Art Holeman, Landscape Photographer
2021 MASTERS of the SOUTHWEST Award Winner - Art Holeman
Known for his nuanced landscapes, photographer Art Holeman’s beneficent worldview goes beyond the lens.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Art Holeman
The scene is instantly recognizable: a slice of the Grand Canyon, the most photographed destination in Arizona. But instead of the overly-saturated hues and cloud-free azure skies that are the prevailing trend in landscape photography, this image is bold, moody and hyper-detailed. Dark clouds swirl above craggy cliffs that are peppered with brambly flora and contorted bare tree branches that reach upward like gnarled hands grasping for the unseen. The minimalist color palette borders on black and white, but closer inspection reveals subdued touches of indigo and forest green, which add depth and life to the otherwise monochromatic setting. It is a look that is both melancholic yet welcoming—and utterly distinctive.
“Art Holeman’s work is not at all like some of the snapshot-ish photography that we see a lot of these days. It’s crafted, and it’s intentional,” says Alan Fitzgerald, founder and executive director of Art Intersection in Gilbert, who has worked with the artist for more than a decade. “One of the things that characterizes many fine art photographers is that you can look at one of their prints and immediately tell who took it. And not just because of the subject matter. It’s the presentation, the tonality, the texture, the way it looks and feels. Art knows what he likes and what his vision is, and he makes that happen.”
The desert Southwest, which dominates Holeman’s portfolio, is a long way from his childhood growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan, but it was walks on the beach and exploring an abandoned waterfront amusement park, as well as family trips to such places as Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore that sparked the young artist’s interest in capturing the landscape. “My whole family is creative, but I was never very good at art class,” Holeman remembers. “Photography made it a bit easier for me to put my thoughts into something visual.” While he enjoyed shooting the surrounding environment, his career was directed by the pages in magazines.
“I was drawn to commercial photography,” he says. “I loved the advertisements. That’s what I really wanted to do.” Following a stint at a local community college, Holeman transferred to Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa, where he received an associate’s degree in photography.
To escape the Midwest’s bone-chilling winters, the photographer and his then-girlfriend, Chris, moved to Las Vegas. The couple later married there, and it was on the Strip that Holeman made a name for himself, photographing celebrities and poker tournaments for the large casinos, interiors stills for TV shows, and even exotic dancers. “I did one project where I had to photograph President Gerald Ford at a show at the convention center,” he recalls with a laugh. “I had to shoot him at the show, go back to my studio and process the film, make a print, and bring it back to the center where it was transmitted up to a satellite and then back down to the show where it was displayed on a screen. It just shows you how things have changed. Nowadays it’s all digital, and that could have been done in a matter of seconds.”
After a few years in the desert, Holeman returned to Iowa to set up the photography department for renowned advertising agency Hellman, which created advertisements for household names, such as Budweiser, United Airlines and Maytag. But even the opportunity to work on prestigious campaigns couldn’t suppress his longing for the Southwest, and after a few years, he and Chris decided to take a chance on Phoenix. The photographer soon connected with others in his field and began building his own business doing studio and commercial work. But it was a vacation with friends that reawakened his love of the landscape.
“A friend of ours rented a cabin on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and one year we spent four or five days there during the monsoon season,” Holeman says. “I was able to shoot the thunderstorms, the lighting and the clouds. That’s what really got me started.” Now, he tries to make it back to the area every August. “I know it’s the same location over and over, but the scenery is always changing.”
He describes a series of photographs he took this past year of the fires on the North Rim. “They were black-and-white images of the early morning fog, and there’s just this starkness—a blackness and a devastation,” he says. “I can’t describe what I look for, but I know it when I see it. Sometimes it’s there forever, and sometimes it’s fleeting. But that’s what is so neat about the Grand Canyon—no matter how many times I go there, it’s always different.”
Friend and fellow photographer David B. Moore often travels with Holeman, seeking out new locations and working on self-imposed photo challenges. “Art is the master of landscape photography,” Moore says. “He’ll shoot a rock and I’ll say, ‘Where’d you see that?’ He’ll reply, ‘I just happened upon it, and it spoke to me.’”
Whether he’s capturing such iconic Arizona locales as Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon or historic buildings and street scenes in Mexico or other foreign countries, Holeman gives his images an aesthetic that is both illusory and brooding, yet also soothing. “The muted tones, more like a sepia print in many ways, make the image feel soft and dreamy, yet it holds the detail,” Fitzgerald notes. Moore agrees. “Art has a particular look that he’s come up with in the last 10 years that’s very dramatic and on the romantic side for landscapes. It’s rich in highlights and shadows but leaves in a bit of color. In a way, it’s abstract because it’s black and white, yet at the same time he allows it to come back with a sense of reality by adding color.”
For many photographers, finding their creative outlet would be enough, but Holeman is known as much for his landscape imagery as he is for his altruism, kindness and sense of community. One of his most fulfilling achievements is the work he does with Through Each Other’s Eyes, a nonprofit exchange that promotes cultural awareness through photography. Member shutterbugs from countries around the world, such as Japan, France and Guatemala, come to the U.S. to shoot, and then the hospitality is reciprocated. Afterwards, the two groups present a joint exhibition. “It really fits Art’s personality,” says Moore, who is also a member. “The purpose is to get people to understand each other and share on a personal level.”
For Holeman, the experience of collaborating with foreign photographers and visiting their home countries has made him more aware of how alike we all are. “The more you travel, the more you realize that everyone in the world just wants to provide for their families and have some sort of substance in their lives,” he notes. “And that’s what I want people to take away from my work. I want them to appreciate the simple things and the beauty that we all share.”
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