|Message from jleavell
For me photography has always been intimately associated with travel. During the trip from Haneda airport to downtown Tokyo in the summer of 1963, I asked Marion Morehead, a local Baptist missionary, to purchase a camera for me. I handed him the princely sum of $125 and he showed up at breakfast the next morning with a 35mm Canonet rangefinder. My first serious camera, a Nikon F with a 200mm telephoto lens, was acquired in Hong Kong the following spring under the guidance of Professor C.S. Wong, Academic Dean at Hong Kong Baptist College where I was discovering for the first time the joys of teaching history. The selection of images in this show is dedicated to Professor Wong in gratitude for the various life-changing experiences through which he mentored me in the year following the completion of my undergraduate education. Neither he nor I envisioned at that time the digital revolution that has transformed photography in recent years. Kodachrome 64 was the hot new film in 1964. Pixels were unheard of.
I entered the digital world quite early. This fact accounts for some of the images in this show being smaller than others. Those photographs were taken with early 2 megapixel cameras. Despite their limitations, I have chosen to include some of these.
The influence of my early shooting with the 200mm telephoto lens is amply illustrated in my work here on display. From the outset I found the telephoto compression of background and foreground appealing. This was later reinforced by my academic study of East Asian landscape painting which often embraces a similar vision. This is particularly true of works by Sesshu, my favorite Japanese Buddhist artist.
Another characteristic of photographs captured with a telephoto lens is isolation. The emphasis is on details extracted from a broader visual environment. Few of the images in this current show have an expansive quality. Most are tight studies of elements extracted from a larger scene.
Color plays a prominent role in what interests me photographically. If there is any explanation for this that emerges from my upbringing, it could be the negative influence of the stark, colorless West Texas landscape in which I grew up during the cruel drought years of the 1950s. I never saw red or gold autumn leaves until I was living in Japan during my late 20s. The predominant physical feature in my home area is a sky readily observable from horizon to horizon. There were and still are no tall buildings or trees to obscure the vast expanse. Even the evocative summer thunder clouds of northern New Mexico are rarely in evidence on the Edwards Plateau of Texas. The semi-desert environment has none of the dramatic power of red rock canyons found further west. The pale blue sky and beige landscape of my home may well have made my response to color more pronounced, when I finally saw it in nature.
There is no question color is powerful for all of us. It is my hope that among these photographs you will also discern my appreciation for form. Composition may be the most significant creative choice a photographer makes.
In very few cases were any of these images taken at leisure. Most decisions about lighting, subject placement, and lens focal length had to made in seconds rather than minutes or hours because I was part of a group, often a Furman student group, whose interests and agenda were academic rather than photographic. This necessary rapid response is one of the special challenges of travel photography when embedded in such a group. One cannot wait for the cloud shadow to move away from the prime subject because the group is moving on to consider the next cultural artifact. As a faculty leader you may even be responsible for pontificating about that next cultural artifact. In my retirement I look forward to waiting for the cloud shadows to move.
Special thanks to Judy Leavell, my wife, printer, most discerning critic, and favorite traveling companion. She rarely has a camera in hand.