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Photochoreographer seeks to inspire nature appreciation in Utah

By Karissa Neely Daily Herald - | Feb 5, 2017
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Photographer James Westwater poses for a photo in front of some of his work at the Anderson Gallery on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, at the Provo City Library. Westwater has been a photographer for over 40 years, and his work has brought him all around the world; he now resides in Utah County where he photographs any and all things Utah. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Photographer James Westwater poses for a photo in front of some of his work at the Anderson Gallery on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, at the Provo City Library. As the first person who coined the term “photochoreography,” Westwater’s career has spanned decades and he has been photographing much of southern Utah most recently. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Photographer James Westwater poses for a photo in front of some of his work at the Anderson Gallery on Friday

, Feb. 3, 2017,

at the Provo City Library.

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Photographer James Westwater poses for a photo in front of some of his work at the Anderson Gallery on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, at the Provo City Library. Westwater has been a photographer for over 40 years, and his work has brought him all around the world; he now resides in Utah County where he photographs any and all things Utah. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Photographer James Westwater signs an autograph for some fans who stopped in at the Anderson Gallery on Friday at the Provo City Library. Westwater has been a photographer for over 40 years, and his work has brought him all around the world; he now resides in Utah County where he photographs any and all things Utah.

DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Photographer James Westwater poses for a photo in front of some of his work at the Anderson Gallery on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, at the Provo City Library. Westwater has been a photographer for over 40 years, and his work has brought him all around the world; he now resides in Utah County where he photographs any and all things Utah. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Photographer James Westwater poses with a young fan, Anniece Touchet, for a photo in front of some of his work at the Anderson Gallery on Friday at the Provo City Library.

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James Westwater’s “Kinetic,” shot in the Mount Nebo area. Photography © James Westwater.

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“Glass Mountain / Temple of the Moon,” shot at Capital Reef National Park Cathedral Valley. Photography © James Westwater.

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“Delicate Arch” — Photography by James Westwater.

The Anderson Art Gallery in the Provo City Library at Academy Square is a quiet, reflective room. But with the current “Photographing Creation” exhibit by James Westwater, the room takes on a vitality all its own.

Westwater has always created with music and motility in mind, and his current exhibit, running through March 31, flows in that vein. His photo essay subjects feature mostly rock formations and trees, but they all create a sense of movement.

The bristlecone pine trees dance across the wall like something out of a fantasy novel — ready to pounce or reach out to gallery visitors. Many rocks resemble birds, wolves or dragons caught mid-step. Though no music accompanies this exhibit, it very well could — possibly invoking Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo” ballet.

This exhibit is in keeping with his more than 40 years as a photochoreographer. Westwater coined the term photochoreography, “the art of creating large-screen, multi-image projections of photographic essays choreographed (set or composed) to the performance of symphonic music.”

In our multimedia world, this may not seem like a big deal. But outside of Disney’s “Fantasia,” the concept did not exist before March 2, 1973, when Westwater first created a photochoreography performance with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio.

“Multimedia presentations grew out of the World’s Fair in the ’50s, and I saw multimedia being used to create light shows,” Westwater said in a recent interview. “But I wanted to use photography combined with classical music to create symphonic photochoreography.”

Westwater — a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Residence Artist — spent his entire career performing his photochoreography with nearly 200 symphony orchestras across North America, Europe and Asia. Of all those decades, he is most proud of three compositions — “The Eternal Struggle,” set to Copland’s Lincoln Portrait and performed in 2008 and 2009; “Grand Canyon Country,” set to Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite and performed in 2012; and “Má vlast: A Visual Journey,” set to the entire, 80-minute Má vlast of Smetana.

“Má vlast” was commissioned and performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and The Toronto Symphony in 2013, and took Westwater months to prepare for. The focus of the performance was the Czech Republic.

“We photographed every aspect of the Czech Republic we could think of — people, art, architecture, nature, etc.,” Westwater said.

When he says ‘we’ he means his daughter and son-in-law Erin and Nicholas Bardonnay. They have worked with him for a number of years, and took over his photochoreographic commissions in 2014 so Westwater could retire.

But retirement for him didn’t mean stepping away from the camera. Instead it gave this Spanish Fork resident an opportunity to explore a new aspect of the art. That ultimately brought him to exhibiting his work at the Provo City Library, and previously at the Orem Public Library.

“In changing my focus from creative performing, I’m moving toward photography itself as the medium,” he said. “My challenge is to seek out particular visions of these creations, render them and ultimately share them — hopefully in turn to inspire others with the beauty of nature, and a desire to appreciate, respect, protect and preserve nature for its own sake and for the sake of present and future generations.”

His years of capturing the world’s creations fuel his current focus: saving the planet. He is the current chair of the Utah Valley Earth Forum, a Utah County organization dedicated to promoting responsible stewardship over the Earth.

“We’re changing the climate, and not in a good way. We need to mend our ways,” Westwater said. “If you don’t take care of the environment on which your living depends, you’ll be in trouble, as well as all other living things.”

He hopes the current Provo library exhibit will speak to viewers in this way, without any need for words.

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