Local photographer showcases Iceland’s scenic landscapes in latest exhibit

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TJ Martinez

Northern California photographer Gary Wagner poses in front of his “Iceland: Forces of Nature” photo gallery at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2020. Wagner said he prefers to photograph exclusively in black and white to emphasize that the photos are interpretations.

TJ Martinez

From wandering the cornfields of Indiana in his adolescence to embarking on present-day solo trips to some of the most stark and barren landscapes the globe has to offer, Northern California-based photographer Gary Wagner’s love for the natural world has always been a staple in his livelihood.                                     

Wagner’s latest collection, “Iceland: Forces of Nature” is being showcased at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center located on J street in Sacramento through Saturday.         

“It looked like it contained landscapes that would work well for my black and white vision,” Wagner said in regard to Iceland.           

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“Mountain Stripes” by Gary Wagner Saturday, Nov. 19, 2020 at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center located on J Street in Sacramento. The image conveys the stark yet inviting landscape that Iceland has to offer. (TJ Martinez)

Visiting during the Summer equinox, in which there is almost 24 hours of daylight due to the country’s location in relation to the Arctic Circle, Wagner expressed love for the intricacies in tones of light and cloud cover he stumbled upon.                       

“The best thing about it was that I had not expected to see such tremendous clouds and light variations, and that really just added to the whole experience,” Wagner said.        

Roberta McClellan, executive director of the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center, described how Wagner was able to capitalize on such conditions.           

“His use of light is remarkable, creating an almost other-worldly glimpse into his reality,” McClellan said.                      

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“Heaven Light on Godafoss” by Gary Wagner on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2020 at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center on J Street in Sacramento. Wagner shows the constant motion of water through long exposure. (TJ Martinez)

Drawing inspiration from both photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, Wagner has shot exclusively black and white photography for over four decades. Wagner said the reason behind this preference in style is because color photographs are too close to reality in his eyes.         

“If you see something and you take that image because you thought it was so beautiful because of the color, very seldom does that translate well into good black and white,” Wagner said.  

Placing heavy emphasis on lines, shapes, light and shadows for an added element of “drama and excitement,” Wagner said these aspects of the craft are what he uses to dictate the composition in all of his work.         

“I have kind of a vision I’ve created in my mind on how landscapes can look,” Wagner said, sharing how he approaches his craft. “Since they’re in black and white, they’re not real, because color is real. Black and white is just an interpretation.”         

In reference to these interpretations, McClellan shared a note she wrote for Wagner. 

“You have created a foreboding landscape that is also inviting,” McClellan wrote. “I am struck by how quiet and yet herculean they are.”     

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“Age Lines” by Gary Wagner Saturday, Nov. 19, 2020 at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center located on J Street in Sacramento. This piece highlights both texture and contrast of the Icelandic landscape. (TJ Martinez)

Among the various facets of Iceland Wagner captures in his current exhibition, the movement of water is the most prominent.     

“Water can be slow moving, it can be super fast, you can stop action, you can make it flow and look differently,” Wagner said.                 

Rebecca Gregg, professor emerita from Sierra College, touched on how Wagner’s dramatic style is able to transport the viewer’s imagination through such variations of exposure. 

“The soft flow of the water from the long exposures is a romantic expression that makes the power of the water seem less threatening,” Gregg said.         

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“Skogafoss Glow” by Gary Wagner Saturday, Nov. 19, 2020 at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center located on J Street in Sacramento. Wagner uses leading lines created by the long exposure of the waterfall to flow into the mixed tones within the foreground of the piece. (TJ Martinez)     

When asked if the current exhibit has drawn any inspiration to herself, Gregg not only praised the images themselves, but also the process of Wagner putting the gallery together in its entirety. 

“His dedication to the initial capture of the images, the thoughtful editing, printing and presenting — these are truly inspiring and necessary when making such a focused body of work,” Gregg said.        

Wagner said that variation in view when shooting the same landscapes over time is what keeps him motivated as a creator. 

“[I’ve] re-photographed so many landscapes again and again with different viewpoints and different ways of looking at it, and that’s really been an inspiration for me,” Wagner said.