CREATIVE PEAKS: Zen Behind the Camera Lens

By on November 17, 2015

Photographer channels peace and calm into his meditative Teton images.

Hermanson’s Warhol-esque bison shot was captured as the animal passed right in front of his car. (Photo: Zeb Hermanson)

Hermanson’s Warhol-esque bison shot was captured as the animal passed right in front of his car. (Photo: Zeb Hermanson)

Jackson, WY – Whenever Zeb Hermanson picks up his camera and looks at the wildlife and landscape through the lens, he enters a place of peace and calm he can only describe as “zen.” It’s a meditative experience.

“I can focus in on a special place in the world or the plants and animals, and I kind of lose myself for a bit,” he said.

He uses that feeling to create images that reflect that state of mind. They are elegant, simple and zen-like.

Hermanson shows eight of his photographs, printed in large format on stretched canvas, at a show opening at The Rose on Friday.

A love of wildlife and wild places can be traced back to when Hermanson was a child growing up in Wisconsin. As a little boy he would beg his mother to let him stay up past his bedtime to watch “Wild America” and “Nature” on PBS.

Although he earned a scholarship to study art in college, he found himself drawn to biology. He moved to Jackson in 2010, called to the community on the recommendation of a friend and by the mountains.

He arrived as an educator, working in special education at Colter Elementary School. He now works at Trailside Gallery.

The scenery in his new home was so stunning he couldn’t stop taking pictures with his phone. Not only was he constantly shooting, he spent hours obsessively editing his cellphone pictures, until he finally bought himself a point and shoot camera. The camera greatly improved the quality of images he could capture.

After experimenting with his new camera, he started to save for a professional camera and finally bought a DSLR and a high-quality lens. He taught himself, obsessively reading books and articles and then attending trainings and working with members of the Teton Photography Group.

Photography was a creative outlet for Hermanson. He did it for himself. But as he posted pictures on social media, people started asking if they were for sale. The show at The Rose is his first real exhibition.

It is a retrospective of his young career and shows the variety of influences on his work. In particular, Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol, though very different, inspire him.

One picture of the mountains with blowing snow and dramatic lighting he created in an “Ansel Adams style,” he said.

Another image of a bison that crossed in front of Hermanson’s car pays homage to Warhol and his work portraying endangered species. It’s a tight shot of the animal’s head composed in electric colors Hermanson created playing with levels and adjustments in Photoshop.

Both Adams and Warhol are incredibly different, but there is something timeless about their work, Hermanson said. While their images vary in style, all are usually simple and powerful compositions, he explained.

Hermanson printed the images for the show in large scale on stretched canvas.

He loves the aesthetic of canvas. It always looks perfect, and people don’t have to worry about the reflection or glare. It’s easy to hang and gives the work gravitas, as sometimes photography isn’t viewed as fine art, he said.

Hermanson relayed that some people who have seen his photos thought at first they were paintings. Finding equal enjoyment shooting wildlife and landscapes, he heads outside with his camera without a plan or agenda.

“Living in the Tetons, I know I’m always going to come across something amazing,” he said. “The most important thing is to not force the magic or an amazing moment. I go out, remain present and see what I can find.”

Sometimes it’s bison or elk. Other times it’s a storm creating intriguing light. Sometimes it’s something easily overlooked.

One of the images in the exhibition features vultures, which together are called a wake, in a tree. The birds aren’t traditionally beautiful, but with the natural light and the big stark tree, the composition fit Hermanson’s style perfectly, he said. It’s stark and simple and zen-like.

“Backcountry Zen,” an art exhibition by Zeb Hermanson, reception is 7 to 10 p.m., Friday at The Rose. An after party with DJ Oh!Nassi will follow. PJH

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