Artists are insecure, said Richard Eissler.
Sitting at a dining room table at the edge his kitchen -- part of a larger living room decorated with animal furs and illuminated by large windowpanes looking out onto the unscathed wilderness surrounding his home -- Eissler expounded on the decision to resubmit his black and white photos in hopes of winning a Rasmuson project award.
It takes determination -- encouragement from friends also helps -- to reattempt that artistic plunge, he said.
"The first time you get the rejection letter, you go 'Oh, my goodness, nobody likes my work,'" Eissler said. "Last year, there may have been no (judges) that liked black-and-white photography.
"You have to pick up and just do it again."
The Soldotna resident is one of the recipients of Rasmuson Foundation's Individual Artist Awards. The $5,000 award provides Eissler the funds to complete a yearlong project, which is centered on his "classic western" photos.
This is the second year Eissler submitted photos to the Rasmuson awards.
His photos, consisting of aerial shots, pockets of a nature and landscapes, are reminiscent of Ansel Adams. The popular American photographer and environmentalist was best known for his black-and-white shots of Yosemite National Park. Eissler lived in Fresno, Calif. before moving to Alaska about eight years ago. The historic park is about 90 miles from the inland city.
Patience is key to Eissler's artistic method. A single picture can involve sitting in the woods for three hours, sipping coffee and talking to a friend. The correct lighting is essential, he said while pointing to a large, vertical photo on his table.
The photo captured a vignette, a small piece of a larger scene, Eissler said. It showed the edge a cliff in its lower-right corner with dark bush country stretching out toward the top of the shot.
"If a cloud hadn't opened up and given me a hot spot, it would've been an average photo," he said.
Digital photos are now the norm for Eissler. However, his passion lies in film photography. He alters his digital photos in a way that mimics dark room techniques. A bit of burning and dodging, he said.
Burning manipulates the photo to make areas darker; dodging makes areas lighter. The images aren't altered to the point of creating something new, he said.
Instead, the technique is used to draw the viewers' eyes to specific locations on the photos. For example, a dried log surrounded by soil is lightened, creating a kind of centerpiece in a photo hanging on Eissler's wall.
His brother, a psychologist who lives in Baltimore, Md., dubbed Eissler's photos as gloomy. A woman, who attended a small show featuring Eissler's photos, told the lensman she "got it." He was seeing bodies, she said.
"There's a lot of skeletal space, yes," Eissler said. "But it's just good line and design, contrast and texture. Some of the stuff is spiritual and others are based on pure texture."
Aerial shots require a different approach. It's impossible to sit and wait when you're flying 8,000 feet above the Chugach Mountains, he said.
Rasmuson Foundation awarded 26 $5,000 project grants. This is the ninth year the foundation doled out awards to artists around the state. A total of 305 applicants submitted proposals for projects; the largest pool since its creation, said Cassandra Stalzer, Rasmuson communications manager.
There are three different categories of awards, and artists are eligible based on the status of their careers, which is measured by amount of work produced and the number of shows in which they've participated.
"The criteria for all of the awards are very similar, and it really has to do with the quality of the artistic work: the clarity of the artist's vision and statement for their work, and their ability to accomplish or complete the project that they've proposed to us," Stalzer said.
A different panel of judges is chosen each year and changes depending on the applicant pool. A year with more literature submissions is coupled with a panel of literary critics from around the county.
The awards process lasts a year. The artists then present their projects to the foundation.
Eissler plans to use the money to professionally frame 20 of his photos. He then will submit the photos to shows around the state.
The artist statement was the hardest past of the application process, Eissler said.
He started his career as a commercial photographer back in Fresno while working for the Gottschalks retail chain. He was their first photographer. Before stepping into the role, the store was drawing advertisements, he said.
That was 30 years ago, and when he moved to Alaska he began working for oil companies. Some of his photos are still used by the companies, he said.
But photography for Eissler is no longer a job; it's not even a pastime. Rather, it's a form of self-expression; a way of life, he said.
"I don't go very far without a camera," he said. "It's just how I've been living my life for the past 35 years."
Eissler said he plans to enter the award process again in three years, the waiting period for previous recipients. His future project also revolves around photos, but will feature a social aspect.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.