Typically when I share a project with you, it’s nearing completion. Or at least I’m sure it will be completed. This time, I’m bringing you into a project early, although in some ways, this isn’t exactly the early stages.
I’ve been working on Legends of the Land for going on 10 years now. It was to have been my very first photography book. Today, I’m not even sure it will be my fifth.
It’s not that I’m not fond of this project. In fact, I find it even more interesting and inspiring than I did 10 years ago. The issue is that it has required far more time and resources than any other project I’ve ever attempted. Keep in mind I spent three years watching a bald eagle nest.
The idea is this:
When we tell stories about the land or the animals that live on it, those stories are rooted in science. Even Year of the Eagle, my book about a year in the lives of bald eagles, follows this pattern. I specifically spent three summers at the nest site to try to uncover variables that explained their behavior.
But stories about the land didn’t begin with the development of the scientific method. Before there was science, there was spirituality and imagination.
Scientists and others may mock these legends. After all, we know that volcanoes result from magma pockets and shifting plates, not jealous gods.
I, however, find those legends inspiring and tremendously interesting. Years ago, I set out to create contemporary nature photography that illustrated those legends. The idea was to create images that looked like they were taken the day the legend began.
If the legend was about a specific place, any old image of that place won’t do. It needed to be an image that looked like I was there photographing while that story was unfolding. For me, it’s been a wonderful artistic exercise to photograph the land today to make it look like it did hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.
It was only after setting out on this journey that I realized how difficult this project truly was. The first legend that I will share with you required me to be on a mountaintop as stormy conditions began to clear at sunrise. Most of the times I was there, it was either too stormy or too clear. I forget how many trips it took to get that one image.
Another legend, which I will share later, required the moon to be in a very specific part of the sky. At this location, there are only two days per year that the moon is in the right spot. Unfortunately, this location is on the Pacific coast in a place that’s subject to lousy weather and sudden fog. I made three different trips over several years to this beach — about 450 miles from my home — before I finally came away with the image I needed.
Not even half of the principle photography is completed for this project. I’m not sure it ever will be. But like a lot of artists, I produce my best work when I’m working on a project. I’ve found that having a series in mind helps me work more creatively, yet consistently. And that’s something I need right now.
As I write this, I’ve spent the past few months doing talks about my bald eagle project, a project that I was fully engrossed in for four years. And while there is some creative, artistic photography in that book that I truly am proud of, overall, it was more of a documentary photojournalism project. I have no regrets at all; I consider myself incredibly lucky as an artist to have produced a project that so many people care about. But now I'm ready to produce another project and I want to return to producing more creative nature photography. I think resuming this project is the spark that I need.
I’m not sure that I will ever finish this project — at the pace I’m going, it’s not looking good — but over the next several months, I hope you will enjoy the images and stories I’ve produced so far. Feel free to share your thoughts — positive or negative — in the comments section below.
(Learn more about Kevin Ebi's new book, Living Wilderness, the first comprehensive portfolio of his fine-art images and download a free preview. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)