6 minute read

Ebb & Flow

Karen Hutton immerses herself in the historical rhythms of Lake Tahoe, Nevada

At 122,160,280 acre feet, the Jewel of the Sierra flows through muted alpine plains, carrying with it a tale of two million years – reflected and rippled in tepid freshwater currents. Shaped throughout bitter ice ages, Lake Tahoe’s azure streams absorb the flushed varieties of west-coast sunlight, shimmering across a surface that seems to join sky and sea as one.

With usual devotion, Karen Hutton’s landscape photographs impart the grandeur of her native Reno. Pairing FUJIFILM GFX100S with GF20-35mmF4 R WR, she drove 30 minutes from the ‘Biggest Little City in the World’ to catch a glimpse of its nearby creek.

“I was on home turf this time around. I’ve taken pictures here for so many years,” Karen outlines. “Every time I embark on a new project, I ask myself: what else can I find that I haven’t already? The aim is to inspire others to pick up cameras – and create.”

Though expectedly familiar in many ways, the area remained undiscovered in countless others, owing to its vastness and enormity.

“My videographer was aware of some spots I’d never visited around the lake. When you live in an area for a long period of time, you become accustomed to seeing it in a certain way. This time, I challenged myself to reimagine.”

An intriguing visual language reveals Karen’s sensibilities. Far from your typical calendar snaps or postcard prints, her photographs are imbued with a deeper, more figurative perspective, defined in the uniqueness of her viewpoint, and the ways she sees through her lens.

“Telling stories is my focus. I’m not always looking for a pretty picture, or a magazine print. I want to get to the bottom of the narrative – what did this scene want to say? That approach always produces a very particular result.

“I feel that the planet is alive, and has a soul. It’s complete with its own narrative and messages. Ralph Emerson once said that ‘the earth laughs in flowers’. That quote has always spoken to me.

“I often sit with it, and wonder. She undergoes a lot; she just expresses herself differently. It’s odd to ponder what that would look like in an image, but this perspective is a driving force in what I do.”

When it comes to depicting the world’s natural beauty, Karen’s photos are unparalleled in their drama, stimulating awe and amazement across the board. Long exposures render water a blend of color and haze, evoking the impressionistic brushstrokes of a Turner or Monet. Simultaneously, an emergent sun provides each piece with brilliance and definition, regularly cradled among expansively framed skies. Informed by faith, the aesthetics are a purposeful manifestation of the spiritualism, reverence and beauty in her work.

“I hear the voice of God in these places. I want my images to move, grow, and uplift. Awe will transport you. You just have to look for it,” she explains.

Noting the ways in which GF20-35mmF4 R WR simplified this search, Karen discusses Fujifilm’s role in her eventual outcomes.

“The good thing about this lens is that it doesn’t make your sky disappear entirely. Some wide angles are so extensive that they smash down the middle, and lessen the scale. This always feels like you’re getting more, no matter what you do,” she says. “It’s more like an impression of the original feeling, but you still retain the full breadth.”

These resulting contrasts produce distinct illustrations: embellished with flourishes of experimentation, the photos are layered, captivating technicians and artists alike.

“I try to look for shapes and patterns in the frame. I ground what I can see, and that gives the photo structure. Clear of that, the gesture contained within the image is what houses the connection.”

She may be working with stills, but Karen’s three-dimensional interests are what make her photographs truly transportive. Expressed in calming palettes of color and curvature, the suggestion of ‘gesture’ is a fitting tribute to what stirs and rouses her creativity.

“Your speaking voice broadcasts all of who you are. It’s contained in the timbre of that sound, and the acoustics of that instrument,” she notes. “When you pick up a camera and point it at a landscape, it’s much the same. You’re inhabiting certain characters and stories, so you have to question what the intonation is, and where it lies.”

The effect is one of harmony. Take a look at these pictures and sensory perception bleeds through, inherent in each frame, initiating a deep breath or quiet thought. There’s an undeniable calm in these quietly observed waters. Together with her skill, GFX systems make the sensation even more evocative.

“I started using these systems because they allowed me to go where no other brands had. A lot of wide-angle lenses lose the full range, because you don’t get edge-to-edge focus. This one gives you that comprehensive span, and complete clarity. All in all, I found it totally workable. It’s versatile, but still opens up the world in this gorgeous way. The sensor’s so big, you start seeing the plains beyond the horizon. That makes everything tangible, and believable. Add a wide angle to the planner separation and it’s nuts.

“Stand back and be bowled over by the submersion of the moment. This lens lets you plunge into that.”

For this series, Karen draws on her region’s rich and documented past.

“I don’t like modern things so much. The history of the lake is built into the people who populated its spaces. That house was constructed around this culture. People would flock to take these gorgeous wooden boats around the pier.

“Homesteaders were there all year. They hued posts by hand. They literally carved out their lives that way, and I find their dedication really moving.”

Occupying the fittingly named Hope Valley, Tahoe’s backdrops were sculpted by nature, but refined by man. Here, these searching desires moved beyond the ordinary and transcended limits. This ethos is infused in the stunning serenity of Karen Hutton’s creations.

“If you could find your still point, what would that feel like? Your mind enlarges, and your awareness is heightened. Put simply, you’re able to encompass so much more. I want to live from there, just as previous populations did. It’s not always possible, but I’ll always try to operate from that place.”

An extensive golden hour snap of Lake Tahoe

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF20-35mmF4 R WR, 60 secs at F13, ISO 250


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