DPP Home Profiles Robert Glenn Ketchum - Master Of Transitions

Monday, November 12, 2007

Robert Glenn Ketchum - Master Of Transitions

How crisis became opportunity for one of North America's most celebrated landscape photographers

robert glenn ketchumAfter 40 years of developing a signature style and body of work, Robert Glenn Ketchum found himself confronted by dramatic and simultaneous changes in his personal and professional life, which precipitated a departure and reinvention of his photographic expression. What followed was an entirely new direction for both himself and his image-making technique and vision.

As a master of landscape photography, noted for his passion for the environment and efforts to protect America's vanishing wilderness, Ketchum's portfolio reveals a legacy dedicated to matter-of-fact, scientific representations of the places he endeavors to protect. His style and purpose led to a natural comparison of his work to that of Eliot Porter and resulted in a retrospective of his work alongside that of Porter's at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2006, and a companion volume, Regarding The Land: Robert Glenn Ketchum and the Legacy of Eliot Porter, published in the same year.

It was about this time that major changes were beginning that would take Ketchum and his work in totally new directions. Personally, Ketchum was faced with a breakup of his marriage. Professionally, his skills as a large-format film photographer and wet-darkroom expert were rapidly becoming obsolete as the advent of the digital era called for immediacy of content delivery.

On that, Ketchum remarks, “There has been an inevitable intersection between my work and digital technology. No editor that I work with wants to receive film anymore. Everybody wants to see JPEGs in five minutes; it's like, ‘Now, or don't even talk to me again.'”

As if these challenges weren't enough at once, Ketchum also found changes afoot in his successful partnership with Chinese embroiderers, who had been meticulously translating his photography into large-scale screen embroideries. The studio with which he had formed a partnership was losing its government support, and the concept of translating photographs to embroideries had met with such success that the idea was being copied, if poorly, by other studios in the Suzhou district where Ketchum had forged his enterprise.

The confluence of these events could have broken a less resilient, resourceful creative. But in the midst of this, Ketchum drew upon his background as a fine artist and moved forward—rather than in despair—in a hopeful embrace of an entirely new path. He incorporated these changes, both personal and professional, and began exploring the possibilities of the digital darkroom in a collaboration with Michael Jones at West Coast Imaging, the service bureau that Ketchum has trusted to faithfully scan, archive and deliver his landscape work.


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