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BEST OF 2012, Jim Wark
Pueblo, CO
Project: Aerial photography of almost every type of wilderness, from the parched deserts of the American southwest to the mountain meadows of the Rockies.

© Jim Wark

© Jim Wark
Copper River Delta, Alaska


Aerial photography specialist Jim Wark has documented almost every type of wilderness, culminating in Leave no Trace: The Vanishing North American Wilderness. Additionally, five of Wark’s images will become U.S. Postal Service “Forever” stamps in October 2012.

“An airplane can circle a mountain peak in minutes, capturing a full array of light, shadow, elevation and perspective that would take days to traverse on the ground,” Wark says. “Aerial photography provides an artistic view unattainable on foot — for times when we may not see ‘the forest, for the trees.’ For me, the chance to incorporate 20 years of my photography in this book was the assignment of a lifetime.”

© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
North Slope Oil (bombsight view), Alaska


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Cainville Reef, Utah


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Brooks Range, Alaska


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Husky over Soda Lake, California


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Monument Uplift, Utah


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Shore Dunes, Baja Sur, Mexico


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Virginia Falls, Northwest Territories


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Near Hanksville, Utah


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Monument Valley, Arizona


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Canyonlands National Park, Utah


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Chisana Glacier, Alaska


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Colorado River Delta, Mexico


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Crater, Zuni Salt Lake, New Mexico


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Wildcat Mesa, Utah


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Denali National Park, Alaska


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Shore Ice, Lake Michigan, Michigan


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Bridge to Nowhere, Alaska


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Mauna Kea, Hawaii


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Castle Butte, Utah


© Jim Wark
© Jim Wark
Midnight Rainbow, Yukon


ASMP: How long have you been in business?

Jim Wark: Twenty-two years as Airphoto; previous to that I was a mining engineer.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

JW: Since 1996 (16 years).

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

JW: Just one — aerial stock photography.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable professional tool?

JW: The Christen (now Aviat) Husky airplane; it’s my secret weapon.

ASMP: What piece (or pieces) of gear could you not do without?

JW: The Leica cameras (R6, R7, M6, M8) and their Leica prime lenses.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

JW: Nothing I do is unique in the true sense of the word. However, the ability and willingness to travel and live alone out of a small economical airplane (for weeks at a time) combined with the freedom (by country and wife) to fly to any place in North America is what allowed me to establish my identity.

ASMP: How long have you been specialized in aerial photography? What drew you to this specialty?

JW: I immediately realized the wonderful potential of the Husky as a photo platform when I bought the airplane in 1988 to go camping in Alaska. Professional photography has been alive in four of five generations of the Wark family since 1850 in Ireland. I fell in love with airplanes the first time I saw one. Prior to aerial photography I was a Naval Aviator and air show pilot.

ASMP: Your book Leave No Trace: The Vanishing North American Wilderness was published in September 2011. Has this publication led to assignments with any new contacts or has it spurred any future assignments now under discussion?

JW: My age (81) and a home situation have prevented me from either pursuing or accepting new assignments. Future books with Rizzoli or White Star are a possibility.

ASMP: The images in this book were all made with a Leica M7. Why do you choose to photograph with analog film rather than digitally? What makes a Leica M7 your camera of choice? How long have you been photographing with a Leica?

JW: For 22 years all my stock photography has been done with Leica reflex and rangefinder cameras (R7, R6 & M6). Space in the Husky is both sparse and cramped. The Leica cameras are small, simple and ruggedly reliable. Same for the Leica prime lenses. When I started in 1990 digital was not an option. Notwithstanding that, film is my personal gut-level choice for “real” photography. An image on film is a tangible, unaltered artifact of the moment in time that the light hit the emulsion. You can actually hold that moment in your hand. Don’t get me started…

ASMP: You used Fuji RVP film for the images in this book project, views you shot over a 20-year period. Can you describe the visual effect or the look of this film and why you specifically choose to work with Fuji RVP? Do you use other types of film as well?

JW: Fuji RVP was chosen for its high saturation and excellent archival quality. Also my son, John, had a full sized Kreonite E-6 lab or I might have shot more Kodachrome.

ASMP: As noted on your Web site, stock images are shot on analog film but assignment work is done with Canon and Leica digital cameras. When shooting digitally does your choice of camera depend on elements such as weather conditions or the situation you’re shooting?

JW: For regional (day trip) assignments the camera of choice is the Canon 5D with a small assortment of big zoom lenses. If it is more than a day trip I would normally take the Leica M8 for space and other considerations. I do not hold digital with the same reverence as I do film and Leica. At the same time, I recognize digital as the future of the craft.

ASMP: Do you scan your slides or use a chemical darkroom, or both? What equipment and paper do you use for output?

JW: All film is scanned for output (Nikon 9000). All printing is done by my son’s lab on large Epson printers using 100 percent cotton rag paper or sometimes canvas.

ASMP: How do you deal with airport security and x-rays when traveling with analog film?

JW: In 2004 I had an assignment in Hawaii that required airline travel. One hundred rolls of film were individually swabbed to bypass the x-rays. It was an uncomfortable situation for me, but TSA was good about it. Other than that, when using my own airplane, x-ray and the TSA is not an issue.

ASMP: Having a book published nowadays seems more difficult than ever. How did this current book happen for you? Did you have an agent or any intermediary handling the relationship with the publisher? What was it like working with Rizzoli/Universe? Were you consulted in image selections, book design or any other part of the book making process?

JW: The Rizzoli book was my first experience with an agent and it was good. The image selection process was a joint effort working directly and personally with the book’s editor. All selections were made initially from the Airphoto Web site. With some give and take, mutual agreement was reached on all the selections. The book design was solely in Rizzoli’s hands. Working with Rizzoli was great.

ASMP: In September 2011, the US Postal Service announced that five of your images would become “Forever” stamps, to be issued in October 2012. How was the USPS introduced to your work? Was this a direct result of the publication of your book or the efforts of a publicist? Is there anything currently being planned to further publicize or celebrate the release of your stamps?

JW: The selection process for these stamps began in 2007 and was to the sole credit of the Airphoto Web site. There is no submission process and the first contact was a call from USPS art director Howard Paine, who was looking at the Web site. The process was long, but really fun — no stress like with books. More than once, I thought the project had died. The U.S. Post Office is currently working on new publicity for the stamps’ October release.

ASMP: As seen on your Web site, you have previously published a number of other books, such as Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air; America, Flying High; and Colorado, an Aerial Geography of the Highest State among many others. Were any of these books self-published or did you work with a traditional publisher in each case? Please talk about your experiences in working with different publishers, with an eye to the positive aspects and the challenges of these different projects.

JW: First, none of the books were self-published and I would not undertake that. Second, there is no book that hath not some brain damage to come with it. America, Flying High (White Star, Italy) was not the first book, but it was the big break in my career. The book is published in 12 languages and has sold 120,000 copies. With White Star you have almost no say in image selection and none in book design. They are the world experts in publishing aerial photo books, but difficult at times to work with. They are the only publisher I trust with doing aerial scans (aerials are different). For any other publisher I now insist that we (my son) do all the scans. With the early books, scanning was always contentious and often unsatisfactory. Either due to having an agent or having done previous books or just working with good people, the Rizzoli experience was the best. My son did all the scans for the two Rizzoli books with my name.

ASMP: The images in your book are accompanied by an essay from environmental legend Rod Nash. How did this collaboration come about? What makes your images and Nash’s writing a fitting combination? Did Nash’s essay result in a new audience for your photographs?

JW: The collaboration with Rod Nash was arranged by Rizzoli. Nash did not write to refer directly to the book’s image content, but to his view of the environment as it relates to wilderness preservation and the creation of the National Park system. The result was a pleasant mingling of prose and imagery that allows the mind to follow its own path. Nash’s essays and the book’s photography definitely opened my work and his to new audiences.

ASMP: Your point of view from the air must often be breathtaking. What was one of the most memorable sightings in your many years of aerial photography? Were you able to adequately capture this in an image?

JW: Serendipity always plays an important role in candid photography — especially the aerial kind. My most memorable images came from an encounter with a midnight arctic rainbow on an unexpected night flight over the Cassiar Mountains of Canada’s Yukon Territory. I shot as fast as I could, guessing at the settings, with two manual Leicas. The results, not seen ‘til a week later, were everything I’d hoped for. This incident and the image are described in the Leave No Trace book. I would have loved to be around for the Mt. St. Helens moment.

ASMP: Please talk about the process of aerial photography. How is it possible to both fly a plane and make pictures simultaneously? When you’re on a shoot, what percentage of the time do you pilot the plane yourself versus having someone else fly while you concentrate on shooting?

JW: I always fly and shoot alone. Others do it differently, but I could do it no other way. The Husky is an amazing airplane and when properly set up (trimmed) requires little, if any, pilot input. Attention is required not in manually flying the airplane, but in remaining alert for other traffic and, of course, terrain.

ASMP: When shooting aerial photographs, are there certain types of planes you prefer fly in? Does the type of plane used depend on weather conditions and/or the subject matter or locations you’re shooting?

JW: I had to rent another airplane when shooting in Hawaii and it was rather difficult. Other that that, I have used only the Husky. There are times when a helicopter is better suited for an aerial job, but I avoid those assignments. Normally, the only weather factor to contend with is high winds. Wind is a major concern in mountain operations.

ASMP: Practically and logistically speaking, what goes into planning an aerial photo shoot? Does aerial photography require any specialized or unconventional equipment?

JW: The only special equipment I can think of is a rare use of a Kenyon gyro for night work. While not really special, I do make more than normal use of a circular polarizer to mitigate the effects of haze and increase saturation. Compared to traditional professional photography, the equipment needs of normal aerial work are quite simple. For stock shooting my planning usually consists of choosing a general destination (such as the Southwest or Alaska) and then going where the weather and the pictures take me. With assignment work, never assume you know the subject location. Insist on the details.

ASMP: When you were a kid, were you the type who was always climbing trees? Have you ever had a fear of heights or has being up in the heavens always been a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you?

JW: I am not at ease at the edge of a cliff, but I have never had a time of real fear in more than 13,000 hours in the air. Weather, clouds and the heavens are a constant source of wonderment and inspiration to me. “When life is getting you down, there is always the sky.”

ASMP: Have you had any white-knuckle incidents or close calls while in the process of an aerial shoot? Please describe your most challenging shoot in regard to safety.

JW: I have had too many close calls in the air to mention, but the only one where the blood drained to my socks was an engine failure with clouds to the ground over the mountains of Wyoming. Credit for the amazing one-in-a-million outcome belongs all to the Husky. For the details you need to buy Leave No Trace.

ASMP: You license your images directly from your Web site. Do you have any sense of what percentage of your client base finds you through the Web site, versus those clients generated by more traditional marketing efforts?

JW: My only marketing effort is the Airphoto Web site. Probably 50 percent of the clients are Web site regulars (book and magazine publishers or photo researchers), the remainder come as a result of generic Web searches. Other past marketing efforts have always failed to monetize. The best marketing effort (IMO) is having a good book published. Also, my work has gotten good exposure from a number of stock agencies here and abroad.

ASMP: What types of maintenance do you do to keep your Web site fresh and how much time do you spend on this? How often do you update your site?

JW: I regularly add new images to the site, now mostly my son’s. My current and now continuing project is the rescanning of most of the Web images. Many of the old scans are really bad. This will take about a year and is now about one-third done. Web work is taking about 30 hours a week.

ASMP: Please give us a general overview of your strategy of marketing your business to clients. On your Web site, why are the categories for “art” and “new images” in bold presented in a list with many other categories in a regular font? Is this a marketing technique?

JW: The Web site is targeted for professional image finders. Past efforts to increase Web rankings temporarily increased visits by more than 200 percent, with no increase in sales. The only result was a lot of time spent in responding to well meaning e-mail. I suppose “Art” and “New Images” in bold has a marketing aspect. “New Images” is not being well maintained.

ASMP: Your Web site contains a gallery of 15,000 images, but you have a total of 100,000. How do you decide which images to offer on your Web site? How do you share images not on your Web site with potential clients?

JW: The total is more like 150,000. Subject matter is well represented on the Web site, so if a client wants a different view it is easily found and a discrete keyword light box of other selections is easily created.

ASMP: Given this large of a database of images, what kind of workflow procedures do you maintain for processing, captioning, keywording and archiving your images? How much time do you spend on these organizational tasks?

JW: The Web site is my only database. Accurate titles and captions are a huge task and can take as much as an hour for a single image. I have a full set of Delorme state atlases and the Internet is an invaluable resource. There are no signs or roadside historic markers in the air. In addition to file identification, all the words (or word parts) in both the image title and its caption automatically become keywords. You only need to be burned once by an editor’s ire over an inaccurate caption to learn the lesson.

ASMP: The address of your Web site is www.AirPhotoNA.com, the “NA” standing for North America. Unlike most photographers, it does not include your name. Why did you make this choice? Is a subject-specific Web address more effective for you in achieving optimum Internet search engine results?

JW: Airphoto is the name I want folks to remember.

ASMP: Your photography includes aerial images from Alaska and Labrador to Costa Rica and the Lesser Antilles and everything in between. It’s a formidable stretch of land for sure, but are you ever inspired to make aerial photos on any other continents? Is there one particular international locale that would be at the top of your list to photograph?

JW: Fifteen years ago I had all the charts and plans for a mission to Iceland and beyond planned. The overall cost, including modifications and added equipment to the aircraft, proved to be more than I wanted to undertake. But the real deal breaker was probably the requirement that a poppy suit be worn at all times. Lindbergh really had it easy. In North America we are blessed with the freedom to fly and to shoot almost anywhere and anything. Not so in most of the rest of the world and this is a big obstacle for a sole proprietor in a small airplane to overcome — not to mention the logistics! Given the chance and the necessary support, I would love to spend a year photographing Africa.

ASMP: Among the links on your Web site is the site of another aerial photographer, John Wark. Is this your son? Your brother? Another relation? Please talk about having another person in the family in pursuit the same career as you? Is this always a positive experience, or are there ever times where you compete for the same opportunity or butt heads?

JW: John Wark is my son and I am so grateful to have him to carry on with Airphoto NA. John is only a recent pilot, but a very talented career commercial photographer. His dad is a pilot with a camera, he is a real professional. Yes, we sometimes butt heads lightly, but never as rivals or competitors. In fact, for more than a year, all Airphoto assignments have been turned over to him. His work is well represented on the Airphoto Web site. One goal is to do a joint book titled Journey’s End about the rusting relics that once represented someone’s dearest dreams — as seen from the air, of course.

ASMP: In regard to your book’s title Leave No Trace: The Vanishing North American Wilderness, what changes have you observed in the North American wilderness in the span of your career? Is there one particular observation that’s most concerning to you? In your opinion, what is the single most important thing we humans can do to support our beautiful planet?

JW: Visibility!! I am not a believer in human-caused global warming, but the deterioration in visibility is human caused. I have seen a steady degradation in the normal atmospheric visibility over the last quarter century — regardless of the region, but most noticeably in the western national parks.

The most important thing: Maintain a personal and contagious respect and reverence for the earth, all its life and its origins.