How does one see in black and white? How can a person look at a colourful swath of Kootenay landscape and know it will be stunning when it is stripped of colour — with nothing left but light and shadows, highlights and low-lights, black and white.
That skill is one Rossland photographer Richard Soltice has mastered. His landscape photos can only be thought of as art of the best kind — the kind that evokes emotion and a sense of awe.
“Art, for me, is an excellent print of an intensely beautiful scene held in my hands, still dripping wet from its bath in a mysterious solution. It’s something that is deeply felt. Something I created. Something I want to share. Something deeply fulfilling,” says Soltice.
Soltice has been photographing Kootenay scenery for more than 20 years now and may possess one of the best visual documentations of the area covering that time period, something he came to realize when selecting photographs for a book he plans to release next year.
“I have a tremendous, visual documentation of this area — the Columbia Valley — taken at all different times of the year, in all different types of lighting and conditions,” said Soltice.
“It took on a pretty special meaning for me, knowing that probably no one else has that visual record expressed so eloquently of this area over that period of time.”
Soltice’s love of photography began back in high school and one of his early jobs was a newspaper photographer in a small town. But he quickly realized that photographing people and events wasn’t his true passion. His satisfaction came from landscapes and scenery.
After a stint as a studio photographer, Soltice put his lens aside for a while. But the camera and darkroom equipment travelled along with him through a number of years and relocations.
In the 1990s Soltice settled in Rossland and picked up his camera again.
He is always looking for that next great shot and has figured out what makes a good black and white image. Soltice explained it is more than just a stunning vista — you need a wide range of tones, good contrast, simple lines and great composition.
“Colour photographers can rely on the pretty colours to pull off a good image, but in black and white you don’t have that available to you so you have to concentrate on the composition,” he said. “Things like leading lines, a good range of lights and darks a full range of tonal values.”
Soltice loves shooting the old fashioned way — with film — and only added digital photography to his arsenal about three years ago.
“Film and digital black and white are two completely different mediums,” he explained.
Soltice prefers not to make any changes to his digital photographs that he couldn’t have done in his darkroom with film.
“I try and keep it as pure as possible,” he added.
That darkroom takes up a good sized corner of the bottom floor of Soltice’s home. It looks like something out of an old movie and it is fascinating.
Soltice designed it from the ground up including a huge sink, hot and cold temperature-controlled filtered water and distinct wet and dry areas. There are vats and bottles filled with chemicals, timers, a giant enlarger and a clothesline full of photo tongs.
These days, the darkroom sits empty more frequently as Soltice works on perfecting his digital photography skills.
Soltice has just released a new portfolio featuring his work from 2017 and 2018. Most of the photographs in Mountains Rivers & Oceans feature striking cloud or weather formations.
“Because I’m a landscape photographer, what is important is good light and environmental effects,” said Soltice. “Clouds, the light on the landscape — a day with no weather is really not good.
“A good day for me is either a storm approaching or a storm retreating.”
Many of the images will be instantly recognizable to Kootenay residents — the Columbia River, Oasis, Trail, Rossland, Lake Roosevelt, Mt. Roberts, Old Glory and snow-covered mountains.
While living in such a beautiful area provides many opportunities for great photos, it can also be a challenge.
“It’s tough working in a small town,” said Soltice. “You work years in obscurity. But working in obscurity, not having that many shows, doesn’t really diminish my enthusiasm. The work that I do is extremely fulfilling.”
That sense of fulfillment stays with Soltice long after the image is shot.
“A good image is an emotional experience. When I see a scene in the world, it has to move me emotionally for me to want to record it on film,” said Soltice.
“The emotional journey doesn’t end when I shoot it. The emotional journey really never ends with the image.
“Even though I’ve produced it in the sense that I have processed it, printed it, framed it and displayed it on a wall — what I am really striving for, what is a successful image to me, is if someone standing there looking at that image can feel some of the same emotions I felt when I first saw it.”
Soltice plans to continue to search for amazing scenes and express them with a visual eloquence for many years to come.
To see more of Soltice’s works or to purchase an image or his book go to richardsoltice.com.