With photography having been around for nearly 200 years, it would seem impossible to take pictures from a fresh perspective. Yet, Outer Banks photographer Logan Gearhart manages to create images unlike any seen before.
Gearhart shoots many subjects, but the most compelling are his images of contrasting two geographic features – mountains and oceans − where he divides his time.
The Pennsylvania native just spent his third summer as a lifeguard for the city of Kill Devil Hills, and he spends winters working mountain safety patrol in Breckenridge, Colorado.
“Going back and forth between the ocean and the mountains, I am able to take what I learned from photographing in the mountains and portraying the same aspects through the water,” Gearhart says.
He says he approaches his work in an unpretentious way.
“I like to keep it simple,” he says of his oeuvre. “If I want to shoot an image that is not usual to the human eye, I try to find a different angle. I rarely stand up take a photo of any scene, because that’s what humans are used to. It makes your mind think.”
As a lifeguard, part of his job is educating vacationers about the dangers of the ocean. Why not do it through photographs, he pondered.
“Lifeguarding really opened up my eyes to the ocean, to seeing how powerful it is,” he says. “I wanted to document the strength of it, and wanted others to realize it. People on vacation don’t always understand the danger. Showing them how big a wave can be is one way to get their mind to see the size and power of it.”
To reinforce scale, he likes to contrast the fragility of the human condition with the immensity of nature.
“If you take a picture of a wave with nothing else around it, the human brain can’t comprehend the power,” he says. “Adding a person to it can help the mind realize how large and strong the ocean can be. Whether it’s a surfer, or someone walking on the beach, or a bird or silhouette, it brings it all together.”
With such a mature photo philosophy, it is hard to believe Gearhart has only been pursuing his art for five years and is largely self-taught. It started by accident. While vacationing with his family on the Outer Banks, a summer thunderstorm began moving in from the west.
“My dad – who was a hobby photographer – was running around with his camera, saying how excited he was,” Gearhart says. “I took a picture of him taking pictures of the storm, standing at the edge of the water with the waves crashing around him.”
Though that first image was on a cell phone, Gearhart was surprised by the reaction it brought from his family and friends. So the high schooler continued experimenting with angles and framing on his phone, eventually moving to a GoPro then a DSLR.
He now works largely with digital photography, but finds himself drawn back to the elemental feel of film. While digital allows one to take unlimited photos, using a 36-shot roll forces patience.
“With film, I have to think about each shot, to look at the subject and say, this is what I want, this is how I am going to make a picture out if it,” he says. “I have to get the right exposure, and line it up perfectly. Then you have to anticipate the right moment. Then I hit the shutter and hopefully it will come out the way I want it.”
For someone who loves getting outdoors and surrounding himself with nature, it is no surprise that the ocean is his favorite subject, seducing him with its many textures and the way it interacts with light.
“The ocean is always changing, and always fascinates me,” he agrees. “It just changes in the blink of an eye. It’s going to be green one day, brown the next. It is either backlit or front lit, and every angle is different. That’s what I look for. That’s what draws me to it.”
At the deepest level, Gearhart says his photographs are a reflection of himself.
“I want to incorporate the beauty and color of what I see. How I felt in the presence of it dictates how the photograph should be. Whether it is a mountain or a wave breaking on a sandbar, I want viewers to feel what I felt when standing in its presence.”