Galen Rowell On The Greatest Landscape Photograph Ever Taken
Galen Rowell once offered his thoughts about the greatest landscape photo of all time. He emphasized that it was taken by an amateur, using a 35mm camera, without a tripod, unplanned, and through the window of a moving vehicle. Really.
He was, of course, referring to Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders historic photograph “Earthrise”, showing the earth rising over the moon on Christmas Eve 1968.
The reason this image and its story resonated so much with Rowell was partly due to his own working style. Rowell was well known for carrying a compact 35mm camera on harsh mountaineering expeditions around the world where a larger camera would be too cumbersome. Rowell spent his career reconciling the paradox of being a great (actually one of the greatest) nature photographer using modest equipment.
But the reason he named this image the “most influential environmental photograph” went far beyond matters of technique. When Apollo 8 returned in 1968, suddenly we all saw our fragile planet from the outside for the first time. Forever changing our view of the planet, the universe, and humanity, no single image has perhaps ever had such a profound impact on our thinking. This one image has been credited with inspiring the creation of Earth Day and giving birth to the environmental movement. Anders himself was quoted saying, ”After all the training and studying we’d done as pilots and engineers to get to the moon safely and get back, [and] as human beings to explore moon orbit, what we really discovered was the planet Earth.”
Rowell’s point is still relevant today. The greatest art is not simply that which has the best technique, but that which can awaken and enlighten our hearts and minds.