Lee Mann speaks on photography career

Published on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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Lee Mann has traveled throughout the United States as well as to Antarctica, Africa, Tibet, the South Pacific and the Canadian Arctic, but he said his heart will always remain in the North Cascades.

It was the early 1950s, the Korean War had just ended and Mann had just returned from service in the U.S. Navy. Soon after, however, he took a backpacking trip into the North Cascades that changed his perspective on life and his career.

“I came back from war very nihilistic, very cynical,” he said to a packed house during a speaker’s series last March hosted by the North Cascades Learning Center at Lake Diablo. “But after a night under the stars, I awoke to a hawk flying above me in the morning light. Jewels from the morning dew were everywhere. The beauty was absolute and I knew my life would be different from then on.”

It was then when Mann made a split decision to give up his teaching career to spend the rest of his life doing what excites him the most: mountain climbing and photography.

Thirty years and thousands of photographs later, the 73-year-old Mann, who sometimes refer to himself as a “quintessential hillbilly from Hooterville,” is arguably one of the Northwest’s most prominent landscape photographers and sells 110 high-quality photographic print posters and 200 note cards through his distributors in North America and Europe. Mann added that all work is done without computer splicing and no images of captive zoo or game park animals are ever used.

Mann was born in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. His father spent many years in the logging industry, and the family often hunted for food. Before entering into the photography field, he taught environmental education in the Sedro-Wolley school district.

Q: What’s your favorite place to photograph and why?

A: That isn’t an easy answer. What makes a good photograph is light. You can go to a place that is fairly humdrum day after day and then you can come onto it someday and it’s magic. You can have a situtation where the light is so different than you’ve ever experienced that suddenly it’s incredibly gorgeous because the light is coming through the clouds in a certain way.

There was one moment, in particular, when I was coming down off Skyline Divide trail by Glacier, and I was coming down off the ridge and soaking in the sun during the fall and, you know, it’s one of those days when you’re kind of gritty and sunburned and you’re sweaty and coming down off that ridge and it’s a beautiful day and you’ve got all that floss from the fireweed. Here I come around the bend, and the sun is coming down. There’s a silvery river winding through the gorge, and the light’s coming down and striking that river. You could come down there 1,000 times and it wouldn’t be particularly pretty. But in this day, the combination of these shafts of light and these trees silhoueted – it was just this incredible magic.

So I slammed on the breaks and the next hour, I was just there with a camera just utterly enthralled. So what you get is a combination of elements, maybe it’s your mood – you’ve had this wonderful day and you’re mellow and your karma’s in the right spot – and the light is just perfectness. All of a sudden this ordinary place; you could just spend all day there with your jaw hanging loose.

But I do have to say that I’ve always felt paritcularly at home at this section area Mt. Baker/Mt. Shuksan quadrangle, Ruth Mountain, Canadian border, and the Twin Lakes.

Q: What kind of camera do you shoot with?

A: When we went digital we went with Cannon cameras. We use the 5D and a 7D. We also have a 30D that I just had converted to infrared.

Q: How did you go from growing up in a logging community to teaching environmental education?

A: For a lot of people I grew up around, they thought that anyone who was educated was crazy, and people who were educated didn’t think that them thar people knew anything about them thar hills. But getting a degree changed my perspective entirely.

The other thing is when you get around people with degrees in natural sciences you realize suddenly that things that loggers called jack pines and jack fir and a lot of the terms the hillbillies used didn’t have any scientific significance. Sometimes they knew things the scientists didn’t but, by large, they’re riddled with superstitions.
But my grandfather and my father both told me I didn’t want to be a logger, because, they said they were ruining it, and they realized that if they were taking out the best timber, the future generation wouldn’t be able to get a good job in the woods.

 Images available at www.leemannphotography.com.