Allan R. Lamb Portfolio Contest Winner
Words: Dean Brierly
The recent book Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography examines fresh approaches to the genre through the work of more than 100 contemporary photographers. You won’t find Allan R. Lamb’s landscape images between its covers, but they would not have been out of place had they been included. Lamb, who lives in Sacramento, California and frequently takes his camera to Yosemite, is not content with a strictly literal representation of what some might consider overly familiar subject matter. He would doubtless agree with the quote included in Landmark by the writer Christopher Neve: “The land will entrance us and in the end bury us, with impartiality. If it seems to have great beauty, that is because of what we are, not because of what it is.”
One might add that beauty in landscape imagery also results from the visual treatment each photographer adopts. Lamb’s approach creates images that combine a sense of majestic scale with an intimate, slightly dark romanticism. This is achieved through a focus on evocative locations, pronounced vignetting and careful manipulation of light and dark values, all of which imbue his landscapes with a slightly otherworldly ambience.
Consider, for example, what Lamb achieves with the famous landmark El Capitan. The granite monolith thrusting above the tree-line in the photograph “Yosemite #1” asserts an unearthly, almost baleful presence thanks to Lamb’s dramatic “staging.” Lamb’s image also suggests—more powerfully than most photographs of El Capitan—the eons of time that have elapsed during which the natural elements have carved the massive rock’s weathered, enigmatic façade.
All of Lamb’s photographs, in fact, be they landscapes or images of abandoned buildings, seem to harbor an implicit darkness. Ultimately, however, eliciting an emotional response to his photographs takes precedence over imparting thematic information. “I want to engage the viewer with an exciting visual design,” he says. “I love to work with shapes, lines, surface texture.”
Notwithstanding Lamb’s reluctance to claim any deeper significance for his work, one can discern certain through-lines in his images. Like the natural erosion evident in his landscapes, Lamb looks for the human imprints left behind on the abandoned buildings he loves to photograph in small cities throughout California and Washington. Like the rusted corrugated siding, discarded tires and seemingly abandoned truck in “Tires for Sale.” Or the faded signage, boarded-up windows and forlorn blinds in “Nakagawa Fish Company.” The wealth of details and textures in these photographs are rich with narrative implications.
As a child Lamb was more interested in building things than in expressing himself visually, but he studied photography in high school and college, and graduated from Western Washington State College with a BA in Industrial Arts with a major in photography. He subsequently went to Ohio University for further study under Clarence White, Jr., then joined the United States Air Force in 1966 and was commissioned in 1967 as a photographic services officer.
He retained his love for the creative side of the medium, but had to concentrate on technical aspects during his time in the service. He ultimately spent more than 20 years in the USAF, designing and managing photographic systems and organizations, and retired in 1987. He then became a certified picture framer, ran a gallery, taught and consulted for a mat board manufacturer. He also wrote the well-regarded book Framing Photography.
As far his personal work goes, Lamb says he has been inspired by the Group f.64 (evident in his choice of subject matter), as well the Pictorialists who preceded them (manifest in his tendency toward subjective representation). Lamb is also clear about what kind of photographer he is not. “I am not a portrait photographer,” he says. “I don’t usually have people in my photographs. I record what remains after they leave. The older the building, the more interesting it is to me.”
Fact File Allan R. Lamb Sacramento, CA allanrlamb.com lambsphoto@ comcast.net Print size and price information available upon request.