Disappearing West

Remembering Dick Garvey

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The late Anacortes photographer Dick Garvey enjoys a thoughtful retrospective in his hometown at the Scott Milo Gallery, devoted to his eye-popping, large-format photos. These celebrate the “Disappearing West”—Washington, Montana, California, and Oregon.

The first to catch my eye is the gorgeous “Bristlecone Storm,” a 38” x 48” portrait of a rugged, nearly prone but very much alive pine, scoured by 1,000 years of wind and ice, in the searing light of high altitude and dark storm shadows. This almost three-dimensional portrait brings to memory my many solo hikes in the high Rockies (although the photo was shot in California). 

Garvey’s prints have a visual presence you get only with a large-format camera, which allows the photographer to control perspective and achieve a great depth of field. The Library of Congress requires this technique for their documentation of American landmarks. Think Ansel Adams & Eliot Porter—both masters of the technique, along with Garvey. But before you run out and buy the expensive equipment, beware!  There is one way to get it right and 1,000 ways to go wrong.

Garvey was a much-revered teacher and colleague among photographers in the Skagit Valley until his untimely death from cancer in 2011. He often said, “Sometimes you have to run to catch the light.” He had a great eye for the abstract and could make a memorable composition with the corner of a window looking onto an empty field. 

Garvey’s’s prose is as direct and eloquent as his photographs, and he accompanies many of them with a few lines. Next to a bleak image taken in Wyoming, he writes that a woman told him: “You’ll notice nobody out here grows a garden. When we moved here they said the growing season was 12 days—what they didn’t tell us was that it ain’t 12 consecutive days.”

His portrayal of the West is unashamedly celebratory and nostalgic; his eye for the abstract, unerring. Take “Lower Monumental Rd.,” near Walla Walla—some farmer plowing his field got fancy with the furrows and Garvey waited until the shadows were just perfect. 

“Mile Post 51” (Mayville, Or.) is a 14” x 48” scene of a few weathered buildings on a street in a light of amazing stillness. “Main Street” (Bannack, Mt.), an equally wondrous discovery, looks even more wind-blown and deserted. It makes you want to get in the station wagon and go see whether anybody lives there. You won’t see people in these photos. That’s either Garvey’s personal choice or the difficulty of composing shots with the large-format camera.

Not every composition is equally compelling. A lake and sky with the land line straight across is too predictable. And Garvey had a love for weathered wood or brick walls with cracks and flaking paint, which seems out of fashion. But the huge photo of a rusty truck grill is a masterpiece.

You can scan Garvey’s work on the Scott Milo Gallery website, but there’s no substitute for standing before them to bask in their sheer, vivid magnificence.

Ticket Cascadia
More Visual...
The art of transition

“Thus did Odin establish that all dead men should be burned, and their belongings laid with them upon the pile, and the ashes be cast into the sea…“ recounts the saga of the Norse Vikings.

So perhaps it was no surprise when Steve Jensen’s best friend, dying of AIDS, asked him to…

more »
A Family Affair
Welcome to Tillie Lace Gallery

The first time painter Cooper Lanza and her daughter Morgan entered 1415 13th Street, it was for an opening reception at the former Lucia Douglas Gallery.

Lanza says she was struck by the high ceilings, clean industrial lines and the way the light filtered through the windows at the…

more »
A Child's Touch
Arts in action at Lowell Elementary

With remodels and an expansion, so much at Bellingham’s Lowell Elementary School is shiny and new. That’s nice and all, but the school still needed a child’s touch.

With contributions from all 285 students, the walls and schoolyard at Lowell now have some much-needed color. Three…

more »
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Chuckanut Classic

6:30am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Veterans Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Run to Fight Blindness

9:00am|Cascadia Eye

Marsh Mucking

10:00am|Tennant Lake Interpretive Center

Anacortes Open Streets

11:00am|Commercial Avenue

International Concert Series Finale

2:00pm|Peace Arch Provincial Park

Cirque Literary Journal Reading

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Chuckanut Writers Info Session

4:00pm|Village Books,

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

We Grow Market

3:00pm|Northwest Youth Services

Music Enrichment Project Meet and Greet

4:00pm|Piper Music

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Get Out More Tour

7:30pm|Backcountry Essentials


8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library


9:30pm|Green Frog

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Andrew Subin
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Hiking Basics


Final History Sunset Cruise

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Final BIFT

6:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Amnesty International Meeting

7:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

see our complete calendar »

Artifacts Wine Bar Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1