William Neill is a capital-L Landscape Photographer, and William Neill: Photographer — a Retrospective shows the best of the best of his incredible body of work.
Neill has lived in the Yosemite area for most of the last 40 years. He was the photographer-in-residence for the Ansel Adams gallery for five years in the early 1980s, and he’s spent his entire career photographing nature, first with 4×5 transparency film, and now with digital. Lush, sun-drenched landscapes; brilliantly colored detail studies; views of Antarctic glaciers so hyperealistic that they make you shiver; eye poppingly gorgeous abstractions; if it has to do with landscape photography, Neill does it all, and he does it right.
From his About page, Neill is “…concerned with conveying the deep, spiritual beauty he sees and feels in Nature,” and it shows.
I don’t own many books of pretty photographs. I have a copy of Makoto Azuma and Shunsuke Shiinoki’s Encyclopedia of Flowers II that’s almost as pretty as William Neill, but that’s all that comes to mind. To be honest, this type of photography doesn’t really appeal to me. Sure, it’s incredible work, clearly. I just don’t really care that much about seeing another beautiful landscape photograph or lush color study. It’s all too slick, too glossy, too colorful.
One photograph in William Neill really grabs me: Horsetail Ferns in Snow, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California, 1984. It looks like a Cy Twombly painting… not quite the most beautiful of landscapes…
Following Introductions by Art Wolfe, John Weller, and Neil, the book is divided into 6 sections: Landscapes of the Spirit; Antarctic Dreams; Meditations in Monochrome; By Nature’s Design; Sanctuary in Stone; Impressions of Light. Each section begins with a short introduction from the author, and they’re roughly thematic. “Antarctic Dreams” is fairly self explanatory, as is “Meditations in Monochrome;” “By Nature’s Design” focuses on details of the landscape, mostly shot on 4×5 film; “Impressions of Light” collects a recent interest in intentional camera motion; “Landscapes of the Spirit” and “Sanctuary in Stone” are collections of landscapes from various National parks (“Landscapes”) and Yosemite, specifically (“Sanctuary”).
There’s something to enjoy and learn from in each one, even if it’s not really my thing, and if you’re even remotely interested in Landscape photography or environmental conservation, William Neill: Photographer — a Retrospective is worth picking up.
I picked up a signed copy direct from Neill’s website, based on a review on The Online Photographer and an invitation from Neill there a few days later. I’m pretty sure I got a first edition copy: it has a different ISBN10 from the version available on that jungle site I refuse to link to or even name, so that’s win. He doesn’t appear to have any for sale at time of writing, but Google is your friend.