Interview with Photographer Greg Glau

Greg Glau is Associate Professor and Director of the University Writing Program at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Greg has co-authored several textbooks and written numerous academic journal articles, and some of his photographs have been published in those texts as well as on book covers. Greg’s photographs work to provide an unusual perspective on the beauty of nature.

Greg’s prints are on display in NAU’s University Writing Program office as well as in the English Department offices.

Greg’s prints also are currently on display (with Greg Larkin’s photography) at the NAU Bursar’s Office, and The North Country Health Center main office. The “two Gregs” had a 2011 show at the New Frontiers Natural Marketplace and at NAU’s College of Arts and Letters Dean’s office.

With his daughter Trace Glau, Greg has been part of Flagstaff’s First Friday Art Walk, for the last four years. Their work was featured in the October 2011 issue of MOUNTAIN LIVING magazine.

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Greg, you’ve had multiple careers with a lot of demands on your time and energy.  The journey to becoming any type of artist (amateur or professional) has many twists and turns and takes a lot of effort if you’re to do it well. How and or why did you become involved with photography?

I took lots of photographs of the kids when they were young but of course that was film so it was expensive.  I got “back” into photography perhaps 8-10 years ago with a new digital camera.  By then the kids were grown so now I focus on nature, and especially patterns that I see that I find interesting or attractive or unusual.

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We know there are many paths to becoming a good photographer. What kind of training have you undergone?

None, unfortunately, other than a one-day Nikon School years ago.  But, I just watched a video course by professional National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, a course from the Teaching Company called “Fundamentals of Photography.”  Joel is entertaining and really knows his stuff, and presents material with lots of examples—so you can see what he means.  I hope to take some workshops (Arizona Highways offers some) but am just too busy.

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Your collection at Zenfolio http://gglau.zenfolio.com/ is very diverse. What do you try to achieve with your photography?

If I had to make a statement of what I try to “do” with my photography, it’d go something like this:

In A Sense of Where You Are, John McPhee focuses on the career of the famous basketball player (and future Senator) Bill Bradley.  McPhee writes that

Every time a basketball player takes a step, an entire new geometry of action is created around him.  In ten seconds, with or without the ball, a good player may see perhaps a hundred alternatives and, from them, make half a dozen choices as he goes along.  A great player will see even more alternatives and will make more choices, and this multiradial way of looking at things can carry over into his life.

I see photography in much the same way: photography is about nothing if not alternatives, and I very much like McPhee’s notion of a “multiradial” way of seeing things.  Now of course, most things that someone takes a picture of have been photographed thousands of times before.  But I think that each photograph is different, maybe only in some minor way, as always the light is different and the perspective is different and the range from the focal plane of the camera to the object being photographed is different.  Each photograph, then, is an original.  I try to find patterns or colors or shading or angles of view – and especially lighting – that make a particular photograph truly different and distinct.

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Can you tell us a bit about your process?

I look for unusual perspectives and often see something and a title comes to mind, something to name a particular photograph.  I also try—as Joel Sartore says over and over—to really “work a scene.”  That is, to move and get higher or lower and look at the light from this direction and then from that direction, to change perspectives – to see and take pictures of whatever I’m trying to photograph from a range of viewpoints.  I take a LOT of pictures.

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What kind of routine or schedule have you established for photography work?

I wish I had a routine, but it’s more of seeing something and taking pictures of it.  I keep a camera in the car and also at-hand at home.  And others I’m out with often will see something and suggest taking a photo of it.  For example, my wife and I were at a local pawn shop (!!) last week and she saw some thistles at the edge of the parking lot, called me over, and I ended up with a few decent photographs.

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What are your plans for your photography going forward?

I really like this question as I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  I’m perhaps two years from retirement and I want to retire “to” something (photography, writing) rather than “from” something.  But what to do?  I have a decent website for my pictures but have not had a lot of success getting people to go to it and look (they can’t buy pictures if they don’t see them!).  So, I need to use social media and whatever else to get folks to that Website—that all takes time.  I’d also like to get some of my work on iStockPhoto or whatever so books and magazines would perhaps see and use some of my work.  I have photos on an Arizona Highways site called CAPTURE MY ARIZONA and on the Nikon site, and want to increase exposure there and in other places.  I just haven’t had time to work at marketing.

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I really enjoy the playfulness of the title of your piece in Four Ties Lit Review “Do You See What I See?” How important are titles for you and do you have a difficult time picking them?

I think I’m pretty good at titles and think they are really really important.  I could have called the photo you used “Roman statue” or “Bust” or something, but I think titles are interesting and in some ways construct the photograph—the language, then, creates in some way(s) the image.  And I think viewers see and understand a picture differently depending on the title; it allows the viewer to interact with the picture in ways he or she wouldn’t with either a different title or with no title.  So I like titles that really meld with the image.  If you had my website in front of you so you could see the photo, “Ice of Hearts,” for example, sounds like a playing card but is actually a picture of some ice that formed on our dining room window—and I didn’t see the little heart-shaped cutouts until I’d taken a lot of photos and looked closely at them.  “Eye Candy” is a perfect title for that picture, and it is a photo of some candy!  I also like to use titles in a playful way—the “My Hidden Meadow” photo that was made into wallpaper for Ardrey Auditorium’s “will-call” ticket window area – the walls are about 18’ x 10’—is actually of a meadow right next to the main road to the San Francisco Peaks . . . but I wanted a title that would make viewers think it was “hidden” in some way.

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Do you have any favorite photographers or artists?(If you want why?)

I’ve mentioned Joel Sartore above and also am fascinated with Rodney Lough, Jr.’s work—he takes absolutely stunning landscapes, and has used a large format (8”x10” film) camera for years; he’s just switched to digital.

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Any advice for aspiring photographers? (Or anything you’d like to say to our audience?)

Thanks so much for reading all of this and for letting me share my thoughts with you.  As for aspiring photographers, free advice: take a LOT of photographs and learn how to really “read” your own work and get rid of 99+% of it (this is hard to do, for me anyway).  And try to get your work “out there” – I work at a university and have had several on-campus exhibits—people like to “dress up” their offices with photographs—for me, an exhibit at the Dean’s offices led to the Dean using “Ice of Hearts” as a holiday card one year, and then to those huge walls at our fine arts center that now have my photography on them . . .

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