Gus Foster: American Panoramas
Essays by James L. Enyeart, Edward T. Hall and Evan M. Maurer
Museum of New Mexico Press
(2021, 160 pp.)
"Modern times intruded on my ancient scenario," writes photographer Gus Foster in his field notes.
Viewing Foster's majestic natural landscapes, one might think of the early work of explorer and geological survey photographer William Henry Jackson, a hero of Foster. The younger man found himself capturing on film some of the same Western landscapes Jackson photographed, such as the view of Fremont Peak from Seneca Lake, Wyoming, circa 1878.
Foster was also an explorer and mountain climber, a man of 20th-century Einsteinian science, obsessed by time as conveyed by film. His first forays were in the early 1970s, when Foster was driving around California photographing through his car window -- "a process which lent itself to self-examination and a means of reconstructing the feelings and experiences of my travels," as he relates to essayist James Enyeart here in this stellar retrospective work.
In those early films, he would drive 60 miles in 60 minutes and make one continuous shot -- it "evoked a meditative feeling," he recalls.
That experiment led him to try the Cirkut panorama camera, invented in 1902, a heavy, cumbersome instrument used to create wide-format panoramas of groups of people like military assemblies or graduating school classes.
Foster loved the idea that if you started at one end of the shot in a group portrait and ran around like crazy to get behind the end shot, you could get photographed twice -- which he tried to replicate in a studio self-portrait in 1980, shedding a piece of clothing as he raced counterclockwise in the direction of the lens, ultimately defeated by the enthusiastic dog, which he tripped over.
Subsequently, he discovered the 35mm Globuscope camera in 1982, wonderfully light and handheld, which made a 360-degree revolution in 8/10th of a second.
He embarked on his period of "time photographs," which made 360-degree revolutions in 8 seconds, compared to 40 seconds for the larger camera. In one breathtaking shot, he could capture the 60 minutes at 60 mph he had previously arrested in moving film.
In these "time warps," the camera is moving through space, while also completing a circuit. Within these few seconds, the objects have shifted, as time is always in flux.
The panorama requires careful viewing, from left to right, because the objects at one end have shifted, and transformed, by the other end.
From the 1980s though the early 2000s, Foster dedicated himself to climbing and photographing the peaks of the Southwest -- Mount Sneffels, Colorado; Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado; Mount Whitney, California; Riggs Glacier, Alaska; Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico.
He also chronicled horizontally expanses of U.S. food production in the Midwest (he was born in Wisconsin) -- stretches of cranberry bogs, wild rice and wheat.
"Charismatic voodoo" is how Larry Bell in his Forward describes Foster's work. He has lived next door to the artist in Taos for 40 years.
C'mon in the Water's Fine
By Ken O'Neill
Nighthawk Press (2021, 249 pp.)
"The unlived life is not worth examining," asserts the author, wryly rephrasing Socrates.
A lifelong passion for paddling across waterways marks this serene memoir by artist and retired Silicon Valley engineer Ken O'Neill.
The Canadian-born author, who grew up in Vancouver in the late 1940s, and ultimately transported to Taos in 1990, O'Neill has sailed and kayaked lakes, seas and rivers from the Indian River in the Pacific Northwest to the Río Grande.
His father was in the Royal Canadian Air Force, his mother of French Canadian parents; at age 8 he contracted rheumatic fever and overheard the doctor tell his mother that he would never be able to play sports or do strenuous exercise.
Yet the boy had made up his mind.
He first learned to navigate the wild waters as a Sea Scout, thanks to the zeal of a nun in his school, Sister Angela. She persuaded a retired Canada Merchant Marine to commandeer a lifeboat and teach 30 lucky boys who wanted to learn about the sea, starting with maneuvers in Burrard Inlet.
"That was the beginning of a life on the sea for me," writes the author. "Tasting the salt on my hands, blistered by pulling on oars … tying the bowline correctly and swiftly at the wharf, all of this with never a hint of seasickness, like some of the boys experienced."
From the maritime coast of British Columbia, stretching 16,000 miles and peppered by more than 40,000 islands, notes the author, the "playground" of his youth afforded O'Neill vast seafaring experience, from working on fish packers to learning how to navigate a "tippy" kayak. (There is a short history of the kayak, fashioned by the Inuit.)
The author narrates adventurous exploits, from octopus-wrestling to running triathlons, free diving to guiding kayak expeditions in Tierra del Fuego and paddling around the Sea of Cortez.
Near misses and heart-stopping moments with bears, O'Neill chose the path less paddled.