Marian Matta is a master of panoramic mountain photography. As you can see in his online gallery, he has a great ability to capture dramatic vistas from perspectives high up in the mountains. His photos are simply stunning. We have been in sporadic email contact for several years, and recently I asked if he would participate in an email interview, to learn more about his photography. Below are Marian’s answers to my questions.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am 48 yrs old and live in Ostrava, Czech republic. Photography is still just a hobby, so I have to attend my normal full-time job. I work for an IT company as a tradesman and sell GPS navigations, PC’s, notebooks and accessories. But photography has been with me my whole life. I’ve all the time been so close to it. Even as a student in the 70’s. At that time, I was longing for photography with a mountain theme but I had no possibilities to buy a camera and shoot it. So I started around 2005 when the digital camera boom started here. I was really inspired with pictures from Patagonia and Dolomites. And so it began… I’ve started step by step to shoot panoramic pictures and I’d like to improve my skills and knowledge in this.
At 6:00am this morning, I met up with 12 friends in Ouray to head out for a day of cat-skiing in the mountains near Purgatory. Packed in four vehicles, we headed up Red Mountain Pass in the darkness and dumping snow. Several miles up the pass from Ouray, my friends in the lead truck noticed a set of tire tracks disappearing off the road into oblivion. Anybody who has ever driven the pass knows how scary steep and treacherous this road is – in places carved through sheer cliff mountainsides. A closer look down into the canyon revealed the dim glow of headlights in the bottom about 400 feet below.
Today I hiked and snowboarded down Mt. Sneffels (see the riding photos in the next post). Here’s the classic view looking from the summit into Blue Lakes Basin. Notice all the ugly brown snow?
When it’s windy in the western states, dust blows from the deserts and ends up smothering the mountains. It’s a phenomenon that has probably happened naturally through the ages, but has become much worse in recent decades due in part to large scale grazing which erodes the desert soils. I’ve even heard that some of the dust blows all the way across the Pacific from huge dust storms in China!
In any case, the dust has a terrible effect not only on the snowpack but on the entire watershed. The dark dust absorbs much more solar radiation than pure white snow, causing a rapid meltdown of the snowpack. In heavy snow years like this year, it could cause flooding problems. In light snow years, it can cause premature meltdown, leading to drought conditions during the summer.
When I first stumbled across Kevin Thurner’s website, I was completely amazed and inspired by his collection of photos from the North Cascades and beyond. I recently emailed Kevin some questions to learn more about his photography.
You have an extensive portfolio of photos from the Washington Cascades. What is it about these mountains that draw you so?
This goes right to the point I suppose, but is tougher to answer than you might expect. I’ve sometimes thought of my time in these mountains as a kind of relationship. It’s been a progression of sorts as most things are.
Not being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know much about the Cascades for quite some time. I gradually became aware of their alpine reputation in a very general way, mostly through news accounts of the Himalayan feats of various Northwest climbers. I remember at one point coming across a few small photos of the North Cascades in an outdoor magazine that tantalized me, but offered little more to go on. They remained in the back of my mind as a kind of mysteriously veiled mountain kingdom.
In the early 80’s I hitchhiked through parts of Washington State more than once and glimpsed Mt Rainier for the first time. Then a few years later, I saw a copy of the Beckey Guides in a climbing store in Boulder, Colorado. The pictures in those books confirmed to me that these were mountains of an altogether different character than the ranges I’d explored. They even intimidated me a little and I began to think of them as mountains of a different caliber.
My first year in the North Cascades was punctuated by many memorable mountain sojourns, but none as remarkable as the four days I spent over Labor Day weekend approaching and climbing Luna Pk. It was my first view of the Picket Range, and man was I hooked. It became clear to me on that trip that these awesome mountains were within my grasp. What I lacked in technical ability I could make up for with stamina, good route-finding and perseverance. These mountains exuded a different kind of wildness, and their northern, alpine character appealed to me immensely.
My time in the North Cascades has often been tremendously satisfying; and now I have been around them long enough to have built up a rather strong affection. It is still very much a Mountain Kingdom to me.
Kenzo Okawa is a mountain photographer in China with an amazing portfolio of images from the Siguniangshan, or Four Girls Mountains. I discovered Kenzo’s work years ago on SummitPost.org, where he is a regular contributor. Kenzo was gracious enough to answer my questions via an email interview, as follows.
Judging from your photos, the Four Girls Mountains are incredibly beautiful and spectacular mountains. What kind of travel/trekking is required to get to the locations where you photograph?
The altitude of Four Girls Mountains is not as high as Nepal’s Himalayas, and some mountaineers call them “An ordinary part of lesser Himalayas.” But the mountain appeal is not decided only by altitude. I think that Four Girls Mountains are not stunning mountains, but they are particularly beautiful mountains. A town lying at the foot of the mountain is Rilong town, Xiaojin County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China.
It is around 31 degrees of north latitude, 103 degrees of east longitude. Three hours by range airplane from Shanghai to Chengdu of Sichuan Province. And 7 hours by bus from Chengdu(Chadianzi Bus Station) to Rilong Town.
Because the altitude is not high, from the town it is easy to access the locations where I photograph. Usually it takes one day by walking or horseback.
I am primarily a wilderness landscape photographer. I enjoy backpacking for miles and miles into the wilderness, oftentimes where no trails exist and I have to find my own way with just my map, compass, and instincts. Whenever I plan a trip, I think about the vistas I might encounter, and of course the potential for photographing these vistas. If you’ve taken a peek at my photo gallery yet, you’ll see that I really like the grand scenics. I savor those huge expansive views and unique perspectives on rugged peaks, and I try to capture those scenes on film.
I spend hours pouring over topo maps, thinking about where I want to hike and camp. Topo maps can’t be beat for planning hiking routes, but when it comes to previsualizing potential photo opportunities, Google Earth is an incredible tool.
Wetterhorn Peak, a remote 14er in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of Colorado, as seen on Google Earth, and in real life. This is one of those unique views that I had seen while I was flying around Wetterhorn in Google Earth, and thought it was a great perspective. So I went there during a two-night backpacking trip – hiked to the location on a high ridgeline, and hung out for several hours keeping an eye on the clouds and waiting for sunset light.
My photo “Plitvice Waterfalls”, shown below, is by far my most popular photo. It seems to show up on Digg.com just about every month (much to the chagrin of the regular Digg members). Digg.com is a high-traffic web community that shares links to interesting web pages. I love to browse the comments on Digg, since they come from a seemingly random pool of viewers. Here’s some of the funnier comments I’ve read.
“If Jack Bauer’s gonna take time off from fighting terrorists to be a photographer, he seriously needs a better pseudonym.”
“That would look really nice in my backyard.”
“Reminds me of the jungle level in The lion king game for sega.”
“Not an incredible photo. Just incredible scenery.”
“F–k California and Florida, I want to be THERE.”
“I mean, how many waterfalls do you *need*? And they’re all over the place! It looks like Croatia’s just trying to show off, and has no real sense of style about it. Like they just came into waterfalls and couldn’t *wait* to use all of them. Tacky.”
“This should be the kind of place one can go to and enjoy a naked swim with his girlfriend without worrying about having pictures of his and specially her most beautiful ass being Dugg a day later.”
“Seeing that makes me want to go outside again!”
“i wanna build a huge tree fort and live there some day.”
“it’s an in-game DX10 render from Crysis.”
“These photos suck. simple as that.”
“You know what this picture needs? boobies.”
“Beautiful! I feel like urinating.”
“Wouldn’t be Digg if this wasn’t on once a month.”
“That’s not my pants! How on earth can that be paradise?”
I am going to kick off my new blog with the most terrifying story of my life so far. I’ve had accidents and close-calls before, but never have I been so sure of my impending death as I was on this day. Every time I tell this story it evokes powerful feelings in me. I don’t tell it often.
On Monday July 12, 2004, I started out on a four day hike in the Julian Alps of Slovenia, during which I would be staying the night at various mountain huts – large huts high up in the mountains where food, beds, and blankets are provided.
I hiked up through Krnica Valley, a long narrow forested valley with high mountain walls on both sides, until I came to the head of the valley, which ends abruptly in a towering cirque. At this point you’d think that there would be no way to get up these vertical walls without ropes, but the trail turns into a “via ferrata” (Italian for “iron way”). Basically it’s a marked path that winds its way up through the vertical cliffs via the path of least resistance. There are cables and pegs bolted into the cliffs to grab onto during the hairy sections.
So off I went, scrambling and climbing up and around cliffs and traversing on narrow ledges, all the time following the little red and white circles painted on the rocks to mark the path. I had just come off above a vertical section onto a flatter section about halfway up the mountain face when I was shocked to hear an awful low-pitched rumbling sound. For an instant I was confused, but before I could even think, I heard the terrible sound of a massive rockfall coming down towards me from above like a freight train from hell. I couldn’t see anything above, since the closest cliffs blocked the view, but I could hear that the loud rumbling was coming down towards me fast. At this point the entire mountainside was shaking badly, but I had enough sense to run uphill toward the nearest cliff so that hopefully the boulders would fly over my head. As I was running towards the cliff, about three or four paces away from it, I could see and hear the first rocks zipping past my head — luckily none hit me. I made it to the base of the cliff, which was only about ten or fifteen feet tall, and huddled in the corner as rocks cascaded over my head and bounced off nearby boulders. At this point even the cliffs I was clinging onto were shaking violently, and combined with the deafening noise of crashing rocks, I was convinced that the entire mountainside was collapsing in a major rockslide. I am sure you can imagine how helpless and terrified I felt at this point. The only things I remember thinking about were first of all how completely pulverized I would soon be and therefore how completely helpless I was, and secondly I just thought, no, I’m not done yet! I don’t want this to happen!