Photographer: Jake Rajs

Publisher: Monacelli Press

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

From William Henry Jackson to Robert Adams, the American West has been a source of inspiration to photographers. Now, in Carved by Time: Landscapes of the Southwest, Jake Rajs, a photographer who has established his credentials by wonderful photographs of the northeastern part of the United States, turns his attention in the same direction.

The book concentrates on the landscapes of the Four Corners states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The scenes photographed include places that every photographer who has wandered west of the Mississippi River knows: the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly and others.  The landscapes are red, but Rajs doesn’t forget to include what for me has become a trademark, magnificent skies. What most impressed me were the two page panoramic spreads that really helped to convey the ideas of the marriage of land and sky, although at the same time a panorama of birches seemed the next logical step beyond the birches of Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter. The pictures are devoid of humans, but the markings of man upon the landscape, in the form of photographs of the ruins of the Anasazi dwellings at Mesa Verde, Pueblo Bonito, Cocomino and other sites, and of ancient petroglyphs, are plentiful. I particularly liked the images that looked through an arcade of windows and doors, repeating patterns in this landscape of so much variation. The photographer also often provides us with several adjoining pictures of the same scene, varying either in scale or viewpoint, as if a single image could never be enough to tell us the story. Equally impressive were the snow-swathed landscapes where the white mitigated the endless red.

For me the book called out for comparisons, both to the photographer’s other work and to the work of other photographers. (I consider this call to comparison to be one of the features of art that works.) In his work on the North Fork of Long Island, Rajs created images of a more intimate nature, although many of those pictures took the wide view, and seemed to reflect his love of the place. Here one senses a certain feeling of awe and respect, and even though there is the occasional picture of foreground object set against background, it seemed to me almost as if the scope of the landscape forced Rajs to try to encompass it.

I also could not avoid comparing these photographs to those by others who work in the same geographical areas. Foremost in my mind was the work of Jack Dykinga who somehow has managed to tame this same landscape to a comprehensible size and to overcome the constant redness of things. I don’t mean to fault Rajs by this comment. Rather it is a statement of the meaning and vision that I found in his photographs, and meaning and vision is, after all, what moves photographs from snapshots to art.

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