Steve Laurent's Alaskan Perspective

Steve Laurent's Alaskan Perspective

  • By: Bob White
  • Photography by: Steve Laurent
Alaskan Bush Plane

There’s a certain spark in great artwork that’s difficult to define, and hard to ignore. The photography of Steve Laurent has that fire.

Laurent works in black and white with a wide-angle lens to record the everyday lives of bush pilots and fishing guides at Bristol Bay Lodge, in southwest Alaska. His images are honest, stark and gritty, reminiscent of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans’ photographs of the Great Depression.

What gives the work such unique energy is an authenticity that comes from a photographer having lived within the images he captures. Laurent began work in southwest Alaska 22 years ago as a fishing guide at the lodge he now manages. His first eight summers he was on the upper Togiak River, alone except for the fishermen who were flown in to fish that remote camp.

Laurent’s photography tells a story, a narrative enriched by small details that would likely go unnoticed by someone who hasn’t lived the life. When I look at Laurent’s images I feel the weight of a 55-gallon drum on my shoulders, and the pain of an outboard’s pull cord ripped from my fist on a frosty morning. My body sags with the bottomless fatigue that comes from working in the elements 14 hours a day for a four-month season. But there’s more. When I look at the faces in Laurent’s photos, I sense that it’s a “good tired,” and I feel the pride and satisfaction that comes from working long hours within a brotherhood of men who are trusted and admired.

The images Laurent captures go beyond the scope of his contemporaries. They are a part of him, his history and his life. They are intimate and authentic, and exude a timeless force that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Laurent chose photography as his medium of expression because, he says, “It’s immediate and flexible. It allows me to quickly and unobtrusively document the history and daily operations of the lodge, the people and the surroundings.” He creates black-and-white images because he feels it’s in perfect harmony with the gray, reflective wetness that often prevails in Alaska. His single 7- to 14-millimeter wide-angle lens allows him to get in close to the images he seeks, abstract shapes and shadows, and (by shooting at a low angle) to create forms that draw the viewer into the moment.

When I asked Laurent what’s next for him, he said he’s open to whatever life brings, whichever that direction may be, and he’ll continue to build upon what inspires him.

Like most artists, Laurent isn’t completely satisfied with his work and so pushes deeper into himself to capture the subtle nuances of his world. He says that, for him, photography is a chase, an attempt to capture something unseen. “Much like swinging flies for steelhead,” Laurent concluded with a smile. “It’s a sweet addiction.”

If you’d like to see more of Laurent’s work, visit www.fisheyedesign.net

Contributing editor Bob White is a writer and artist; see his work at www.bobwhitestudio.com.