Pud Franzblau uses classic film and paper — and no Photoshop tricks — to capture the beauty of some of the world's most stunning places.
by Donna Clayton Walter
Sitting in his new Red Earth Gallery on Silver City's Yankie Street, surrounded by four walls filled with startlingly colorful pieces of his work, photographer Pud Franzblau laughs and throws up his hands.
"People ask me that all the time!" he says. "But how can I compare these apples to those oranges? 'Pick a favorite'? It's just impossible!"
Photographer Pud Franzblau in his Red Earth Gallery in downtown Silver City. (Photo by Donna Clayton Walter)
He glances at a back wall, hung with large photos of cavernous holes carved by wind and rain in wavy orange rock walls — the impressive and instantly familiar slot canyons of Utah.
"Okay, maybe that's my favorite shot of a slot canyon. But what about the scenics?" he asks, gesturing at photos of the moon in cold, clear desert skies, of purple and blue mountain ranges, of a solitary yucca in a sea of gypsum white sand. "How do I compare that to the ancient rock art? Or the flowers?"
He looks around the gallery, section by section. He leans back in his chair and a smile creeps across his face.
"Well, I can tell you this. That's my luckiest shot — because of the lightning."
The photo is eye-catching because of many factors: steep trails from every craggy rock wall lead down into a deep canyon, the dark electric blue of a stormy sky overhead visually compliments the red and brown below.
And there, right over the canyon, a single bolt of lightning strikes down, a jagged streak of white in the center of the bruise-colored sky.
"Lightning and Flash Flood, Ticaboo Canyon,"
photograph by Pud Franzblau.
As with all of Franzblau's striking images — including the photo on this issue's cover — there is a story behind the stunning visual beauty. This lightning-lit photo was taken in Ticaboo Canyon, west of Lake Powell in Southern Utah.
"I was trying to get a shot of these flash floods pouring down," he says, gesturing to the silver-white rivers of water streaming down out of crags in the rock ledges. Franzblau describes how he and his brother had hiked down into the canyon. "The sky was dark, so we knew something was coming."
As the storm kicked up, Franzblau and his brother high-tailed it up and out.
"We ran up as best we could. Lightning was everywhere! Rocks were getting hit and just exploding!" he recalls. "(My brother) described it 'like a mortar attack in Viet Nam.' He left, but I sat in my truck. I thought, 'There's gonna be a shot here...'"
Franzblau pauses, then laughs. "My family swears I'm gonna get killed someday trying to get a picture."
His camera positioned on a tripod, Franzblau activated the shutter with a remote push button device, the shot taken at the exact right moment to capture the strike.
"Sure enough, there was a shot. And there it is," he says, pointing out the magical bolt, "at 125th of a second shutter speed."
Franzblau got into photography as a passionate hobby. "I always wanted to be a photographer," says the erstwhile teacher with a degree in atmospheric chemistry — knowledge that helps him take great photos and shortened his learning curve regarding photography. But knowing exactly what he wanted to see in his prints made him a bit of a burr under the saddle of the fine folks at Kodak.
"I used to send my slides to Kodak to get them developed and printed. But I didn't like the results and I'd send them back to be redone, sometimes over and over. Finally this guy at Kodak told me, 'Look, if you want it better, you're going to have to do it yourself!' So I bought a whole bunch of darkroom equipment in the mid-80s. By 1990, I was making all kinds of photos."
He started getting his work into galleries by the early 1990s, he says, and soon had consignments in 20 galleries all over the West. In 2004, he went to Australia for over a year, "taking a huge number of pictures," he says. Then in 2007, he and his wife landed in Bisbee where he opened his own gallery, which he operated until this past June when the couple moved to Silver City.
Franzblau is an adamant purist when it comes to creating images — no Photoshop, no filters, just him, his camera and film. He prints using the Ilfachrome process.
"They don't make this stuff anymore," he says of the special paper required. "It has the best color rendition and it doesn't fade or yellow. I saw the end coming and I bought freezers full of the paper, refrigerators for the chemicals."
Franzblau shoots with Fuji film. "I used to use Kodachrome, but now that's not made, either." His equipment of choice is a 35-millimeter Olympus camera, "with 10 lenses, from a 16-millimeter fisheye up to 600-millimeters."
He points out a particularly striking image hanging on one of the nearby walls.
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