A single lens is a minimalist philosophy using simplicity to awaken the creative spirit. It is a rebellion, a rejection of what photography has become. It is image making with intention, a single black and white print being the final goal.

It is a return to my roots as a photographer.

Biography

A son of two U.S.F.S. employees, I grew up in the central foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I, like so many photographers, fell in love with the medium of photography in high school. Upon graduation in 1991,  I began working as a darkroom tech in a large commercial photography studio. I lasted a year before moving on to work as a photojournalist for a local, central valley newspaper. However, what I really wanted was to use a view camera and create fine art, black and white photographs like my idols at the time, Brett Weston and Arron Siskind.

 

In 1993, I moved to the Monterey Bay area to be at the hub of what was known as the West Coast Tradition of black and white photography.  I had the privilege of  studying with and befriending many great photographers including Ruth Bernhard, John Sexton, Al Weber, Merg Ross, R.R. Jones and Dick Garrod. They selflessly shared their craft with me, a young photographer who was barley in his twenties. I was proud and honored to continue the West Coast Tradition of photography, even as its popularity was fading.  I quickly saved up money and purchased an 8x10 view camera and a single lens.

 

I worked as a custom Ilfochrome printer during the day and spent the evenings developing my 8x10 film and making contact prints. Weekends were spent driving throughout California, from the central coast to the Sierras. My first major one man exhibit, at the Pacific Grove Art Center, was in 1997, which included an introduction by Ken Gregg, president of the Center for Photographic Art. That same year my first significant publication, a portfolio in the prominent journal Lenswork, was published. I had the great privilege of photographing Charis Wilson and also working with her on her book about her years with Edward Weston, including reproducing her collection of  Edward Weston prints.

I loved the simple, meditative pace of the view camera and the abstract beauty of the black and white silver print.  But I was a restless young man who's general interests were evolving.  I devoured poetry, works of philosophy and became a practicing Buddhist.  I wanted to climb mountains, explore wild places and ride bikes. I felt a clash between my growing interests and my beloved form of photography. I attempted to meld them together. I dragged my view camera through the Nepal Himalayas, twice. In 2001, my girlfriend Pam (now my wife) and I moved to Alaska, to be as close to wilderness as possible.

In Alaska, my work as a custom printer ended. The public's interest in black and white photography also began to diminish and  my fine art print sales slowed to a trickle. I decided to focus my energy on wilderness exploration and guiding. I slowly downsized my gear from my 8x10 to a 4x5, then to medium format and ultimately digital.

I began working on long term photography projects focused on wilderness and  environmental conservation. I reluctantly switched to color photography, which was what editors and publishers were demanding. I was obsessed with the glaciated landscape (I still am) and put most of my efforts into exploring  and photographing remote glaciers throughout Alaska.

 

I had a very productive fifteen years working as a color photographer. I was the recipient of the  Alaska Conservation Foundation's Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award, National Endowment for the Arts-Alaska State Council on the Art's Career Opportunity Grant,  Alaska State Council on the Arts 1% for Arts Commission and a Rasmuson Artist Fellowship. My work was published in magazines and books throughout the world and two monograms of my work were published: Chugach State Park-Alaska's Backyard Wilderness (Greatland Graphics, 2011) and Alaska Range: Exploring the Last Great Wild (Mountaineers Books, 2016). Though my greatest accomplishment was raising my wonderful son Walker who was born in 2007. 

 

In 2016, I suffered an injury to my hip that stopped my explorations and wilderness photography in its tracks. For three years I limped around unable to participate in the activities that had come to define me. The mountains that I loved and the wilderness that sustained me were no longer within my reach.To compensate and fill the void that had developed, my family and I started doing more international travel. I photographed in Central America, South America, southern Africa and central Europe.  I really enjoy photographing in new, unfamiliar environments. Each time I immersed myself in a new culture, it would trigger a series of self reflections and internal debates on my art and my life. 

In 2020,  I was diagnosed with a incurable autoimmune disease.  Add the global pandemic and all  of the internal debates I was having came rushing to the forefront. My life philosophy was put to the test and it failed. It was time to make some changes. For years I had debated whether photography was still the appropriate medium to explore  my ideas and work through my own personal philosophy. I tried multiple times to quit, dabbling in painting and ceramics, but realized that photography was simply a part of me that could not be removed. I also realized that the work I was doing, primarily color editorial work, was not the work I wanted to do, it was not the work I needed to do. I also knew the direction the medium of photography was heading, was not for me.

 

I despise photography's consumption in mass on tiny screens. Its focus on quantity over quality. Its lack of attention to the craft, especially the printed image. I hate that black and white photography has become an afterthought for the majority of photographers, a gimmick, a filter you add to your color image when it is unsatisfying. Reputations aren't built on the quality of a photographer's craft or the power of their vision, but on how well they play the social media circus.

 

I have always believed that the black and white print was the strongest form of photographic expression. I have decided to return to my roots, to black and white photography with the goal of creating the finest prints possible. I considered returning to the 8x10 camera and silver prints, but I have  no interest in exposing myself or our environment to anymore chemicals and I like the challenge of creating  meaningful work using modern technology. Plus, I still like going to wild places and immersing myself in diverse cultures and the view camera is not practical for wilderness exploration and international travel.

 

Even though I have chosen not to return to black and white film, it is important that I make an honest commitment to black and white photography and my minimalist ideals. I have chosen to use a monochrome digital camera, one lens and print only one print on a monochrome converted, carbon ink printer.

The Single Lens Philosophy, as I like to call it, is more than just an minimalist approach to creative photography. It is a life philosophy based on the acceptance of the unpredictable and impermanent nature of life.  Like any philosophy, it is an attempt to understand the human condition. It is also a response to the damage we continue to inflict on our environment and rebellion against the direction the medium of photography is going.

Thanks for taking time to explore this site,

Carl Battreall

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