Artist Statement

The morning sun breaks the early fog rising above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

The morning sun breaks the early fog rising above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

My work is a celebration of biodiversity and of the rare high-quality natural habitats of the immediate Chicago area. Many times more rare than the Amazon rain forest, these special places offer a poignant beauty all their own.

Unlike the dramatic geology of the western United States, there are no iconic overlooks or vantage points in Chicagoland. Rather, the beauty of the Chicago area lies in its ever-changing display of wildflowers that decorate the prairies and savannas throughout the year.

Because of the underwhelming visible geology of the Chicago area, the landscape is not inherently photogenic and three-dimensional. Over the years, I developed special techniques in composition and light to convey the prairie’s depth, vastness, and grandeur.

To photographically convey the magnificence that we see with our eyes is a great challenge. Said another way, nature is beautiful in all its chaos. Yet a nature photograph is beautiful only in the absence of chaos. The image must be orderly, simple, and tell a single story or else the image will fail. To do this, I devised a formula for bringing order to the glorious chaos.

But, if photography is to be art, then it must not merely document the world. To paraphrase Tolstoy, “Art is the transfer of emotion from one person to another.” And that is my goal: to capture my experience of the moment, to record my feelings on film, emotions on emulsion, senses on my sensor.

Unlike a painter, who fabricates perfect moments from the imagination, I use light and composition to record images of actual perfect moments in time—perfect moments that celebrate the rich biodiversity of the Chicago area.

MY PHOTOGRAPHIC TECHNIQUE: “IMMERSION” AND “HYPER-REALITY”

In an effort to capture the richness, texture, and dimensional dynamism of the seemingly flat prairie, I created a system called “immersion,” “immersive photography,” and “hyper-reality”—an intimate and deeply engaging style of landscape photography that employs the methods of life-size macro photography. Using this system, landscape photographs are rendered with tremendous detail and three-dimensionality, giving the viewer a hyper-realistic sense of being in the scene.

By means of focusing at the hyperfocal distance at a high f-stop (often f/20 and above, but dependent on the image area size, pixel pitch, focal length, and distance to the nearest subject), I place a (low-magnification) super-wide angle lens just inches away from his foreground subject. This greatly restores the magnification of the subject matter closest to the camera while still maintaining acceptable sharpness into the distance. To further increase the hyper-realistic feel of the photograph, I will often take advantage of “glancing light”—the soft, low, side-lighting from an early-morning or late-afternoon sun—to visually separate the subjects and convey fine details. Any softness due to diffraction is rendered insignificant using digital post-processing.

Watch Mike’s interview on WTTW Chicago Tonight.
Listen to Mike’s interview on WBEZ’s WorldView.
Read Mike’s Biography.