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Original author: 
Jack Lowe

Since receiving a Kodak pocket camera as a birthday present when he was a child, Hengki Koentjoro has been hooked on photography, going on to study and graduate from the Brooks Institute of Photography. It was while studying that Koentjoro became heavily inspired by the atmospheric work of influential American photographer Ansel Adams, motivating him to create similarly moody images but in his hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia. The results are truly stunning, documenting the vast oceans surrounding the country's 13,000 islands in brooding, menacing and mysterious black and white. When asked why he only shoots in monochrome, Koentjoro says: "It is more pliable therefore more freedom in expressing your idea. With the Zone System by Ansel Adams, you are in the practice of seeing things around you in monochrome or learning to see in black and white. This helps a lot in choosing your proper subject matter and forecasting how it'll look later on in post production."

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Mike Bruce

503.384544 square kilometers of Yosemite Valley printed on 6,160 sheets of paper

For a century and a half, photographers have been incorporating a wide range of tools and agendas in their efforts to document the landscape of the American West. Among the lensmen who use more unexpected techniques is U.K.-based Dan Holdsworth, whose latest body of work, Transmission, takes data gleaned from radar scans done by the U.S. Geological Survey to create virtual models of American landscapes. By showing storied locations such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite in a new way, Holdsworth pays tribute to, and advances, the history of the genre.

The rich and ongoing history of landscape photography in the American West had very practically-minded origins. As interest in the region surged throughout the 19th century, enterprising railroad companies and government organizations sent out small armies of scientists, cartographers, illustrators and photographers to sample, survey and record the recently acquired territories. The best of the photographers, like Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan, produced work that transcended the scientific genre. Theirs was a vision of an untouched land of sublime grandeur.

Fast-forward a century. Shopping malls and parking lots stretch from Trenton to Tacoma. A group of photographers including Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams and Joe Deal started producing work that would become known as the “New Topographics.” Instead of scrubbing their images of any trace of man, they focused on him. As Baltz once recalled: “I was living in Monterey, a place where the classic photographers — the Westons, Wynn Bullock and Ansel Adams — came for a privileged view of nature. But my daily life very rarely took me to Point Lobos or Yosemite; it took me to shopping centers, and gas stations and all the other unhealthy growth that flourished beside the highway. It was a landscape that no one else had much interest in looking at.” Man had sullied the sublime.

For years, the U.S. Geological Survey has used satellite-borne radar to survey much of the United States, and the amount of data collected is staggering. Gallery shows of Transmission include a stack of over 6,000 sheets of paper containing the XYZ coordinate points necessary to map just over 300 square miles of Yosemite Valley alone. Holdsworth appropriated this data (as well as some from Open Topography), and with the help of a university geologist, created computer models of the land. He used a software program to remove everything but the basic contours of the earth and the occasional trace of a road or building. (In a way other photographers may envy, Holdsworth was even able to alter the direction of the virtual sunlight, thus controlling the time of “day.”) After he created these 3D worlds, he was able to navigate them at will—peering over the edge of a volcano, or down the corridors of canyons.

From the millions of square miles of mapped territory, Holdsworth carefully chose five locations—the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mount St. Helens, Mount Shasta and Salt Lake City, Utah—for his series. The first four were among the places the early photographers of the Romantic Sublime made their awesome, unpeopled images. And it was near the last one, Salt Lake City, Utah, where Lewis Baltz made his seminal New Topographics project on suburban sprawl. Holdsworth thus references the history of the medium but, with his new method, moves the ball forward. As Emma Lewis writes in her essay on the work, “Looking at the world as though from space, Transmission evokes a sense of capturing something that has never been seen before; something especially powerful as these landscapes have been so visually reproduced throughout history as to become embedded in the popular conscience.” But they do not merely look new; in their method, they evoke our current era of potentially terrifying technology such as the Gorgon Stare, the U.S. government drone camera whose eyes are said to be able to devour whole cities at a time. Ultimately, as Lewis writes, Holdsworth is arguing that, “the exaltation of discovery can still exist because the man-made and the sublime are not mutually exclusive.”

Dan Holdsworth is a British photographer based in London.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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Did you know:amazing facts about Trees1) Trees receive an estimated 90% of their nutrition from the atmosphere and only 10% from the soil.2) Trees grow from the top, not from the bottom as is commonly believed. A branch’s location on a tree will only move up the trunk a few inches in 1000 years.3) No tree dies of old age. They are generally killed by insects, disease or by people. California Bristlecone Pines and Giant Sequoias are regarded as the oldest trees and have been known to live 4,000 to 5,000 years.4) There are about 20,000 tree species in the world. The United States has one of the largest tree treasuries second only to India.5) The largest area of forest in the tropics remains the Amazon Basin, amounting to 81.5 million acres.6) Arbor Day was first observed in Nebraska in 1872. That state is now home to one of the world’s largest forests planted by people – over 200,000 acres of trees.7) Some trees can “talk” to each other. When willows are attacked by webworms and caterpillars, they emit a chemical that alerts nearby willow of the danger. The neighboring trees then respond by pumping more tannin into their leaves making it difficult for the insects to digest the leaves.8) Knocking on wood for good luck originated from primitive tree worship when rapping on trees was believed to summon protective spirits in the trees.9) Trees can induce rainfall by cooling the land and transpiring water into the sky from their leaves. An acre of maple trees can put as much as 20,000 gallons of water into the air each day.10) The most massive living thing on earth is the Giant Sequoia in the Redwood Forest of California. It stands nearly 30 stories tall and 82.3 feet in circumference. Its weight is estimated at 2,756 tons.11) In Arnold, California, a tree still stands with a legible inscription carved into it in 1849 by pioneers blazing paths to California during the Gold Rush. The inscription reads “49 Road.”

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by Claire O'Neill

I don't know if I can directly answer the latter question. But certain curators like Joshua Chuang at the Yale University Art Gallery are determined to answer the former: Who is Robert Adams?

Chuang, now probably the leading Adams expert, started asking that himself, back when he was a student of photography. He picked up one of Adams' books — with characteristically dense writing and arguably unapproachable photos. "It took me a couple years to really get it," he says over the phone.

But now, it seems, he gets it. In 2004, Yale inherited a huge trove of Adams' work, and Chuang has been processing it since then. "There was not a single bad image in the group," Chuang says with a genuine deference. "His standards were so high and his editing of his own work was so rigorous." The fruits of their joint labor are in a traveling exhibition, The Place We Live, now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Credit: Robert Adams/Courtesy of LACMA

The basics: Adams can most succinctly be described as a photographer of the American West. He was born in New Jersey, but his family moved westward to mitigate his issues with asthma, and he has remained there. Only after getting a Ph.D. in English did he really begin photographing, and he has been at is since, but quietly. He doesn't email, he rarely takes interviews, and he lets Chuang come to him.

Maybe it helps to set the stage. When Adams picked up his camera, the most recognizable images from the American West were those sublime landscapes of Ansel Adams. To a large degree, that's still the case.

But where Ansel had a moral mission (to conserve nature by presenting it to the public in its pristine form), Robert's approach has been more clinical: He observes the interaction of man with land as objectively as possible. Where Ansel's photos say, "Look at what we should cherish!" Robert's say: "Here is what we are doing, and make what you will of it."

Chuang elaborates: "What sets Adams apart is his utter dedication to showing the whole picture, a truthful picture. ... Every one of his photographs is really a complex mix of good and bad. He tries to make pictures that say yes and no at once."

For example, one of the photos in the exhibit shows a small cluster of trees at the edge of a steep drop-off. By all technical definitions, one might call it beautiful. The balanced composition, the quality of light — those are things that say "yes." But then there's the title, straight-forward as it is: New development on a former citrus-growing estate, Highland, California. That seems like a subtle "no."

New development on a former citrus-growing estate, Highland, California, 1983
Robert Adams/LACMA

New development on a former citrus-growing estate, Highland, California, 1983

But it's not obvious. These photos are not on a soapbox preaching the ramifications of global warming. They are trying to be more black and white. At least, that's the idea.

"Adams has tried to go out of his way to make the uniconic pictures," says Chuang. "He chooses subjects that are so banal that they almost seem hopeless."

Though curator Joshua Chuang says Robert Adams is, in a sense, trying to make
Robert Adams/Fraenkel Gallery/LACMA

Though curator Joshua Chuang says Robert Adams is, in a sense, trying to make "uniconic" images, this one stands out as one of his more memorable: Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1968

Of course, I think Robert Adams would be hard-pressed to deny that he loves the West. I actually don't think he would try to deny it. In his writings, he waxes poetic about the quality of light, and how it redeems even the most dismal of tract houses.

You might not know he loves it, just from glancing at the images, and he sees value in that. But he also hopes you'll do more than glance. For all the desolate scenes of suburban sprawl, there's still that brilliant high-altitude light. For all of Adams' apparent indifference, and he might hate me for saying this, there seems to be a bit of hope there, too. It might just take a closer look.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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Tuolumne used to be gold mine and lumber country. Now, each year hundreds of thousands of tourists rush through to Yosemite National Park, oblivious to the growing number of people who have taken up residence in empty trailers and homeless camps that dot the area.

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