. All images © LeeAnne Emrick.