Tom, you moved to Moab, Utah where you now make your home from Iowa. What brought you to this desert environment initially?
I discovered Moab as a preteen on my way to California with my parents. Some people say this place picks you, and it picked me right away. I came back many times and, after college, I moved to Moab to explore the nearby wilderness and used it as a base to explore the Four Corners and Western Colorado Mountains. The people who know Moab now wouldn't have recognized the place then. The backcountry was deserted and wide open – no permits, no crowds, it was nirvana. I'm so lucky I got to spend those years here when Grand Junction was considered to be the end of the world. Also, I was the only serious professional landscape photographer here for a long time. It was a small town where everyone knew everyone else. Now I don't know anyone.
Other than the amazing canyon country landscape, what other factors prompted your interest in photography and informed your early artistic vision?
I don't have a photography background. My degree is in English. I had been inspired in college by Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde and David Muench, and I thought it would be fun to try to shoot images of all the magnificent and little-known places I was visiting. At some point in 1975 I decided to try and make a living from photography and saved up money for a 4x5 camera. I really stuck to that mental commitment. I captured some good images with that camera right from the start, even though I had no idea how to use it. There were no workshops in those days. I took some college extension courses but nobody really knew how to operate that camera. Eventually, I made up my own system, which seemed to work fine. My early artistic vision was the same as it is now. I love my subjects, I am curious and I am willing to spend a lot of time to get what I want. Some images are pre-planned right down to a storyboard, while others are gifts I grab from the earth and sky that I could never have envisioned.
You began your career using film. Do you still use film?
The change to digital from film was a no-choice item for me. After over 30 years of carrying around a huge, heavy backpack, my body could not take it anymore. Honestly, now I don't know how I did all that hiking and climbing, let alone dragging it though every airport in the world. I don't think it's immodest to say I took a ...