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Essays on Kenneth Parker

Exposure
Elemental Beauty


Each of Kenneth Parker’s photographs has a story to tell. His breathtaking images of immaculate landscapes are carefully studied and expertly executed.

Traveling to remote, pristine wilderness around the globe, Kenneth Parker captures images that reveal the disturbing beauty of some of the world’s most mysterious and untouched places. The determined artist is known to haul 75 to 85 pounds of large-format camera equipment as he seeks the perfect site location, often backpacking five to ten days into the wild. The farther he goes, the more he becomes immersed in a profound sense of place in his relentless attempt to discover Beauty.

"For me, beauty is an argument that refuses dismissal," says Parker. "It brings glimpses of the unrelenting ocean-love which will not release the enthralled artist. I endeavor to capture these gentle little alternatives to the fearsome insanity and insensitivity of a chaotic world."

With a professional background in oceanography, Parker has long been fascinated with the natural world. His early experience as a field assistant to fine art color pioneer Eliot Porter helped him to isolate and capture mysteries in nature that he struggled for decades to unravel as a PhD oceanographer in global climate change. Paul Caponigro and William Giles have also been important artistic mentors to Parker since the 1970s. Following his career in natural science, today Parker fully commits his life focus to photography.

While his work has taken him to such far away places as the Cambodian temples at Angkor and the spiritual monuments of Myanmar, Parker has also uncovered some of the most mystical of places in his own country. The United States still possesses thousands of miles of undeveloped areas and pristine landscapes. With fifty-eight national parks and hundreds of other federally managed forests and wilderness areas, the United States offers much natural beauty to be explored. Some of Parker’s most arresting images have been captured in the lithified sand dunes of Utah, the canyons of Arizona, the volcanic coasts of Hawaii, and the beach cliffs of Washington. He is currently hard at work on a new portfolio from his cherished neighboring Big Sur with intimate compositions of tide pools, granitic outcrops and powerful wave crashes.

[Parker] is inexorably drawn to the elemental earth/ocean forces and their compelling magic, translating into arresting imagery the depths of these feelings, rich in power, radiant.

Critics and colleagues note the impressive way in which Parker uses the element of light in his photographs. Oftentimes he spends several days contemplating the changing light of a composition before completing a single exposure. The late photography great Ruth Bernhard said, "The way in which Ken works with the light is simply inspiring. It feels as if he has an arrangement with God." It is clear that Parker’s work is produced with expert vision and an insightful patience.

For me, beauty is an argument that refuses dismissal. It arouses a fire stirring dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul.

Throughout the shooting and printing process, Parker is committed to maintaining the integrity of the original image. He executes printing on scanned 4x5 files, carefully avoiding any manipulation or alteration of his photographs. Using state-of-the-art controls that correct for color balance, contrast, and burning and dodging, Parker remains true to the original light and color captured in his work. His level of precision is so great that usually only one or two distinctive images will result from one of his long journeys.

Kenneth Parker Photographs

Kenneth Parker is a large format landscape colorist working principally in remote pristine wilderness areas throughout the world where he has trekked and kayaked extensively. He is inexorably drawn to the elemental earth/ocean forces and their compelling magic, translating into arresting imagery the depths of these feelings, rich in power, radiant. His early experience as fine art color pioneer Eliot Porter’s field assistant helped to nurture a loving eye devoted to isolating and capturing the mysteries in nature that he struggled for decades to unravel as a research scientist in oceanography and global climate change. Paul Caponigro has also been a principal influence on his development as a consistent mentor to Parker since the mid-70s.

Most of Parker’s photographs are captured over the course of 5-10 day backpacking excursions hauling 75-85 pounds of large-format camera equipment as he becomes immersed in a profound sense of place. Often several days are spent contemplating the changing light and intimacy of a composition before completing a single exposure. Usually only one or two distinctive images will result from one of these journeys.

Over the past three decades, Parker has produced a body of work in several formats that has been widely exhibited and published. While a great deal of that time was occupied with his natural science career, he consistently maintained and exercised the creative passions that have now fully committed his life focus to photography.

Paul Caponigro writes: Parker’s stunning prints have impressed me and will no doubt also impress you for their beauty of craft as well as content. Those who will give sufficient time to discover what has been wrought through his efforts will no doubt be rewarded. He has met and mastered the shape of his own passion and vision.

And from the lips of the late great Ruth Bernhard at her home: Ken is my favorite color photographer. The way in which he works with the light is inspiring. It feels as if he has an arrangement with God.

Parker is currently producing a new portfolio from Big Sur with intimate compositions of coastal granitic outcrops, tide pools and powerful wave crashes. And a major coffee table publication edited by Frans Lanting is currently underway of his multi-expedition imagery from the remote kingdom of Mustang on the Tibetan Plateau. The Dalai Lama, who is contributing an introduction, has called Mustang "the best Tibetan Buddhism in the world". Together with compelling landscapes, cultural and festival depictions, the volume will feature the monumental 14th century monasteries lying at its heart, which have been the site of a decade of painstaking restorations on what are being recognized as the most magnificent Tantric fresco wall murals ever uncovered in the Tibetan world.

Printing is carefully executed by the artist on scanned 4x5 files using state-of-the-art controls as in any traditional color darkroom that correct for color balance, contrast, burning and dodging without alteration or manipulation of the original image — the integrity of which is maintained true to the light and color captured during exposure. Parker maintains a strong philosophical commitment to this approach.

Fuji Crystal Archive chromogenic prints represent the most permanent photographic color emulsion media available today, providing a 100-year life expectancy without fading. The combination of resolution, color quality/accuracy, and archival longevity ensure the very highest level of quality for serious collectors. In addition all prints are guaranteed for life against any fading or discoloration, and would be otherwise replaced by the artist upon request. All images are produced in limited editions of 45.

Representation: Weston Gallery (Carmel), John Stevenson Gallery (NYC), Barry Singer Gallery (San Francisco), Ralls Collection (Washington DC), Photographs Do Not Bend (Dallas), Ordover Gallery (San Diego), Marigold Arts (Santa Fe), and others nationwide. Exhibitions: Smithsonian Institution, Oakland Museum, Los Angeles County and San Diego Museums of Natural History, California Academy of Sciences (SF), Center for Photographic Art (Carmel), Mumm Cuvée Napa Main Gallery (Ansel Adams Gallery) Education: Biology and Environmental Studies Bachelor of Science degrees (University of Pennsylvania, University of California), Ph.D. Oceanography (University of Washington)



Buddhist Earth: Sacred Places/Sacred Work

Once again the distressed plight of the Tibetan has risen to the fore of the world stage. After decades of human and cultural genocide as by now a marginalized minority in their own land, desperate against the Chinese hypocrisies surrounding their world-event Olympic Games, and emboldened by the courage of the already iconic red-clad Burmese monks marching in protest down the streets of Rangoon... these gentle but tragically trodden souls gathered their strength to do the same in their besieged capital of Lhasa. Inspired by the lucid, compassionate vision of their ever-forgiving, ever-inspiring, ever-humorous and disarmingly elfin leader the Dalai Lama who fearlessly shows us all The Way, much of the world knows in their hearts the embracing truth the Buddhist paradigm holds in the realm of human spirituality. Our respect and ineffable affection identifies His Holiness as a rare jewel in the world's swelling seas of madness.

High atop the Tibetan Plateau lies the extremely remote and mythic kingdom of Mustang, Tibetan Buddhism's sacred birthplace and last authentic vestige of an unfathomable culture... as yet untouched by the brutal Chinese or modernity. It is an ancient land of high wild Himalayan valleys, perched among the world's most unspoiled and distant wildernesses. Monumental 14th century monasteries at its heart have been the site of a decade of insanely painstaking restorations on what are being recognized as the most spectacular giant Tantric fresco wall murals yet uncovered in the Tibetan world. Prior to being restored to their former glory, the magnificent temples of Lo Monthang (as chronicled in NOVA's superb The Lost Treasures of Tibet on PBS) are soon to be presented within their forbidding high desert landscape and culture in a massive coffee-table volume.

I have also been profoundly immersed in the spooky mysteries of Cambodia's 1000-year-old temples at Angkor... religiously arising in pre-dawn blackness to chase the preciously elusive trickles of glowing sunrise. These images were possible only amid the merciless heat and sweltering humidity of rain-splashed monsoons, when the rich near-phosphorescence of moist multi-hued swaths of lichens and algae are revealed awash in a shrouded softness of light. As if to reclaim these mind-boggling creations back to the earth from whence they came, the great ruins appear inexorably riddled with magnificent old silk cotton "spong" trees whose massive hawsers of tangled roots encroach irresistibly through colossal stone walls and towers. Supremely treasured examples of Earth’s rapidly disappearing sacred sites, they are thereby graced with a profound sense of ageless obscurity: nature and art entwined.

But it is the nearly stone age and equally intense Buddhist culture of Myanmar (Burma) that breaks my heart at the pitiable injustices suffered by one of the most engaging and personable peoples I have encountered anywhere on Earth. A powerful re-immersion into the same spiritual theme spawned for me in Tibet gave rise to imagery of yet more, if strikingly different, ancient monuments of worship. Never missing a breathlessly mystical sunrise to climb atop one after another of these eerie, castle-like temples, I marveled at how proudly they nestled in the tall grasses and trees among a veritable sea of towering spires – many of shimmering pure gold – that seemed to spawn across a legendary plain. Like some lost kingdom in a magical land, grand sacred Bagan was mesmerizing, indeed spellbinding. I can still sense the gorgeously glowing magic-hour golds and vermilions gracing its magnificence... as long stately herds of seemingly fairytale white oxen loped through an utterly surreal landscape.

There are no people in these images, yet their marks of ceaseless toil and ebullient spirit are everywhere present. To me, this poignantly forebodes a haunting sense of how it may all soon be taken away. We feel it in the half-closed towering sacred edifices of beleaguered Myanmar, and in Mustang's previously-crumbling temples. I witness their brave hard-bitten Tibetan souls embracing such astonishing art and landscape with all the love in their sweet untrammeled hearts... knowing in their core the poignancy of impermanence. There is an almost ironic purity and innocence in their kind, compassionate eyes. While such words are tossed about all too frequently in our lexicon, their aptness within context of such an extraordinary tradition is often too painful for me to bear. Just this very week the Lamas who grace us at this opening stared straight into their own Buddhist transience as wildfires raged all around their sacred mountain retreat from where they've been evacuated – which was indeed singed. And then a few days later the nation of Nepal that still protects the precious last forbidden kingdom of Mustang depicted in these photographs bids goodbye to one of the oldest monarchies that still remained. It must now write a new constitution for its emergent democracy.

With enough time and care, one sees the purity and serenity of Buddhist consciousness and culture forever etched into the very muscle fibers of the heart. Moved as much as by any wilderness I have ever happened upon, the light and form of their lands have the power to evoke in me an arresting image that can make one feel immersed... as if actually willing to climb deep inside its own special world and somehow inhabit it.

Khalil Gibran wrote, "We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting". For me, beauty is an argument that refuses dismissal. It arouses a fire stirring dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I am forever listening so intently to my own inner voice.... like a melody softly soaring thru my atmosphere. It brings opposites together. It brings glimpses of the unrelenting ocean-love which will not release the enthralled artist. I endeavor to capture these gentle little alternatives to the fearsome insanity and insensitivity of a chaotic world. With the right concentration it sometimes seems we can create the very light we are looking for. But it happens best from a stillpoint, the calm center of ourselves, that place the Buddhist mind must ultimately come to occupy within our own hearts... indeed when we surrender to grace itself flowing through us.

Kenneth Parker's early experience as fine art color pioneer Eliot Porter’s field assistant helped him to isolate and capture mysteries in nature that he struggled for decades to unravel as a PhD oceanographer in global climate change. Paul Caponigro and William Giles have also brought essential influences into his development as close, consistent mentors since the 70s. His work is represented by The Weston Gallery in Carmel and other leading galleries and collections nationwide, and has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, Oakland Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Los Angeles County and San Diego Museums of Natural History.

I would like to personally acknowledge the generous support and contributions to this exhibition by the following persons: Michael Honack and the American Himalayan Foundation, Professor Brett Greider, the venerable Lamas of the Vajrayana Foundation and Pema Osel Ling Tibetan Center, Ordover Gallery, Peterson Conway, Heather Cauldwell.