Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Essay #012

Galen Rowell, Participatory
Wilderness Photographer
1940 - 2002


Barbara & Galen Rowell at the Charter meeting
of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA)
in Ft. Meyers, Florida, 1995

essay and photo by Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph


The mountain light shines a little less brightly now in Nepal, India, Pakistan, China, Tibet, Africa, Alaska, Canada, Siberia, New Zealand, Norway and Patagonia; places where Galen Rowell left his mark.

The world lost a wilderness giant in the wake of the tragic plane crash that killed both Galen and his wife, Barbara, this August. He was a man revered by mountain climbers and photographers alike for his dynamic portraits of the earth as a living, breathing entity. Galen's art 'became the adventure' and visa versa; and in the process it embodied an unforgettable emotional connection that is clearly discernible in his imagery.

There are some lessons tucked between the lines of his story, one of which is to celebrate our passions in every pursuit. Passions count. Don't fritter away life's precious hours and minutes with untenable schemes. Do things right the first time. Attend to the tiniest detail with the same craftsmanship and care that you afford the gross. Reach out and touch others with your thoughts. Think big. Move in close. Dig deep. Stay vigilant. Reach for the stars.

Galen's life teaches us that today may well be our last. We might, without realizing it, be standing one fatal step away from our final moments on earth. Did Galen know it? I think not, but certainly his adventures took him to some lofty summits where he was able to bear witness to the sheer magnitude and magnificence of Earth. That kind of experience forever changes a person.

Imagine what he must have felt during first-ever ascents of Himalayan peaks such as Cholatse and the Great Trango Tower, or while standing at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tansania. Standing on such peaks he had to have felt a certain insignificance, and he must have been consumed by some eternal truths that escape some of the rest of us.

I know that I was so touched recently while visiting the central highlands of the Andes in Ecuador. The sheer precipitousness of the drops and the thinness of the mountain air at the higher elevations are constant reminders of our diminutive size in relation to that grand nature. The sounds are silent there to be sure. The perspectives are staggering.

Someone like Galen was probably more prepared than the rest of us to let tomorrow take him for his Domke was already brimming with exceptional moments. As Reed Johnson of the Los Angeles Times said recently of Galen: "Galen Rowell observed life from the high ground. By raising his vision he elevated himself and, by extension, us."

How about you?

Remember, time is of the essence.




2002 Dr. Ellen K.Rudolph
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