Crozet Calendar Clinic: Robert Gutkowski

Robert Gutkowskis photograph won an honorable mention in the 2015 Crozet calendar.

Each month a prize-winning photograph from the archives of the Crozet Calendar will be published together with a story from the photographer of how the image was made and commentary by Sam Abell about the merits of the photograph.

Is there a perfect image of a late summer evening in Crozet?

To Robert Gutkowski there is. “I was at the intersection of Jarmans Gap and Half Mile Branch looking to make pictures of horses in the large field there. It didn’t work out; the horses were too far away. I turned around and noticed the two horses behind me were near the road. At the same time clouds were nicely reflecting the warm colors of sunset onto the scene. The coats of the horses caught some of that glow. To me, it is a perfect image of life in Crozet—the way we have farms and orchards so close to the houses we live in.”

Unintended consequences play a large role in the creation of memorable photographs. The original idea doesn’t pan out but Plan B does. In Robert’s case he was ready to pack it in when an unexpected image presented itself and he capitalized on the opportunity.

He also benefited from ‘the second sunset’—a phenomena well known to photographers working in nature. The direct light of the setting sun leaves the land. With its departure the opportunity for image-making seems to end. But occasionally there’s a second setting of the sun when the clouds remain illuminated. Reflected light from this afterglow is often warmer—and always gentler—than the direct light of the straight sunset. Robert’s image benefits from that warm, gentle illumination.

Robert knows this because he’s a life-long traveler and landscape photographer.  “Like many others I took a photography class in high school and learned the basics of photography on a strictly manual Pentax K-1000. Even though I now have a digital camera, I still try to rely on manual settings whenever possible.”

“After graduating from high school, I lived on Cape Cod for several years. That area is rich in subjects and has dramatically varied lighting conditions. I took many shots there—within the limits of my budget and the 24 or 36 frames on a roll of Kodak film.”

“I think the foundation of those years of taking my time to get the manual settings right—no automatic options—really made me pay attention to what I was doing before I opened the shutter. In a way photography is like marksmanship—it’s better to practice the fundamentals until they are natural and then hit the mark with one shot rather than snapping away and hoping to get the result one is hoping for. I served in the Army for 21 years, most of that time in Germany. I travelled and photographed as much as I could during those years. But for all the pictures I did take, I wish I had taken more.

These days a lot of his time is also spent scouting the backroads of western Albemarle. “I like going up through White Hall and Dyke to capture the local mountains from another angle. I always have my camera with me, and sometimes arrive at engagements later than expected because I stop to take pictures along the way. Likewise, I often leave early for work to be in a spot I’ve scouted to catch the light at the right time. I make mental notes of places I travel past for possible future shots, and have revisited several places around Crozet at different times of day to see how the light changes the view.”

“Recently I’ve become more interested in portraiture, both formal and informal. I study people’s faces because their lives are in their expressions. In the future, I’d like to do a project with more human interest, like portraits of the people of Crozet. A town is not only the land it sits on, or the buildings; it’s also the people who live here.”

“I also have a few shots of Crozet titled “Vanished Views.” These are scenes of vacant lots that now have buildings on them, or even the parking lot on the Square before the fences went up. I wish I had done more of those.”

“I photograph locally but social media allows me to interact with photographers around the world. I have enjoyed that but the most amazing thing social media has given me occurred recently. A woman told me my “street” picture—made a decade ago—of a boy and his father watching trains in Crozet was of her son and husband. It’s an image most people can relate to—the excitement of a child seeing a train, the pleasure of a father and son enjoying a day out. It’s about the small, simple events that build to human happiness and joy in the aggregate.”

Robert’s images are on Flickr: spectacle/. Email: [email protected]


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