Coast Weekly

The Visual Alchemist
Richard Pitnick

January 4-10, 2001

Chip Hooper finds meaning at the juncture where reality and reflection meet.

There is no greater challenge for the contemporary landscape photographer than searching out fresh perspectives to express the beauty and mystery of the natural world. For Central Coast shooters in particular, the shadows cast by such patriarchs of the medium as Ansel Adams and Brett Weston are long and deep, making it especially difficult to bring new insight into what has become an overly derivative genre.

One local photographer who sheds some new light on the landscape is Chip Hooper, whose current exhibition at the Highland Inn’s Fireside Gallery offers viewers a chance to reconnect with some familiar terrain in some very unique ways.

Unlike Adams, who celebrated the majesty of nature in an oftentimes overly romanticized way, or Weston, who was drawn to bold expressions of the abstract, Hooper searches out those moments in nature that have great emotional resonance beyond the physical reality of the scene. This approach is similar to what Alfred Steiglitz was seeking in his series of cloud pictures titled “Equivalents.” Like Steiglitz, Hooper is drawn to the intangible mystery and stillness at the center of nature.

“I attempt to make my pictures about mood, to make them feel a certain way as opposed to how they look,” explains Hooper, who likens his approach to the landscape with contemporary photographers Michael Kenna and Richard Misrach.

“I’m using a visual art form to move someone spiritually and emotionally,” he says. “I strive for technical perfection but only as a means to an end, to allow people to see the inspiration. Sharing pictures is important to me. It’s about completing the process.”

Two techniques Hooper relies on to evoke a more emotional response to nature is the use of long exposures, and by photographing during those transitional moments when light and atmosphere merge to create an almost seamless canvas between land, sea and sky.

One of the show’s standout images is the eerie Moonlight, Garrapata Beach, an otherworldly nightscape in which a sharply delineated rock outcropping on the beach emerges against a satiny-smooth sea/sky background, making the picture look as though it was photographed on the moon itself.

Crashing Waves and Splash has a strong painterly effect as Hooper captures the sensuous tumult of the sea crashing against the coast in a way that suggests the quality of a painter working with broad, powerful brush strokes.

Reflection, Merced River offers a distinctly surreal quality in the way Hooper contrasts both the reflected and actual presence of a boulder and a fallen tree that creates a knifelike thrust across a plane of image.

Throughout the exhibition, Hooper displays the qualities of an alchemist in the way he allows light, atmosphere and tonality to manipulate our perception of space. It is through this altered perception that Hooper shows us the eternal qualities of nature that lurk within those moments when we perceive our emotional connection to the landscape.

“If I had a goal with my work, it would be to take people out of their ordinary worlds, ” says Hooper. “I get lost in the process of making them, and if that is reflected back in the prints, that serene feeling, that’s great.”

“It’s a relentless pursuit to find images and make prints that are moving,” Hooper adds. “It’s not just about craft. I like to let the process run, to let it rip and see what happens.”