Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Idaho photographer explores Utah

Michael Wickes' photographic odyssey uncovers a distant neighbor


"LDS Temple, Salt Lake City" by Michael Wickes "The temple is imposing and impressive, but more importantly the throng of pilgrims, locals and staff is warm and welcoming." From Field Notes in "Utah."

When Utah governor Jon Hunstman needed a gift to offer Mexican President Vicente Fox during his visit to Salt Lake City last spring, Hunstman gave him "Utah: Moments in Time," Hailey resident Michael Wickes' stunning pictorial study of the state.

"He recognized the book as a very powerful statement about Utah," Wickes said.

Through his coffee-table book, Wickes takes the reader on a photographic odyssey.

With breathtaking scenery from every corner of the landscape, "Utah" is perfect for those looking for a visual introduction to the Beehive State. With macro, underwater, wide-angle, and super telescopic (600mm) lenses on his Canon 35mm SLR, Wickes captures a manifold montage of our naturally diverse southern neighbor.

The project was conceived on a bus in New York City. Wickes was seeking a good story, rich in detail and character that offered room to express his style of storytelling. He always knew Utah was a special place and the decision was made.

So began the five-season-long quest of a photographer, his Gordon setter, and an old Airstream to reveal the Utah beyond the red rock scenery.

"I discovered that Utah has a landscape unequaled in the West: stark salt flats, rugged red-rock country, graceful farmlands. And of course, mountains, sacred mountains—skied, climbed, hiked, explored—each teeming with enough wildlife to have forced Noah to order a second ark.

"I found that the cultural tapestry of Utah is quilted with Mormons, Gentiles, Native Americans, Hispanics, saints, sinners and even a few scoundrels."

In chapters such as "Desert," "Alpine," "City," and "Farm," Wickes views Utah through the eyes of both its human and wild inhabitants.

For his studies of Utah's society, he shoots real people, never models. The reader meets farm boys, soon-to-be-Mormon wives, and city folk. As far Utah's large population of critters, Wickes finds his greatest success with macro-lens close-ups of everything from desert lizards to a trout sucking down a mayfly from a river's calm surface.

At various points in the book, the Pennsylvania native has selected choice quotes from thinkers such as Mark Twain: "Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries."

The quotes are "a hint of an outside voice," he says.

As he was working without a publisher, Wickes was able to exert his creative voice throughout the project. Office partner Kirsten Dougherty was instrumental as well, Wickes said, in helping edit the film that he would send to Hailey while he was on the road. Personal expositions of each photograph by the one-time journalist can be found in "Field Notes" at the end of the book, further drawing the reader into the colorful character of this singular state.

Thankfully, Wickes does not fall into the temptation of letting his book become simply "Utah's Greatest Hits." By including a portrait of a Mormon fundamentalist woman, Wickes reminds the viewer of a controversial reputation--in this case, religious extremism.

With "Utah," the self-taught photographer tried his hand at self-publishing. He has executed an unorthodox and somewhat pioneering marketing strategy. Rather than release the large-format book solely to bookstores, Wickes has pursued a business model based on the interests, needs and talents of the artist rather than those of the marketplace.

Wickes has carved out his own client base. For "Utah," this market has been mostly corporate and government offices. And although he funded the entire project himself, Wickes will see more profits than would the average photographer dealing with a publishing house.

With "Utah: Moments in Times," Wickes has done his part to debunk the common myth that self-publishing is a mere last resort for sub-par material.

"More people like me want to not only control the creative side of the project, but also reap the financial awards of the project more so than with a publisher," he said.

With "Utah," at least, it seems Wickes' experiment is working.

"Utah: Moments in Time" is available at local bookstores. It can also be obtained through or by calling 788-4888.

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