In February 2002, images of Utahs landscape were flashed around the world as some billion-plus viewers worldwide tuned into television to watch the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games.
Appropriately, the Utah leg of the Olympic torch run began in Arches
National Park, directly under the ancient arm of Delicate Arch, the states
most recognizable icon. From there the torch was carried through the spectacular
red rock formations and canyons of southern Utah as a way of showcasing
the natural wonders of the state.
Simple Gifts is, however, not just a book; it is a large format (20 x 23.5 inches) collectors piece sheathed in a hand-bound designer case made of cinnamon bark paper and mahogany leather.
To add to the books luster, regional and international writers, poets, and personalitiessuch as His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who wrote the books introductionhave also contributed. Their essays complement the images by reflecting on the confluence of natural beauty, inner peace, and personal well-being.
Additional contributions come from Gov. Michael Leavitt; former senator Jake Garn; Bernard Weiss, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the U; Thawatchai Puakta, abbot and director, Wat Dhammagunaram Buddhist Temple and Meditation Center in Layton, Utah; Irene Fredericks, director, Sakakawea Film Project; and Chip Ward, noted environmental author and activist, among others.
Our fellow contributors are not your usual cast of characters in a book about the Western landscape, Firmage says. We wanted to sample a broader community of people, who, however much they may differ on the politics of the land, have some connection to it and something interesting to say about its spiritual dimension.
When Dad and I first talked about doing a book, Firmage continues,
we thought in terms of a conventional, if nice, coffee-table format.
But the further the project progressed, the more it seemed that this format
wouldnt do my photography justice. The things that make my prints
unique are their sense of drama and the sharp, rich details that come
from using a large format camera. These things are lost in small prints;
hence, the big book. With the big format also came the necessity of special
binding and materials. What emerged was an art piece designed for collectors
and corporate or institutional buyers looking for a special thank-you
for clients and donors.
To that end, he pays particular attention to the tools of his trade, which include a 4 x 5 view camera that takes transparencies 13 times larger than those of a 35 mm camera, thereby capturing more visual information and generating sharper, more detailed prints; a drum scanner with an extraordinary optical resolution (11,000 dpi); a spectrophotometer used in color profiling; and, of course, heavy-duty computer hardware and software that allow him to fine-tune the images until his aesthetic sensibilities are satisfied.
Firmage is quick to point out that even with these tools he cannot create high-quality images when the film source is weak. There is no digital magic, he says. You cannot make good prints from a bad photograph, so the crucial first step is getting a quality original. Once he has that, he spends days, sometimes weeks, refining an imageadjusting color and contrast, bringing out highlights, removing dust and scratchesuntil he is satisfied with the result.
The result of the process is a watercolor print from a special Iris printer
that, according to Firmage, produces fine art prints that rival
serigraphs for longevity and quality.