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Artist of the Month - March 2007

Chris Conrad Captures the Ephemeral
and the Ethereal

by Annabelle Numaguchi

Chri Conrad
Chris Conrad

Photography is a paradoxical technology. It is an efficient method to document ephemeral moments-a family vacation, a child’s birthday. Those of us who use photography for this means value its veracity at reflecting exactly what the eye perceives through the lens of the camera. We also value the fact that a successful photo can be reproduced over and over again, allowing us to send the same image to relatives, friends and anyone in between.

Photography also lends itself to art since the equipment allows for the manipulation of light, clarity and composition. Artistic vision can be interpreted through the lens and recorded on film. No matter how unique the artistry is, however, the actual photo can be copied time and time again, unlike a painting, sculpture or other piece of visual art. This propensity for reproduction plays an important and complex role in creating the value and uniqueness of a photograph, and this is one of the most thought-provoking elements of this technology for photographer, adventurer and local resident, Chris Conrad.

Conrad began exploring photography as an art form with a 35mm camera in 2000, a crossroads in the technology of this art since digital photography was going mainstream. Being part of this seminal moment has given Conrad the opportunity both to develop expertise in the different technologies available to photographers and to contemplate the value, limits and possibilities of each one.


He now uses various equipment and materials to create his original images, including Polaroid, medium format and 4x5 negatives.

Like many artists inspired by the dramatic desert scenery of this area, Conrad began by photographing landscapes, or as he describes, “the standard pretty pictures.” He’s right that many of the photographs taken of the iconic rock formations, such as Delicate Arch or Balanced Rock, capture the stark beauty of the subject, but often seem interchangeable with other photos of the same area.

Conrad succeeds in immortalizing this landscape in its most striking moments, portions set ablaze with morning or evening sunlight. A photo depicting Mesa Arch, through which Washer Woman Arch appears, exhibits Conrad’s artistry in capturing the fiery red reflective glow and a soft blue sky, while the rest of the image seems almost monochromatic, intensifying the apparent colors.

He soon craved a way of making his images distinctive, personal and unique. One element that Conrad admires about other visual arts is how they are inherently one-of-a-kind. For example, a painter can paint the same subject matter a number of times, but each painting is unique.

Cracked Mud
Cracked Mud

This desire to express his individual artistic vision through the lens of a camera led Conrad to explore black-and-white photography. He explains that he finds it, “more abstract, and therefore, more artistic because there is so much latitude in exposure, which allows the photographer to read the tones of a scene.” Since he develops his own film, he finds freedom to alter the image further in that process.

Although Conrad does not eschew digital technology, he prefers traditional film, which he regards as requiring more participation from the photographer to capture an artistic image.

He has recently gathered the culmination of his best work in black-and-white photos and produced a limited edition book entitled Oases-Ephemeral Visions of the Colorado Plateau. The theme of this collection reflects the way Conrad views the desert through its complex relationship with water. Though this edition was printed as gifts for family, Conrad expects to release the book more widely by the end of 2007.

The first photograph in the book is entitled “Cracked Mud,” and depicts a highly detailed close-up of the fissured, curled dried earth, representing the desert at its most arid. The progression of the photos depicts the landscape through reflections in puddles and streams, whose existence depends on fleeting rain and snow falls.

Sipapu Bridge
Sipapu Bridge

These landscape photos evoke a poignant mood by portraying pristine areas void of human traces and by using a complete range of shading from bright white to obsidian. In many of the images, the subject matter is abstracted, making it difficult to recognize what has been captured outright and what is being reflected in water.

“Sipapu Bridge Reflection” is a good example of how Conrad uses this abstraction effectively. The waterline in the photo is almost impossible to discern without his help, making it difficult to recognize that the image of the bridge is actually a reflection in the stream. A closer inspection of the photo reveals the river pebbles underneath the reflection of the rock formation.

Water appears in its various forms throughout this collection. In “Portal,” he captures the reflection of bare trees and sandstone in ice. Because the actual subject matter, a puddle of ice, isn’t easily discernible in this photo, the scene resembles a miniature winter fairy land. Through the ephemeral appearance of ice, Conrad depicts what appears to be an ethereal wonderland.

Sego Polaroid
Sego Polaroid

He continues to achieve this ethereal effect with his current photography, in which he explores various ways of creating abstract images. For the recent annual art exhibit, “Moab Abstracts,” Conrad contributed several works, including “Sego Polaroid.” From afar, the image looks like a piece of dark lace gathered and glued to the page, belying the durability of the actual subject of the photo, a wall. He took the picture with a Polaroid, then distressed the photo by boiling it and separating the top layer of film. Conrad is pushing the boundaries of photography by working in the third dimension with his images and, at the same time, producing a unique piece that cannot be duplicated simply by subsequent prints.

Conrad feels privileged to have entered this field when it was at such a crossroads in its development. Although he appreciates the new horizons digital photography opens, he prefers the traditional technologies. This ability to straddle two paths and appreciate what each may have to offer is a quality that Conrad exhibits in many areas of his life, particularly as he is part of the crossroads Moab has reached in its development as a community.

Wanting to put his money where his mouth is, he is donating a quarter of the proceeds he makes from the sale of any of his art work from February through the month of April to help finance an economic impact study, primarily to evaluate the effect large franchise stores would have on the economy of Moab. Although he has holds opinions on the subject, he wants to honestly weigh the consequences of altering the current economic structure of this community. He values making well-informed decisions, to which a study group can contribute.

After spending 2006 traveling around the world, he returned to his beloved desert town with a fresh perspective, able to see it through a new “lens.” He explains that “Moab is in a unique position to see the future by looking at other similar communities who have already gone through the growth our town is beginning to experience. We need to consider the next steps we take because once we’ve taken them, we can’t turn back and start over.”

Conrad’s chosen medium, photography, seems particularly compatible with his acute sensitivity to the ephemerality of his world, whether in the form of water in the desert or the delicate bonds that create a distinctive community like Moab. The images he captures, depicting an ethereal world within the one the rest of us perceives, exhibit Conrad’s keen vision and intuitive insight.

Chris Conrad’s photographs are on exhibit indefinitely at The Red Rock Bakery (74 S. Main Street) and new work will be shown during the month of May at Moab Art Works (35 N. Main Street). They can also be seen on his website and he can be contacted at or at (435) 260-8287.

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