by Judy Spiers
Ron Warfield is a photographer of many years’ experience, and his primary subject has been the majestic Mount Rainier. During the recent Open Studio Tour, my husband, Mark, and I visited his photographic art exhibit in the Holly Hut shop in Eatonville.
“Everyone in Washington has a favorite mountain,” he said, “but there is only one mountain. It is the only mountain.”
Mr. Warfield has been expressing his singular devotion by photographing Mount Rainier for the last twenty-six years – and in all seasons.
The above photograph of Mount Rainer was taken by Ron Warfield.
“I photographed the lenticular cloud in 1997 – the one on the front of the Tacoma News Tribune. I shot photos of Mount Rainier in 1999 when weather patterns produced world-record snowfalls.”
The intimate relationship Ron has with the mountain derives from the fact that he worked there for years as a park service ranger. He has shared what he’s seen and learned with people from all over the world.
“A film maker came to the mountain one day when I was giving a guided tour to kids, and he asked for a ranger. I said, ‘Fall in line.’ That man spent the next six hours listening and filming, all the while I was teaching.”
In one, taken above Myrtle Falls, two boulders hold back a pond. Cascades of pure, fresh-air water gush between them, while above, Mount Rainier gazes over fields of wild flowers.
Anyone who has been a photographer through so many years must have seen vast changes in the profession, so I asked Ron to share his thoughts.
“We shot film when I began; there was no digital. But all that has changed. Now, there is only one place left in the country, in Los Angeles, that can develop the film I shoot. And there is only one publisher left – also in California- that can make plates from transparencies rather than digital files.”
We hadn’t before considered that photography may be at risk of loss to modernity. We wondered why that matters – what is different that is so worth preserving?
While Ron talked, another photograph caught our eyes. This one was taken from further south than the first. In it, flowers sprinkle the foreground like salt and pepper, with a mix of purple-blue lupines and yellow-eyed daisies. It captures one of Mother Nature’s innumerable floral designs.
“I don’t enhance my photos,” Warfield explained. “What you see is what I actually saw on the day I took them. I don’t add or take away from what was there – as so often happens today – and that can be important.”
He directed our attention to another photo. In it, clear skies serve as a backdrop to Mount Rainier. A band of forest trees below the mountain separates it from the mist along the waterline of a lake and the mountain’s reflection upon its waters. Beneath, a wide spray of wild lavender lupines is splayed in the foreground like a hand of cards against deep, sky-blue waters.
“That’s Reflection Lake,” Ron told us. “You will never see this landscape again. It’s gone forever. There’s a highway there now where the flowers were. This photo, which is untouched in the making of it, preserves a history that once was and never will be again.”
We felt a hollowness – a sense of loss, which extended to the uncertain future of photography.
“When the world of black and white first went to color, everyone switched and the finesse of black and white was largely lost.
“Digital cameras are doing the same thing Kodak Brownies did a hundred years ago. It put the means of capturing an image in the hands of everyone. Today, cameras are everywhere – even on our phones. They are convenient and expedient, but that speed comes at a price. We are rapidly losing the knowledge base of what it takes to make really good photography. There is a phenomenal amount of education and experience that goes into consistently producing top-quality photographs.”
It’s true, we agreed, that anyone can snap off countless photos until he or she takes one that will do. But that approach seems to draw heavily on luck, and much is lost in detail.
Ron elaborated. “More and more, people are becoming satisfied with ‘good enough’ rather than pushing photography to higher attainments of excellence. These photos you are looking at today are the culmination of my lifetime of learning. That’s what makes them so extraordinary.”
That was a proud statement, which came from the lips of a humble man. Ron paused thoughtfully before continuing.
“Classical photography is art – just as surely as oil painting. But it’s as much at risk of disappearing as the lupines that once grew where the highway now is along Reflection Lake. Once it’s gone, it could be gone forever.”
That comment made us really stop and think. Perhaps we all owe it to ourselves to take the time to learn about that kind of photography and to care enough to preserve it.
We concluded our tour with a photograph taken from Longmire at sunset. Shadows were fast-falling all around; lavender-tinted snow clung to Mount Rainier like too-moist frosting, while winds at the top blew up soft, misty billows of snow.
Mount Rainier is a national treasure that is known all over the world. So is Ron Warfield, the photographer who belongs to the mountain. We are privileged to have this world-class photographer here in our own local area.
As we took our leave, we purchased Ron’s 2012 calendar featuring photographs selected by his own hands. It will be our way to enjoy a different view of Mount Rainier every month all next year, for the Mountain is very much in my heart. I grew up on a farm in Enumclaw at the foot of Mount Rainier, and she had oversight on all our life’s activities.
To see additional photos of Ron’s work go to www.AGpix.com/Warfield, (an overall site for many photographers), and click on “Images” in the blue bar at the top.
The Phototripusa site http://www.phototripusa.com/e_gallery_0999.html has some of his images as well. Ron’s “Magnificent Mount Rainier” gallery ran in September 1999, but the story and images are timeless.
If you wish to follow up on any of those images, Ron can be reached by email at email@example.com, or by phone at (360) 832-3061.
© 2011 Judy Spiers