Sean Arbabi’s career

Now on newsstands – the latest cover of Petersen’s Photographic with my Jenny Lake, Wyoming (Grand Teton National Park) image.  

I also have eight articles and dozens of my photos inside to read and enjoy.  Check it out in stores everywhere!


Last month I had the pleasure of photographing this cool new Argentinian BBQ design for a new client, Gaucho Garcia.  We spent a day capturing studio shots (I set up a portable on-location studio with a backdrop and lighting), and later that afternoon we set up an outdoor BBQ scene.  

 Their new site is up with my all images (including the animation of the grill rolling up), and they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign as well (accessible through GauchoGarcía.com).  
 
Check ’em out- the BBQ is amazing, the design is slick, the fundraising project looks cool, and the people are passionate and dedicated to the project: http://gauchogarcia.com/
 

All images © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com (all rights reserved worldwide)


Recently I was editing some of my image files from the Eastern Sierra, a wondrous place east of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks where trees grow for thousands of years, land erodes abandoning balancing boulders, and alpine snowmelt feeds ancient lakes.

 
While I reprocessed a few shots, taking advantage of new wonderful features in Lightroom 5.2 and Photoshop CS6, I came across this scene (below)- a photo captured years ago just east of Mono Lake.  A sunset road scene on a long desolate stretch of Highway 120 west of the California/ Nevada border, documented during a long February road trip photographing the US West.  As I recalled this wonderful peaceful road that led us to our final destination of Mono Lake, the name David Gaines came to mind.
Highway 120 near the California/Nevada border at sunset © Sean Arbabi

Originally part of the Great Basin, Mono Lake is a one-of-a-kind place.  Home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, and over 2,000,000 migratory waterbirds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use the ancient lake as a resting, nesting, and feeding place.  When you walk along the lakeshore viewing thousands of flies fan out as they avoid each of your footsteps, touch the salty waters painted red by the abundance of tiny shrimp, and gaze in awe at the monstrous clouds rolling over the Sierra, you feel how special and unique this body of water really is. 

The southern shores of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada at sunrise © Sean Arbabi

A lake with no outlets, the alpine streams and annual rainfall that feed it remain in the natural bowl for tens of thousands of years- that is until Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power (the DWP) began searching for new sources of water to supply their ever-growing Southern California metroplex.  From 1941 to 1990, the lake level began dropping as the DWP diverted unrestrained amounts of water from Mono Basin streams.  Mono Lake dropped 45 vertical feet over 50 years, lost half its volume, doubled in salinity, and exposed previously submerged tufa towers (limestone structures that grow exclusively underwater).

Moonrise over the Eastern Sierra, as seen from the southern Tufa-lined shores of Mono Lake © Sean Arbabi

 

Courtesy of NASA

People like David, and those who worked tirelessly at the Mono Lake Committee, fought Los Angeles’ DWP from draining the lake through numerous ecological studies, court cases, and injunctions.  I 1989 I joined the cause, photographing the Mono Lake Bike-A-Thon, capturing over a hundred riders as they peddled 332 miles from the DWP offices to the shores of the lake, raising funds for the fight.  Many of the decisions that came in favor of Mono Lake and the Mono Lake Basin allow us all- humans, birds, and wildlife- to enjoy its wonders.  Sadly, Owens Lake, an ancient body of water covering 108 square miles nestled in southern Owens Valley 10,000 feet below the towering Whitney range, was not able to be saved, drained by the DWP over a span of roughly 40 years.  Full in 1913, desiccated by the mid 1940s.  Much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and today the mostly dry lake bed is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.

Looking west at Highway 136 and Owens Lake below the Whitney Range © Sean Arbabi
David Gaines (courtesy of the Mono Lake Committee)

So why did a photo of a highway remind me of David Gaines, a person I never met?  Well, David was tragically killed in a car accident in the winter of 1988 along Highway 395, south of Mono Lake, on a stretch of road similar to the one I posted above.  I drove along the road he did a few months later and captured that photo above on my first visit to the area.  Someday I will use that road to take my two daughters to the shores of Mono Lake.  I will tell them about the history of this region, about its ancient waters, and how we are still able to share it with future generations thanks to people like David Gaines.  He may have been taken far too early, but he gave far more to the world than most.


Way back in 1990 when I was 22, during my college days at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara CA, I had the chance to photograph Josef Muench at the tender age of 85 – father of David, grandfather to Mark – all great photographers in their own right, David probably being the most famous of the three.  


Josef was a landscape pioneer, many of his images gracing the pages of Arizona Highways for much of the 1940s and 1950s.  To my understanding, he worked for the magazine for roughly 50 years, and his stunning landscape images (shot with his 4×5 camera in 1936) helped place Monument Valley on the map.  He returned hundreds of times and to many, his views are some of the most memorable photographs ever taken of this southwest location.  He went on to capture images around the world, in Africa, Alaska, Asia, Canada, Colorado, Europe, and Hawaii.  Even the unmanned Voyager Expeditions, launched in 1977, included one of his photos (in a group of 117 images of Earth’s landscapes) – a snow-covered Sequoia redwood taken in Kings Canyon National Park.


Born in Germany in 1904, some say Josef once threw a tomato at Adolf Hitler, hitting him in the face.  I couldn’t verify this, but he sounded like my kinda guy.  While writing this post, I was able to find a nice quote online, Josef talking about the deserts of the Southwest: “When I first saw the desert I liked it. It was new and different. It immediately took on a meaning to me. I had heard it was barren. It isn’t. A little cactus–so delicate and beautiful, can hide from you. You have to go slowly, and look carefully.”


I can’t recall how I found his information when I was in college, but when I contacted him to fill one of my school assignments, he was kind enough to schedule a time, welcomed me into his home, sat patiently while I set up my 4×5 view camera, and allowed me to capture this portrait, even giving his suggestions on how he might pose.  

 

Portrait of Josef Muench, Santa Barbara, California – © Sean Arbabi | seanarbabi.com

We talked for a bit about photography, and although I wasn’t old enough to really interview him the way I would today, I knew I was with an old photographic soul, so I attempted to soak up his words of wisdom during our brief time together.  Ironically we shared the same age (11) when we received our first cameras, and now I’ve had the chance to photograph some of the places he visited (although oddly enough, I’ve traveled all through the Southwest but never been to Monument Valley and have had the desire for years).


He past away in 1998 at the age of 94, but his images live on- just Google his name (Josef with an “f”) to review some of his work.  May I be so lucky as to live as long as he did, viewing the world through photographic eyes.


They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – this story fits the bill.

A few years ago while on assignment for Via magazine, I captured an image of Lombard Street that ran in their July/August 2009 issue.  I was happy with the shot but didn’t feel it was the best image I captured that day, but that’s never the point when you are on assignment – the key is if your editors are pleased with the results – what they use is up to them.  I even had another editor (from a different magazine) comment on how they felt this was one of the best images of Lombard Street he had ever seen.  Goes to show you how subjective art can be.
A month later landscape quilter Susan Lane contacted me to ask permission to use this image as inspiration for a new quilt she was sewing, to hopefully show in an exhibit.  She said she was inspired by the iconic nature of this image.  Since she wasn’t creating the quilt as a product to sell or license, I granted her permission and a few months later she emailed me the results.

Lombard Street Susan Lane Quilt comparison

Susan made the 27” x 52” quilt using various methods including fused and raw-edge applique, painting and texture magic, taking over 2,000 hours to complete the piece.  She was kind enough to offer to meet so I could see the finished piece, but we never found a time to work for both of us.  You can see more detail of the quilt by visiting (and scrolling down): http://maverickquilts.wordpress.com/tag/susan-lane/
Susan’s “Lombard Street” piece appeared in numerous shows including the Pacific International Quilt Festival in 2010, and in 2012, it was accepted into The West Coast Wonders, to show at International Quilt Festival in Long Beach CA and Houston TX.  The quilt also won “Best of Show” in 2011 at the Carquinez Straits Quilt Guild show.  For more on Susan’s work, visit: http://www.mysticstitchery.com/index.html

So many have inspired me in my artistic career, it’s nice to inspire another artist.


I just had to share a photo I captured yesterday while teaching a photo workshop on flowers at Calumet and the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco.  Sharing not so much to show the image I captured, yet more so the detail I’ve loving in my new Nikon D800E 36MP DSLR (and no, Nikon doesn’t pay or sponsor me).In a garden of dahlia flowers, I captured this scene with my 70-200mm f/2.8 Tamron lens – not a macro lens.  Take into account this bumblebee was visiting various flowers, buzzing in and out of each one, constantly on the move, so I wasn’t dealing with a still subject, nor was I using a tripod.  Even outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, on the edge of the coastal fog rolling in, the flowers were catching some wind and moving themselves.

As far as my DSLR goes, yeah, I love it- it’s the camera I’ve always wanted.  The image sensor ranks even higher than the D4 (in fact DxO Labs rated it the highest DSLR on the market), and that’s a big part of why I bought it.  It’s also about the engine of this beast – 36 megapixels, which for an outdoor/ landscape/commercial photographer provides huge files to blow up nicely, tons of intricate detail, and minimal noise in a top-notch full-frame image sensor.  There’s lots of extra bells and whistles – cool new LiveView functions, an incredibly fast auto-focus (although I still manual focus a ton), and a sturdy well-built frame.

This image was captured at 1/400 sec, using f/2.8 and ISO 100 in manual exposure mode while spot metering.  You can see the detail of the bee here in a close-up.

It’s rare that a piece of equipment gets me excited about photography – usually it’s my subject, the location, the moment, the light.  This Nikon camera has energized me about the images I hope to capture in the near future!