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Through the Lens

Berkeley photographer Tim Goodman cruises the coast and climbs the mountains to capture Northern California’s eternal beauty.


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Salt Point #8 (2003): “This photograph was taken as a storm moved into Gerstle Cove in Salt Point State Park along the Sonoma County coast. In the mid-1800s, thousands of tons of local sandstone were quarried nearby and shipped out of this cove, to build San Francisco. A few rusted eyebolts anchored here and there are all that remain of that commercial endeavor. The degree to which the landscape has recovered speaks to the unusually powerful natural forces that have shaped this wild and spectacular stretch of coastline.”



California landscape photographer Tim Goodman is an analog cowboy. Cruising the highways and byways of Northern California, he rides alone, a 50-year-old square-format Hasselblad SWC and a Mamiya 7 his only companions. He carries a keen eye for the uncommon and then walks the land.

“For every five times I stop, maybe once, I take a picture,” says the 54-year-old Berkeley-based photographer.

Arrested by the relationship between a ragged rock and a scruffy tree stump, or by daggerlike shadows splashed across an abandoned café, Goodman exhausts the land’s brutal beauty, shooting intensely for a full day. Eight rolls of film later, he outsources the more than 60 images for processing into proof sheets.

Mariposa County #6 (2012): “This image suddenly came into view as I topped a rise while traveling the lower foothills east of Merced. As provocative as that parallelogram-shaped cloud was, I felt I needed something to set it off, a counterpoint of sorts. I moved about until I found this view that emphasized the visual tension of the thick fence post leaning one way and the cloud beyond it the other.”



Goodman’s urban alter life is occupied by Goodman Landscape Design, the in-demand company he owns and operates with his wife and artistic partner, painter Lisa Toby. A 21-year-old son, Cole, completes the family.

Drawing parallels between his twin land-loving passions of landscape design and photography, Goodman recognizes the balance of their yin and yang. “With landscape design, you control scale, atmosphere, sight lines, everything. With the camera, you work with what is found,” he says.

Professional perspective restored by the weeklong wait for proofs, Goodman enters the alchemic atmosphere of his studio darkroom to produce the silver gelatin fruits of his labor.

North of Pennington (1990): “This elegiac picture was taken from what had once been the front porch of a farmhouse. Only the concrete foundation and some surviving trees remain. The elegance and formal beauty of the plantings suggested to me, rightly or wrongly, the work of someone with a healthy dose of pride and hope for the future. Like so many of the little ruins scattered across the West, we can’t look at this one for long without contemplating the life and time of its maker. And while we may never know the answers, simply considering the questions is reward enough.”



“I get two good pictures,” he says. “Over time, good things rise to the top; you can’t rush this.”

Goodman’s arduous process—in an age of click, post to cloud, and move on—is retro. The resulting black-and-white photos are profoundly dramatic: capturing both the eternity and the immediacy of specific moments in singular, compelling images.

“By photographing a remnant of a world, vestiges of the past, I gain an intimacy without knowing its inner workings,” Goodman says. “There’s a romance but not the vapid kind.”

Born in Berkeley, schooled in Moraga, and transplanted at the age of 14 to London for 12 years, Goodman learned to associate landscapes with longevity. Ever the outsider, he felt that bonding with nature was less painful than connecting and then parting with people.

Darwin Bench (2009): “Darwin Bench is one of those places in the alpine Sierra that is hard to get to but well worth the effort. And while it’s only a couple of miles  from the John Muir trail as it leaves the outflow of popular Evolution Lake, one can spend a whole day or two in this expansive yet strangely intimate terrain, and see few, if any, fellow hikers. This picture was taken at first light, which in the lofty elevation of the High Sierra, is some of the most delicate light you’ll find anywhere, anytime.”



“People move,” he says, suggesting both his transient childhood and the complex
unpredictability of living subjects.

Inspiration comes from natural light. Shooting at nighttime unveils hidden beauties and an understanding of his place in the universe. “Seeing the transformation of commonplace objects that become animated, like apparitions, has increased my conviction that we are animals and not independent of nature,” Goodman reflects.

A surprising lesson he has learned, after 30 years behind the lens, is the gift of serendipity.

“To my absolute, humbling realization, I’ve found the images I thought were going to be terrific are not the best ones. It’s the off-the-cuff ones, the ones where I didn’t bracket, the common image I didn’t see through the viewfinder. Those are the winners with lasting power.”

 

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