Lance Warley: Capturing The Beauty of the Landscape
Lance Warley, a landscape photographer from the South Bronx, is a third generation New Yorker that was predestined to run his family business — a gas station. During the 1960s his neighborhood in the South Bronx fell into decline. The once prominent borough became infested with crime and poverty, and it made it hard to make a living in the family business. Instead of taking over the gas station, he chose to go to school for two years at NYU before he decided to leave and hitchhike his way across America.
Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, whose prose romanticizes the freedom of the west and adventure, he began thumbing his way across the country in the late 60s. He had no particular destination in mind. He eventually found himself at Woodstock enjoying some music before a long stretch of hitchhiking that taking him from NY to Oregon.
He hitchhiked to the town of Beaver, Oregon, and felt like his world was turned upside down viewing life through the looking glass, and seeing how beautiful and diverse America really was firsthand. This, for sure, was the early beginnings of Lances’s photographic eye developing.
He eventually made his way to Ohio, got a teaching degree, found his wife Connie and became an English teacher. But when his new family grew with a baby en route, he made the decision to improve their life by becoming a computer programmer, and has worked at IBM in South Florida since 1982.
Other than a few snapshots during the 80s, Lance didn’t get the proverbial photography bug until visiting the Grand Tetons in 2006 on a family vacation. Lance, only equipped with a simple point-and-shoot camera, was snapping pictures when he felt something indescribable. All of a sudden these moments of capture made him feel happy, which instilled a deep new love for landscape photography in him.
“I came back from Jackson Hole and I’m fortunate to live in South Florida with three excellent wetlands within an hour of my doorstep. I started photographing birds because that’s what’s here, accessible, and easy to do. All of a sudden, photography, motivated me to travel. So I started taking opportunities of shooting amazing, iconic places for a reason, and as I’m doing that, also continuing to photograph birds where I live. And I find myself over a period of years sort of watching my voice evolve to where it became less and less about the tech and the mechanics, which it was in the beginning,” Warley says.
What followed was a remarkable change in he and his wife’s lifestyle. He began traveling to iconic places all over the world just to shoot landscapes in workshops with Richard Bernabe and Ian Plant, who are both his photographic influences.
The Top of The World
His photographs started revealing a new narrative in his photographic life — beautiful landscapes and wildlife hoping to find and feel that extraordinary experience again. Lance described the first time he fully felt this indescribable feeling was while he was shooting the northern lights. Until he found an idea called “Peaking”. Abraham Maslow (a renowned American psychologist) describes peaking as a profound feeling of love, happiness, almost an enlightening state of being that opens a person to feel complete, interconnected to everything, with a sense of goodness. Maslow called this self-actualization.
This happened for the first time when he was on his way to Abisko, Sweden. He describes it almost as pitch-black outside. His adrenaline was pumping as he looked out over the snowy terrain while the bus headed north to Abisko. The view outside his window was breathtaking; a 40-mile long lake drawing his eyes up to the stars. It was a two-hour trek over the treacherous roads during the bitterly cold Swedish winter, but seeing the top of the world made it all worth the while.
On the bus he tried to ignore the chatter of the other photographers that seem more preoccupied with duty free liquor and comfy hotel beds, rather than being excited about seeing the aurora borealis. The chatter eventually faded when he fell into a deep adrenaline-fueled, euphoric state from listening to a CD by Sofia Jannok, a Swedish singer with a soft voice from the indigenous Sami people of northern Sweden.
Her impassioned voice sang in an unfamiliar language. he says, “It was in another language, but I completely understood every single word she was saying.”
The Sami people follow the reindeer — the real lifeblood of their economy. But their land and reindeer are quickly being decimated by copper mining and clear cutting of trees. The Sami have been forced out by the government of Sweden, and due to the mining and destruction of the ecosystem it is also destroying its reindeer population.
The voice of her struggle and pain gave him insight into what he was about to see and feel — an undisturbed area in the north that hasn’t been picked over by mining. Once they arrived he got out of the bus, set up his camera, and found his composition.
Like being in the in a euphoric state or feeling an overwhelming moment of satisfaction, he says this was the first time he peaked. Peaking, he says, gives him an ultimate awareness, an ineffable non-ordinary experience giving him insight and focus of everything around him. Even though it was freezing, he never felt more comfortable or as connected to the environment.
“If someone gave me the task of crossing the street to pick up something, there’s a 50% chance I will get lost,” he laughs. “But put me in the freezing cold, at midnight, in the Arctic, that’s where I am in my element and feel comfortable.”
Later that night he breathed a sigh of relief later when he reviewed the shots and saw that he got exactly what he wanted.
Warley’s Landscape Photography
When reviewing Lance’s photos, one gets the feeling that he takes time to find the right composition and lighting before capture. He described one such experience shooting while in Huntersville, a small city outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. He found a beautiful lake while exploring the town, but instead of following the path to the water, he went with instincts and went off trail. There he found the perfect spot, and although it took him days of shooting before dawn every morning, he eventually waited to get the perfect shot. He says the light from the sun on the trees made it look like autumn leaves, but says that this was only an illusion of light providing these pastel hues. What results is a mirroring shot of a lake with a beautiful, soft sky. The symmetry seems to be in perfect harmony in his composition.
As far as what the future holds for Lance, he intends to find places closer to home because he believes strongly that photographic opportunities can be found anywhere.
“I would say the overarching idea of my work that this peaking experience is everywhere, or it can be everywhere. It seems that the membrane between me and that experience is thinner in some places, and the membrane becomes more of a portal. Those places don’t have to be far away geographically. They can be found at the wetlands half an hour from my place, or it can be at the top of the world in the Arctic, I don’t really know. I’ll tell you where it’s not. It’s not in the middle of traffic on I-95 in South Florida. Maybe to a more highly evolved person, it’s everywhere. It’s not everywhere for me. I don’t get to go through the portal ‘on demand.’ Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. When it does happen, it’s a bonus on top of the already cool photographic experience,” Warley says.
To see more photographs, visit Lance’s website at www.lancewarleyphotography.com