photographer Greg Lawson

Photographer Greg Lawson capturing his experience of a place in nature.

With the same kind of passion that inspired author Ilchi Lee to write The Call of Sedona, photographer, Greg Lawson shares insight into the independent career that has taken him worldwide to capture landscapes, seasons and wildlife in award-winning imagery for over fifty years. As part of the impressive array of breathtaking work that can be seen at Greg Lawson Galleries in Sedona, a photographic collection called Zona Sedona, Images of the Southwest focuses on the region we call home.

LT: Looking at your photographs, it would seem you’ve been nearly everywhere.

GL: Since I was a boy, my longing has always been for places. I used to go to the library when I was a kid and pour over books about places. And when my Mom bought me my first camera, we were in New York City, I was fourteen years old and I just started capturing those big city elements. The whole idea that I could retain them indefinitely was really appealing to me and it kind of set me into motion. The family I grew up in was artistic and independent. Everything we did, we did because we had a passion for doing it. That was wonderful for me. I fell in love with photography. The camera was almost intuitive in my hands. I felt a belonging, and it was easy.

LT: What brought you to Sedona?

GL: We came here four years ago. I feel personally like I am kind of an ‘earthling’ and I belong everywhere. Sedona is one of those places where it’s easy to come home to, whenever you go away. My family has always chosen to live in places like that. Sedona is a wonderful place to be; it has a wonderful spirit and the physical portion is very appealing to me because I am a physical artist.

LT: It is evident in your work that you yourself were first captured by the image, and then chose to capture the image. It appears much patience is involved.

GL: The really wonderful thing about photography is that because there is something like four billion cameras out there, or so they say, everybody takes pictures. So a lot of people when they look at a picture they think “snap shot.” They think that because that’s what they would do.

But I’m slow and meticulous. A lot of these pieces are old 4X5 camera pieces and the fact that it slows you down and forces you to be decisive about every step is a wonderful thing.

I carry that even into modern photography with modern cameras. I use manual techniques: I make the decisions on it. I like to compose and create and feel that what I’m capturing is really the essence not only of the place, but the essence of ‘me’ in the place. It’s like a personal expression—every one of them is that way for me. If you had a couple of days, I could sit here and tell you a story about every piece in here. They all have their own story to tell.

LT: Often with photography, we have a sense of “standing back.” But with your work, the sense of “standing in” is very powerful and the desire to be where you were standing nearly takes one’s breath away.

GL: I appreciate that very much. I have seen time and time again that people will actually become emotional in being able to be around all these wonderful places: to sense them, and taste them, and feel them. And those who can step in there with me, I think have been enriched by it.

In fact, we call this gallery “Passion for Place.” I love to go to places; that has been my passion since I was a kid. My greatest education has come from dipping deeply into cultural environments that were foreign to me and coming away from it with a feeling almost like ecstasy, because the big thing I’ve learned from traveling for the last decades, is that as different as things are, they’re really not so different. We have a collective “oneness” that needs to be appreciated. And the photography is a nice way to share with people the passion of a particular place, or the power of a place. People can get right inside that [photograph] and when they do that—when they connect with it and they connect with you, that’s what it’s all about. I love when people do that.

LT: Your wildlife photography speaks volumes of the “oneness” of nature.

GL: With wildlife I enjoy walking with them and talking with them and watching them open up, or depart, whatever it is, but when you do make a connection with a wild creature, it is I think the most beautiful experience possible. There’s a picture where I ran into a mother bobcat and her three kittens. I went back and visited them every day for eight days, I noticed over time they would let me in. One time the mother just took off and left me with the cubs. The last day I saw the whole family, the mother just came up to me like a housecat and she brushed against my leg. It was like she was saying “goodbye.”

Some people might criticize me for this and say I’ve ruined their lives by exposing them to humanity. But I disagree, I think this is a spin that certain scientific types have put on it, but I don’t agree with it at all: We are nature, they are nature. The wrongness comes from divorcing us from them and fencing us away from them. If you look at the historic native peoples, for example, they worked around in the fields with the animals. And they honored them even when they hunted them, there would be reverential appreciation for the ‘being’ that they were. I think it’s the way to be.

LT: It is possible to enjoy their beauty without interfering with their life, especially as the animal is given the choice to reveal itself to a gentle spirit like yourself who carries that “Oneness” within and means no harm. And what a gift to the world these candid shots of nature are, especially for those who cannot hike into the wilderness!

GL: I think you are right. I feel the same way. In fact, just like people do, we make the choice to let people in or not. We are all just creatures, and I think that we have a great privilege. I’m not an activist, but I promote the idea of peaceful co-existence of all people and all creatures of the earth. This little website that we have created is really promoting that ideal.

LT: You are referring now to your latest project?

GL: Yes, Aprinia.com. I’ve had this coming on for thirty years. It actually came out of the fact that I’ve visited many places on the earth. We’re born into a society or a culture. When we were young and went to school, we were told by our educators that certain things are truths. This happens in the cultural arena, the religious arena, and in the political arena: we are defined by “something.” I started thinking about the fact that everyone I meet everywhere has these certain attributes that seem to be pretty much consistent throughout all people. It doesn’t matter what language they speak, or where they live on the earth, they have certain inherent qualities that are good qualities. And I kind of came to thinking about them as people living by certain principles.

When I started thinking about that, the power of principle, it was just kind of an awakening for me. Principles are wonderful, and simple, and easy to abide by, and they are aligned within all of us. Sometimes we meet people who are very principled, and sometimes we meet people that may not have too many, but still everyone has the capacity to do good because there is an inherent reason for it.

Aprinia.com is now a place that you can recognize as a virtual nation, a place of coming together. Like, for example, the sunflower has petals reaching out in every direction, but they’re just connected in one little place. That’s what I want Aprinia to be. Everyone can feel a connection to it, because it’s not promoting anyone’s ideal, it’s only promoting what we have in common. It’s very simple but very powerful, because we all have it.

LT: Are there any final thoughts you would like to share?

GL: Back to your original question, I know a lot of people come to Sedona because they feel that there is a powerful attraction—I feel that kind of attraction almost everywhere I go. I feel a sense I can relate to the power that exists almost everywhere, and it is sometimes very moving to me . . . even in places people might disdain, or look down on because they are simple or too plain. They are not plain to me. One time, when we lived on eight acres, I told my wife, “You could lock me up here for two years, and I’d never complain about it,” because every scoop of dirt contains life and magnificence and wonder. I really do feel that way! I’m a simple country boy, and I appreciate the land, the earth, and spirituality. I have that blessed mix that makes me content.

The wonderful thing, I think, about doing the kind of work that I do photographically is that the challenge is before me to convert what the camera gives me into the experience that I really had, and this is where the art comes in, or a big portion of it. Yes, you have to be motivated to go. Yes, you have to plant yourself in a particular position. Yes, you have to capture the instant. But the camera’s so weak and miserable and pitiable that it cannot possibly display the power of the moment! You have to instill it with what was there, and yet the obligation that I have is to do that without pushing it into realms. I mean for me, my art has to make you sense that you’re there, in a real place, and you’re not being entertained by that which is not real.

It is Nature which serves us so well, and I want my work to convey that power. The presence of Nature is unbelievable, unimaginable! For me it ‘does it’ for all of us if we let it. When people can allow someone else’s artwork to take them there, to let them soar, to let them fly, it’s a beautiful experience.

LT: There is no doubt you have accomplished that!

GL: Thank you.

By Lynn A. Trombetta