Ansel Adams on the Miracle of the Creative Process

Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1)

Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1)

What is the creative process involved? How can I–or any photographer–impart to the spectator not only information, but the experience? The Esthetician, the Historian, the Technician, the Psychologist (and lately, the Psychiatrist) will have convincing explanations. I think the miracle of the creative process evades all analysis. With complete deference to the various sources of critical wisdom, I feel that instinct, intuition, and experience combine in fearful and wonderful ways to create the instantaneous assertion of the spirit. Armed with creative ambitions, with or without a tangible objective, we face the world about us. We recognize the potential of a situation and thereupon we visualize the statement we will make through our lens. Thoroughly complex, and resolved within unconscious areas of our mind, the visualized statement, or image, calls upon our resource of craft for expression in tangible values. So rapid is this process that it assumes the quality of the inevitable; no computer can approach the dextrous inclusiveness of the human mind and imagination. Anyone who has watched Edward Weston walk casually among the complexities of Death Valley, carrying his 8×10 camera over his shoulder, will recall how he might pause a moment, then turn towards a particular spot and set up the tripod–rarely moving it an inch from its first position. The photograph to be made was clearly defined: visualized, in his mind. When a photographer must fuss with his point-of-view, he should realize his visualization is insecure.

Ansel Adams, “A photographer talks about his art.” Los Angeles: Occidental College, 1969.


Photographic portrait of nature photographer Ansel Adams — which first appeared in the 1950 Yosemite Field School yearbook. Photograph by J. Malcolm Greany


Goodbye, Farewell and Amen to Facebook

My Facebook Page, now extant

My Facebook Page, now extant

It’s been a long time since I posted here on Facebook. I stopped because I long for the silence that allows me to commune with and learn from my muse. And for me the cacophony of the social media noise is simply getting in the way. I truly long for the silence where the birth of ideas can happen and clarity can be found.

Continue Reading →


My liveBooks Web Site Refreshed

Craig Varjabedian's "Refreshed" liveBooks web site as displayed on his Apple Macbook Pro, 2014.

Craig Varjabedian’s “Refreshed” liveBooks web site as displayed on an Apple Macbook Pro, 2014.

Web sites can always use a little refresh, and my own web site was certainly no exception. Don’t get me wrong:  I love my site, which was designed by liveBooks. I can’t tell you the number of times a curator, museum director, gallery owner, print client or potential workshop student has commented on how beautiful and professional my web site looks. While I want to believe that they are responding to the images I am showing, I am the first to acknowledge that the design of the web site helps a lot, setting the stage to show off my work to its best advantage.  Continue Reading →


On Teaching Photography: A Manifesto

Photographing Anthony and his Family, San Marcos, New Mexico  Photograph Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian

Workshop Student Photographing Anthony and his Family, San Marcos, New Mexico Photograph Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian

Teaching is one of the greatest experiences of my life. Next to making photographs and spending time with my family (not necessarily in that order), sharing what I have learned after making thousands of photographs is a great joy in my life. “By teaching others you will learn yourself,” the Armenian spiritual teacher Georges Gurdjieff once said. I think he was right. The number of things I have learned through teaching over the years could stun a bull in its tracks.  It truly amazes me.

It seems to me that effective teaching is a kind of intricately choreographed dance between the teacher and the student. The teacher needs to figure out what the student needs which changes as the student and teacher get to know each other and trust develops and the student progresses. The student needs to be available and ready to learn what the teacher has to offer. It is an awesome responsibility for both teacher and student.

Several months back I was challenged to put down on paper a manifesto; a philosophy of sorts of how I believe it is best to teach people to make good photographs. What follows is an excerpt from “my manifesto.” I invite your comments. You can download the entire 2-page essay at the end of this post.

by Craig Varjabedian

To take a photograph means to recognize—simultaneously and within a fraction of a second—both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.
— Henri Cartier-Bresson

Effective teaching is more than the collecting and sharing of facts, figures, and techniques. It is an ongoing, dynamic dialogue between student and teacher, a collaborative exchange of ideas. My goal as a teacher is to help students discover a more thoughtful way to create and to find their own unique and authentic voices.

I begin the process by teaching students to use the tools of photography. These include the camera, the computer and its associated software, and the traditional wet darkroom. Once the student has some facility with the fundamentals, the bigger questions of image making arise: “Where do I point the camera?” and “How do I make a photograph that expresses what I am seeing and feeling?” and finally “How do I create an object (a physical print or perhaps some other electronic form) that allows me to express the experience I had when I made the image?”  [more]

Click to download a pdf of "On Teaching Photography: A Manifesto"

Click to download a pdf of “On Teaching Photography: A Manifesto”


A Visit by Students from the Colorado Springs School

Students from the Southwest Photography Seminar, Colorado Springs School, Colorado Springs, CO  2014

Students from the Southwest Photography Seminar, The Colorado Springs School, Colorado Springs, CO 2014

Nothing you do for children is ever wasted
–Garrison Keillor

A few weeks back, we hosted students from the Colorado Springs School at our studio. Under the guidance of Ms. Vicki Vaughn, the students from the school’s Southwest Photography Seminar were regaled with stories from behind the lens told by Craig Varjabedian as part of a week long photography adventure in New Mexico. As one student commented,

I would just want to sincerely thank you for meeting with my seminar group. When I saw your name on the trip’s itinerary, I thought that we were going to view your work in a museum, but actually meet you in person, at your studio!!! It was like a dream come true . . .

Thanks Vicki Vaughn, Anne Hatch, Eric Gaylord and the thirteen students of the Colorado Springs School for the delightful visit. You made our day!



Forty Years Behind the Lens

Photographing in the Clouds, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 2008  Photograph ©Cindy L. Lane

Photographing in the Clouds, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 2008 Photograph ©Cindy L. Lane


Forty years . . . it’s a long time. The year was 1974 and as I think about it, it was a momentous time for me. It was the year I sold my first photograph. So many sunrises and sunsets I have witnessed and photographed since then. So many faces I have focused my lens on. It has been quite an adventure.

Gratefully the journey is far from over. Currently the indescribable beauty of White Sands National Monument calls me to explore its wonders with my camera. New photographs, new books and new exhibitions are on my horizon. I look forward to them all with eager anticipation.

So in 2014 I celebrate forty years behind the lens. And to me, I believe, this is quite a milestone. Cindy Lane, my business partner (and Supervisor of Karmic Activity) decided to mark the occasion with a chapbook titled Craig Varjabedian: Photographs and Words. The book presents a selection my photographs along with excerpts from essays, notes and other writings about my pictures from people I have known and sometimes collaborated; all favorites chosen with care by Cindy.

Here’s the press release Cindy sent out today:


Award-winning photographer Craig Varjabedian celebrates a career milestone.

The summer of 2014 marks Craig Varjabedian’s fortieth year as a professional photographer. A variety of personal appearances and projects including talks, workshops, and a new book, Craig Varjabedian: Photographs and Words, will showcase Varjabedian’s position as a premier fine art photographer of the American West.

“The remarkable photographs by Craig Varjabedian are not only beautiful but also extremely valuable documents of architecture, culture, and lifestyle,” wrote the late Beaumont Newhall, preeminent twentieth-century photographic historian and author of History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present.  Varjabedian is well known for his eloquent photographs and his engaging story telling about his images and his illustrious career,—from selling his first photograph to an accidental meeting with Ansel Adams as a youth to receiving two National Endowment for the Arts grants and winning a television Emmy award. The fortieth celebratory events include retrospective exhibitions, artist talks, and a new limited edition publication, Craig Varjabedian: Photographs and Words, all which showcase Varjabedian’s talent behind the lens. To learn more about upcoming events visit “News” at

Varjabedian’s photographs have been published in five large-format books. including Landscape Dreams: A New Mexico Portrait that won Best Art Book from the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. His newest book, Craig Varjabedian: Photographs and Words, includes a selection of the best of his pictures, chosen and presented by Cindy L. Lane, who has managed the photographer’s studio for more than twenty-five years. “As I have worked with Craig’s photographs, preparing them for exhibit or publication, I have fallen in love with so many of them,” said Lane. “Looking at these images,” I find myself reliving incredible moments that I can experience through the eyes of the photographer.”

Craig Varjabedian: Photographs and Words is published by Eloquent Light Editions, 903 West Alameda Street #115, Santa Fe, NM 87501. The photographs are accompanied by excerpts about Varjabedian’s work from award-winning writers, critics, and collaborators. Among these authors are National Public Radio commentator Claire O’Neill and New York Times best-selling author Hampton Sides. Also included are Varjabedian’s statements about his own photographs, which range from powerful landscapes to intimate portraits of people and animals.


You can purchase your own copy of the limited edition Craig Varjabedian: Photographs and Words from


We pledge to you . . .

Photographing Anthony and his Family, San Marcos, New Mexico  Photograph Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian

Photographing Anthony and his Family, Eloquent Light Photography Workshops, New Mexico  |   Photograph Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian

I have been working with Cindy Lane, the lady who manages my studio, to craft a manifesto of sorts for our workshop program, Eloquent Light Photography Workshops. We tossed the ball around for weeks and worked long and hard to find just the right words to imbue a sense of who we are and the message that photography is best learned when it is behind the camera. This is what we have came up with:

We’re Eloquent Light and we’re passionate about photography . . .

Simmer is almost here, and now’s the time to get out in the world and take a photography workshop. Why should you join us? We are experts and working photographers; we offer small groups with lots of individual attention. In other words, we know how to help you make great photographs!

Who are we? Award-winning fine-art photographer Craig Varjabedian founded Eloquent Light twenty-six years ago, in 1986. Craig received his Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) from the prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology. Our program was born in the red hills of Ghost Ranch—the landscape made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe. We love photography, we love New Mexico, and we love sharing one of the most beautiful places on earth with clients from all over the world.

We teach photography outdoors because we believe that is where it is best taught. Many instructors try to teach in front of a computer. But we believe that learning how to use your own equipment–where to point the camera and deal with technical issues while standing in front of breathtaking light—is critical in learning how to make great photographs. 

So we’ll pledge you this: We will continue to offer the best photography workshops, and when you join us we will help you take better photographs and improve their quality in the field and in the studio. In addition to our scheduled workshops, we offer private workshops, too, tailored to your schedule and specific needs.

And so we invite you to join us on an adventure with your camera in beautiful New Mexico. Please feel free to contact me with any questions—my particulars are below.

Yours in great photography,

Cindy Lane
Managing Director & Supervisor of Karmic Activity 
(505) 983-2934

Any thoughts? I invite you to contribute any ideas you might have about our statement by leaving a comment below.

P.S.  In case you are curious, Cindy Lane is the Supervisor of Karmic Activity. ;-)


All my friends know the lowrider . . .

A Low-Rider Cadillac named Chimayo, Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico  1997 Photograph Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian

A Low-Rider Cadillac named Chimayo, Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico 1997 Photograph Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian

My long-time friend Victor Scherzinger sent the following to me recently: 

Dear Craig,

Your images always change my view of life. You have taken me into worlds of joy, melancholy, awe and grandeur . . .

A mighty cottonwood holding forth in the middle a field.

A dog waiting on a bench for her master.

A corral in disrepair that hearkens of the hardness of living off the land.

A morada where men once ruled the small valleys of the north.

Fleeting shadows on an adobe walls as the spirits passed by.

A single yucca defying the sifting white sands for survival.

The incredible landforms in Monument Valley.

And the Anasazi petroglyphs that prove there were taggers before lowriders.

Just thought you should know,

Ole Guy!


Great Light, Beautiful Photographs and a Picnic Lunch . . .

Canopied Picnic Tables, White Sands National Monument, Amamogordo, New Mexico  2014  Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian

Appearing like a mirage in the heart of gleaming white dunes, these surreal canopied picnic tables await visitors to White Sands National Monument. Designed by Lyle Bennett, the principal architect of the White Sands Visitor Center (built in the late 1930′s) these works of functional art reflect his preference for modernist architecture and his appreciation of the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


Photograph what you love . . .

Only What You Love, an article by Kate McGraw in the December 6, 2013 issue of the Albuquerque Journal

Only What You Love, an article by Kate McGraw in the December 6, 2013 issue of the Albuquerque Journal

I remember years ago that my college English teacher Robert Kraft admonished us that to truly write well, we needed to write about the things we love.  I think the same can be said when it comes to making good photographs. Otherwise, as author Kahlil Gibran once observed, “all else is a form of waiting.”

So when Albuquerque Journal Reporter Kate McGraw queried me recently about how to make a great photograph, I shared with her the sage wisdom I learned from Dr. Kraft in that early college english class.

I invite you to check out Photos Focus on Landscape: Only What You Love in the Albuquerque Journal.