Robert Claus Made All These Photos with His iPhone

All images and text by Robert Claus. Used with permission.

I’m seeking out the hidden beauty of a common local landmark by revisiting it over three winters and producing black & white images shot only on a basic iPhone. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to catch a major David Hockney retrospective at the De Young in San Francisco and was particularly impressed by a series of charcoal drawings he had done of a footpath through a wood in Yorkshire. Not only were the drawings technically flawless, but they were done over the course of a whole year, showing the same scene in different seasons. He explored the same concept with a stunning video installation that placed the audience in the middle of a clearing, with each of the four video walls playing a different season at the same time, so that viewers experienced the whole year all at once.

This experience made a lasting impact on me not only because of the amazing, conceptual art but also because of his dedication and patience: it was clear from the puddles and raindrops in some drawings that he went out in all kinds of weather to do his work. Moreover, it was a way of pushing the idea of working serially to a whole new level. I had first encountered this concept with Monet’s garden scenes and then with Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which really resonated with me.

For some years after that, I wanted to try something similar but could not find the right location. One day, I changed my commute to work to take the backroads to the office, which led me past this reservoir. For some reason, I decided to pull over and take a look—and realized I had found the perfect location. Stevens Creek is one of many small to medium size reservoirs dotted around the Bay Area watersheds, and unremarkable in every way. If there was beauty to be found here, I would have to look hard for it! To make things a little more interesting, I decided to use only an iPhone, and work only in black and white.

Soon, I was clambering around the place every chance I got, exploring various aspects of the reservoir, from the namesake creek that drains into the lake to the spillway at the other end. I tended to shoot in the morning and occasionally managed to catch a spot of rain or fog. The initial results were promising, and within six months of starting, I had produced a folio of fourteen images. This was well and good, but one season did not seem enough for an in-depth project like this, so I set out again the following winter. Due in part to our ongoing drought, the water level was about a third lower this time, which revealed new shapes and contours around the lake. I could now climb down onto the lakebed in areas that would have been a dozen or more feet underwater the previous year.

The exploration now encompassed more than just the lake itself and began to tell a bigger story of drought and pollution; by the simple fact of returning a year later, I was also adding a historiographic aspect to the project. Gradually, my style evolved and became surer, and I began to approach the process more confidently. Season two was completed earlier this year with another short portfolio, and I started shooting for the third (and final) season last month around a lake that is the lowest level I have ever seen. Once that work is complete with another collection of images, I will curate a selection of photographs from all three years into a single volume for publication and sale. I would also love to show the images in a local gallery!

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.