PATH of BEAUTY
PATH OF BEAUTY:
Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon
published by St. Martin’s Press
128 pages, hardbound, 75 color photographs, 12×12.5″
HARD BOUND BOOK IS OUT OF PRINT!
A FEW SIGNED COPIES AVAILABLE:
$50.00 + $6.00 shipping and handling. Colorado residents add $1.64 for sales tax.
Allow 2 weeks for delivery of media mail.
Contact Chris Brown to order.
PATH OF BEAUTY: PHOTOGRAPHIC ADVENTURES IN THE GRAND CANYON consists of photographs and essays from 30 years hiking and rafting through the Grand Canyon, published by St. Martin’s Press. 75 large color photographs that show you the Grand Canyon from the inside out from a boatman’s perspective are combined with an eclectic collection of essays about adventure and life in the Canyon, experiencing a monsoon on the river, an exciting wreck in Crystal Rapid, and reflections on art, beauty and photography. Hardbound, 128 pages, 75 color photographs.
Photographs from Path of Beauty appear in my Grand Canyon galleries.
Seeking “First Sight”
By Reed Glenn For the Camera
Forget about “second sight” — Boulder photographer Christopher Brown dazzles us with what he calls “First Sight” in his new book, “Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon.” The book is the culmination of Brown’s 35 years’ experience as a Grand Canyon adventurer, guide, boatman, photographer and quasi-philosopher.
As one of the most magnificent, overpowering and over-photographed wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon challenges photographers to find something new. Brown’s extraordinary eye and technique make even Canyon veterans feel like they’re seeing it for the first time — and in a kind of high-definition, 3-D uber-reality.
Swirling, sinuous sandstone and slot-canyon mazes become portals to another world of heightened color awareness and expanded texture consciousness. Nature’s intricate patterns and forms turn into mesmerizing mandalas. Compositions themed “What Water Sees” create optical illusions with reflection upon reflection, where water becomes rock walls, and rock walls appear to be thin air. “North Canyon Pools” is one such mystifying photo. Grand panoramas take on a soft, painterly quality.
In addition to 75 knockout, eye-popping photos, the stunning tabletop photo book includes well-penned, reflective essays with lessons on geology, hydrology, boatmanship, adventure, beauty, photography and a bit of neurophysiology and spiritual musing.
Brown first hiked the Grand Canyon at age 15. Inspired by an Outward Bound course after high school, he decided to spend his life guiding mountaineering and river trips in North and South America. As a boatman in the Grand Canyon for 20 years he rowed 35 two-week trips on the unruly Colorado River. The book’s adventure chapter about a river-rafting near disaster displays his talent with storytelling in words as well as photos.
Brown says the book goes from the literal to the more abstract in both the text and the photographs. The book begins with the lure and lore of the canyon, and ends with the psychology and physiology of perception and its relationship with Brown’s photographic approach.
His approach involves trying to experience and reproduce “First Sight,” similar to an infant’s perception of the world — totally sensory and emotional with no previous associations. He references the book, “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist who had a stroke in her mid-30s and detailed the experience, part of which was a sort of nirvana. Functioning only with her right brain, everything was beautiful, interconnected, without reason, meaning, history, association or context, Brown writes. “When she returned to her linear, analytical left brain, she was reconnected to language, memory, and rational thinking,” but lost the experience of pure bliss. Brown strives to capture that “First Sight” experience with his images.
“I use a large format view camera, partly because it is so cumbersome to use that it forces me to slow down, and this helps me to avoid quick, shallow responses,” he writes. “It’s a slow, tedious, methodical process, but more contemplative than point-and-shoot.”
A view camera is like the old-fashioned type with an accordion-pleated box that encloses the space between the lens and film. The flexible bellows allows focusing. There’s even the dark cloth that the photographer puts over his head, and the whole apparatus sits on a tripod. The image the photographer sees is upside down, adding to the complexity.
The advantage of the large format camera is much higher resolution since it uses 50 times more film than a 35-mm camera. Brown’s camera produces 4-by-5-inch color transparencies, which he scans, then manipulates digitally. Brown does his own printing, preferring his own colors to those of a lab.
“My job, as a photon wrangler, is to herd photons through all those conversions and transmogrifications so that what goes into your eyes bears some resemblance to what I saw in the Grand Canyon,” Brown writes. “There are so many changes that take place it is amazing that we can recognize anything of the original scene in the final print. It is a two-dimensional piece of paper imitating a three-dimensional world. It has a luminosity range of only one-quarter of the world it represents, and the colors are imitated by tiny drops of three colors of inks sprayed onto a piece of paper.
“When people ask me if I change or enhance anything, it is difficult to know whether ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is the more correct answer. The physics of sight is so incredibly complex, and the fact that a print can mimic the visual experience always seems like such magic to me, that the notion of veracity seems to get lost along the way. I go through all of this to get back to where I started?” On first sight, Brown’s “Path of Beauty” promises to last.
Not your typical coffee-table imagery, the scenes in Path of Beauty show and tell decades of familiarity with the inner Canyon that must be opened to be believed. Chris Brown has looked, looked, and looked some more in the creation of this beautiful account of a great river and its gorge. His honest, naked writing suits the fully felt photographs remarkably well. I worked in the Grand Canyon season after season for 10 years. I returned and will return again for many more. I know these rocks and this water. And yet Chris has reminded me that it’s the sensing of the place that brings it into our hearts. Not so much the standing at the rim and looking in, but the BEING in, with its endless detail. The Canyon is a place to know bit by bit, day by day. Chris helps the reader do that, with this lovingly written and photographed book. I’m grateful he took the time to write and imagine it, and I thank my sister and brother-in-law (also Canyon lovers) for giving it to me, and I treasure it.
By Rebecca Lawton, author, California
Christopher Brown is our river guide and artistic companion down the Colorado River, tapping us on the shoulder so we don’t miss a waterfall or panorama. He shares his most hilarious and death defying adventures as well as his penetrating photographic acumen. This is a book you can’t put down once you begin but will also return to again and again. I’ve seen his work in galleries and have taken a photography lesson from this humble and gifted man. We are so lucky to now have his work of the Grand Canyon collected in the gorgeous and reflective book that speaks like the sages he quotes.
By Deborah L. Bowman, Colorado.
I absolutely love this book. The information is wonderful and the photographs are breathtaking. The photographer has a great eye for the best views and a real talent for choosing subject matter. It is definately a great coffeetable book for those who have been or are thinking about visiting the Grand Canyon!
By Margaret A. Olsen, Georgia.
When you read a biography of a person, you hope that the writer has done his or her research enough to really know the subject of the book, the person he or she is telling you about. If you want to read the biography of a place, especially a monumental place like the Grand Canyon, you want someone like Chris Brown to write it: More than 30 years of hiking, rafting and guiding in the canyon, totaling 35 trips through the canyon on a boat, with a camera at his side all the time. His 115-page book is a love letter, filled with 75 photos and five essays on Encountering the Canyon, Adventure, Beauty and First Sight, Photography, and Reflection — my favorite of which is Adventure, about a mistake Brown made as a raft guide, requiring the rescue of everyone in his boat from a rock in the middle of a rapidly rising Colorado River, and his subsequent redemption. The photographs are stunning, and many of the scenes and colors will surprise anyone not intimately familiar with all the corners of the canyon. Brown is no slouch as an essayist and storyteller, and his passion for a very special place shows in his writing: “While it is always impressive, it is typically spectacular only for a few moments each day when the light is right and then it is sublime.
MOUNTAIN GAZETTE, Mountain Media: Books #185, by Brendan Leonard on January 3, 2011.
“There is a daily round for beauty as well as for goodness, a world of flowers and books and cinemas and clothes and manners as well as of mountains and masterpieces. . . . God is in all beauty.” Quaker writer Caroline Graveson could well have said that as an introduction to Christopher Brown’s book of pictures and words. Brown, a longtime meeting attender from Colorado, uses his camera lens to show us a world filled with daily rounds of beauty and the Divine implicit in the beauty of one of nature’s most amazing creations.
Brown is no novice photographer, nor is he new to the grandeur of the Grand Canyon (he’s been visiting it since he was 15). It is his intimacy with this vast space that enables him to render it in pieces that the reader’s eye can take in and make sense of. The problem confronting a photographer with a subject as vast as the Grand Canyon is how to show the story that is there.
I discovered that lesson as a budding picture-taker trying to capture that story in 1968 on my tiny Instamatic. The vistas that were so amazing and which I knew would blow the minds of my Midwestern buddies were rendered completely boring by my trying to contain the whole of them on a Kodachrome slide.
Brown, on the other hand, has a deft touch and great eye and rarely tries to capture it all. Other than a few wide shots, most of his photography focuses (literally) on the specific—boulders at Salt Creek, cattails in a pool at Tanner Wash, a lone redbud popping with brilliant color, sun bleached driftwood, and more. And he works skillfully with light, letting it illuminate, reflect, and etch detail. The result is a collection of photographs that are tack-sharp in both focus and their effect on the viewer.
Then there are his words. While a picture can be worth a thousand words, as the old adage says, Brown does not tell his Grand Canyon story solely with photographs. He articulates well his love for this particular sacred space and his artistic vision. As he does so, he invites us to see with fresh eyes—both inner and outer. He reminds us that, “Things pop up when and where you least expect it—if you are paying attention.” Hmmm, sounds like something a Friend might say.
While this is not explicitly a religious book, I found it packed with spiritual thinking—especially the words on photography. That section’s lead title is “Preparing and Surrendering,” a wonderful metaphor for our spiritual lives. In the first sentence, Brown says that when he sets out to photograph, one the things he has learned is to “let nothing else compete for my attention.” “Be still, and know. . . .” (Psalm 46:10) Indeed. There’s that paying attention concept again, something we Friends seem to do so well, but easily forget.
As a photographer, images are important to me. How I’ve learned to see has been a spiritual tool for bringing me close to the Divine. Photographer Jan Phillips writes, “My eyes find God everywhere, in every living thing, creature, person, in every act of kindness, act of nature, act of Grace. Everywhere I look, there God is, looking back, looking straight back.” Brown’s photographs show us God looking straight back through one of the most amazing places on our planet.
FRIENDS JOURNAL, Reviewed by Brent Bill, a Friends minister, author, and photographer who lives in rural Indiana. He is a member of West Newton (Ind.) Meeting. ©2011 Friends Publishing Corporation. Reprinted with permission.
Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon, by Christopher Brown, is a wonderful work of photographic and environmental contemplation. For many years, Brown worked as a river guide, taking responsibility for guiding small boatloads of people safely through one of the most treacherous river passages in the world. He spent many years beholding the ever-shifting sights of the Canyon. He is also a master photographer, and during the frequent stops he would often hike miles to reach the vantage points for the photographs contained in this book. The images take us to places only a few people have ever been to see sights that only a few people have seen. The images had a profoundly mystical effect on me. The photographs portray the many types of stunning visual beauty available in the Canyon, ranging from awe-inspiring vistas to the wonder-inspiring detailed patterns contained within a single rock. I found that I could contemplate a single image for twenty minutes or more and still feel that there was more to see. The images evoked a direct experience of connection with the earth.
Alternating with the intensity of the river and the need to pay absolute attention to it, a journey down the river also offers time for deep contemplation. The text thoughtfully captures this river guide’s experience, ranging from the enormous stress of navigating unpredictable rapids to laid-back feelings of unity with nature. Brown is an astute observer and his curiosity is never far below the surface. How did that kink in the river’s course happen? What happens to all that water during a torrential thunderstorm? How do those plants grow there when there is so little water? The text enlightens us on these and many other questions about the geology, plant life and animals of the Canyon. Brown also lets us in on his insights about himself–some funny, some soul-searching, some poignant.
This book is a testimony to how one man integrated the demands and opportunities of being in the Grand Canyon into a simple yet beautiful mosaic. It is a powerful statement of what it means to approach life as a Quaker.
Robert C. Atchley, Author of Spirituality and Aging.
This sublime new book of gorgeous photographs like you have never seen before, coupled with the unique viewpoint of someone intimately connected with the river and backcountry of Grand Canyon, will immerse you in its wonders.
As you marvel at the impossibly beautiful photos, you will find yourself thinking: YES! I’ve seen just that! And as you read the text, you will recognize the fears and joys you’ve felt in approaching a big rapid, or seeing an other-worldly vista, described just as if you were there.
If ever there was an accurate reflection of how it feels to be there, on your own adventure, this book is it.
River Runners for Wilderness
Luminous is the word that comes first to mind when I go through the book. Your sense of light is remarkable. Each page expresses a vivid love and respect that is not in photo vogue these days. Beauty is not the top currency of art in general just now, but it is always the basis by which counter trends are judged. Eliot Porter would praise your book and he would know intimately the devotion each image represents. He believed beauty was something important in itself, as I think did Philip Hyde.
Your views from high up the lower canyon walls are amazing for revealing the inner space of the canyon. The details and secret side places soften the hard rocky chasm edges. Most people will not be aware of how long it takes to gather this many stunning pictures of life and light in such a vast labyrinth. They will think you just walked or floated up and snapped a few. You make it look easy and that is part of your grace. I know and I admire your devotion, there, and I say it again, devotion, spiritual, not religious, spiritual devotion to a your passion.
J. Frank Dobie, the now dead Texas writer, wrote, “For me the beautiful resides in the physical, but it is spiritual. I have never heard a sermon as spiritual in either phrase or fact as ‘Waters on a starry night are beautiful and free.'”
The quality of the work is superb. Did you make your own Scans/Separations? I cannot imagine anyone else doing such a fine job. It must have taken a very long time to write the evocative captions, perhaps as long as it took to make the photographs themselves.
Well done my friend and fellow Lightman, carry on. Beauty needs you.
Jim Bones, Master Photographer, writer, teacher, seedball master and personal printer for Eliot Porter.