Photographer sheds new light on landscapes

A Bay Area artist is using electrifying new techniques to photograph landscapes
August 31, 2010 1:31:50 PM PDT
There really is an old Chinese proverb that says, "Whoever loves and understands a garden will find contentment within." Anyone can read that, but to practice it requires effort.

Robert Buelteman enters his yard with an 8x10 frame, seeking inspiration from the perfect plant: Conium Maculatum, better known as hemlock of Socrates

Buelteman is a professional photographer, whose landscapes are world-renowned. But a few years ago, vistas like these began to feel like a dead-end.

"I could see that my future would look just like my past if I continued to practice black and white landscape work," he said.

Now, he confines his work to plants. But Buelteman doesn't confine himself to standard photography technique because in his darkroom, there is no camera to be found. Instead, he lays the subject on a piece of photo paper, hooks it up to an electrical charge and zaps it with 40,000 volts.

"It discharges down the grounding cable and when it does so, the air surrounding the plant is ionized, and gives off ultra-violet light in the form of the energy field of the plant," Buelteman said.

The results are completely unique. The process took one year to perfect and it even caught his wife off-guard.

"I didn't know what he was talking about for a very long time," Julie Buelteman said.

"My wife is a saint. She put up with this for 11 months and 28 days. She told me to stop experimenting and figure out what I was going to do with it," said Buelteman.

Buelteman's work has generated a buzz in more than the literal sense. The pictures are like ink blots and open to interpretations.

"Old man in the clouds, gnome in the trees, the fact of God, illuminati, you name it, people have found it," Buelteman said. "All that I have to say is bounded by the four sides of my prints. Art that is powerful poses more questions than it answers."

For Buelteman, it answered the question of what to do when a guy tires of shooting landscapes and he makes a pretty good living by shooting them in the macro. The prints now sell around the world, though Buelteman's inspiration is right outside his front door.

"I have a big yard, and a big garden," he said.

Prints sell from $1,500 to $10,000 for the 96-inch pieces.


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