Sky’s Nature

Elif Koyutürk artfully documents an enigmatic cowboy

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/1250 sec at F1.4, ISO 640

Extraordinary figures walk among us. While many live bound to the simple, expected beauties of life, a rare few take their experience to unimaginable landscapes of the earth and mind. Their outward actions and inner depths cannot be more than fleetingly understood, unusual as they are. And for these rare and uninhibited individuals, life truly is stranger than fiction.

This is the story of Sky Sharp: rancher, livestock manager, craftsman, and artist. In appearance and deed, he is a towering figure of the American West’s masculine ideals, though through a life spent in nature, he has taken on a deep sense of spirituality, grounded in the honoring of Mother Nature and Father Sky. Such a compelling narrative of juxtaposition and balance demands to be told – but every story needs a teller. As fate would have it, documentarian Elif Koyutürk stepped into Sky’s life at a pivotal moment for both.

“My interest in documentary came from a desire to explore human connections,” Elif begins, reflecting on years of filmmaking and photography. “I came to understand that what I love is actually very selfish,” she laughs. “Namely, learning about people’s experiences, questioning how that intersects with my own life, then creating art through that bond. It formed something personal and intimate.

“My husband met Sky before I did. He went to a drum circle to offer a prayer for the land and wildlife. When he came home, he told me he’d met an incredible man, and if I were to meet him too, it would blow my mind. Of course, I knew I had to.

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/1250 sec at F1.4, ISO 640

Sky Sharp, behind his father Bill | Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/6400 sec at F2, ISO 640

Sky Sharp, behind his father Bill | Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/6400 sec at F2, ISO 640

“I discovered that a friend of mine, Ryder, is like a brother to Sky, so I begged him to introduce us. But he kept telling me it would happen when the universe wants it to,” Elif continues. “For a whole year, I didn’t catch sight of him, but eventually there was another ceremony. I sat down and saw this figure in a cowboy hat across the fire. I knew it was Sky and wanted so badly to see his eyes. Eventually, he lifted the brim of his hat, looked at me, smiled, and I knew immediately he understood my curiosity. He told me about his worries for the soil and I told him about my own desire to help humanity through storytelling. He was interested, so I asked him if we could meet again. I went to the land he works in Terrebonne, Oregon the very next day.”

Before a visual language could be formed, Elif first had to find perspective. For her, the method of documentation is as important as crafting images itself. Scenes remain accurate to life, but with a touch of artistic guidance. True to her usual approach, Elif began with careful study.

Sky Sharp against handwritten poem | Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/8000 sec at F1.4, ISO 640

“There’s a balance in my work, between observation and posing,” the photographer notes. “First, I absorb my subject deeply, and come to understand every piece of their world. I try to connect my journey and my being with their feelings. And after that emotional bond forms, I can pull things from it. Now, I can ask Sky to lay here or look there, but every move needs to be studied before I ask him to make it, because this is not fashion photography. The images aren’t showcasing the clothing he is wearing, they’re revealing his soul. I always need to be respectful in asking him to do these things – and only if I know they speak to him. So, it’s a very delicate thing.

“In one of our conversations, Sky talked about weeds being the bandages of the soil. He says everything has a reason to exist in this life. When he’d finished talking, I asked him to lay down in the weeds. As I listened to him, I realized that nature also became his bandage. He got nurturing in nature, so when he’s in the weeds as the man he’s become, it represents a sense of coming full circle. That level of meaning is worth posing for, and remains a true documentarian look at who he is.”

Examining Elif’s images, meaning is not difficult to find. But it doesn’t lie beneath surface beauty. Rather, it is woven into the visual fabric of each photograph. Soft focus and movement meet hard contrast and detail head on, in what becomes representative of Sky’s enchanting complexities.

Sky Sharp against handwritten poem | Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/8000 sec at F1.4, ISO 640

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR, 1/160 sec at F1.4, ISO 200

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/5000 sec at F1.4, ISO 640

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R WR, 1/2500 sec at F1.8, ISO 640

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R WR, 1/4000 sec at F1.2, ISO 640

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R WR, 1/4000 sec at F1.2, ISO 640

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R WR, 1/3200 sec at F1.2, ISO 640

Sky Sharp with his mustang, Hawk | Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/6400 sec at F2, ISO 640

Sky Sharp with his mustang, Hawk | Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/6400 sec at F2, ISO 640

“Sky’s a total character case for me as a project. His life inspires me because it’s so different than mine, and my life hopefully inspires him for the same reasons. I wanted to create a way, visually, for people to experience his incredible depth for themselves. I questioned, how can I show an unseen side that people don’t get to glimpse if they don’t have the figurative golden ticket?” Elif muses.

“Opposition is beauty. The balance of life only happens if there’s a little bit of black and a little bit of white, and everything in between is the colors they form. You cannot show one way of seeing and leave the other alone. It’s not balanced. Sky has a personality that holds so many of the colors in between.

“When photographing him, I thought of that and questioned what throughline I could create. So, I went on to choose a shallow depth-of-field for that ethereal softness. Sky as a personality is just there. He’s hard. He’s tough. Wherever I put him in the image, he’s going to draw attention. So, I thought, let’s add softness around him. That tells a story and moves people from A to B.

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R WR, 1/4000 sec at F1.2, ISO 640

“Movement and prisms also fascinate me with this type of subject. They express the anatomy of a person so beautifully,” Elif continues. “It’s something of an unseen world, which provokes a sense of secrecy. I want people to contemplate over the images, and consider their own journeys when they look into Sky’s.”

As ever, ideas were brought to life through a thoughtful selection of tools. Elif chose FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R WR to document her scenes – a decision she looks back upon fondly.

“The camera’s high-resolution sensor and dynamic range allowed me to photograph contrast and detail with remarkable precision. Other cameras have a similar megapixel count, but you feel these tiny differences in X Series that have a huge impact for creatives. There is an analog sense to X-H2, which helped with the ethereal quality I wanted,” Elif notes.

“XF56mmF1.2 R WR enabled me to achieve a precise softness and shallow depth-of-field. And it filtered light so beautifully. The combination of these tools played a crucial role in bringing my artistic vision to life.”

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R WR, 1/4000 sec at F1.2, ISO 640

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/8000 sec at F1.4, ISO 200

Photo 2023 © Elif Koyutürk | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/8000 sec at F1.4, ISO 200

With a series of stills collated, Elif’s time with Sky is far from over. A short film and further imagery are ongoing – and the pair’s bond will doubtlessly transcend its initial confines of art.

“The wonderful thing about this project is that it’s evolving. You get to watch that happen as an artist. When you approach every new image, it’s more intimate than the last because the relationship has had more time to grow,” Elif concludes.

“Some images are just beautiful images, but the ones that speak to people most are meaningful. I always have to ask myself: how does this resonate with me? Even a cowboy like Sky, I’ve learned so much about him and discovered we possess commonalities I’d never have imagined. That’s why I’m doing it. I found myself in him, and I get to grow from it. That’s what art is.”

To learn more about the gear used in the Sky’s Nature project, shop FUJIFILM X-H2 today and read the full specifications here.

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