Cover Artist...Ben Galland
Listening to Ben Galland talk about photography is like peering into an artist’s mind through a zoom lens: precise and penetrating. The St. Simons native has turned his love of Georgia’s coast into a panoramic four-part book series shining a spotlight from Cumberland to Jekyll to Sapelo Islands. Recently he shared insights into his inspiration and process with High Tide editor Cathy Coleman.
CC: Artists often plan ahead: writers might begin with an outline; painters often sketch in pencil before introducing color. Do you have a picture in mind before you look through the viewfinder?
BG: As an artist, I do have an idea or maybe a theme or emotion. In terms of research, if I know I have something in particular to shoot, I look at satellite imagery, turns in the river or maybe the tree canopy. I do a lot of research on time of day. I try not to have a perfect idea in mind, because you’ve gotta feel it when you get there.
CC: As an art form, photography seems ideal for our time: a combination of technology and point-of-view. A snapshot of the truth. Enter Photoshop! Does authenticity suffer?
BG: When it comes to my commercial photography, anything goes because this is your business. I’m the exact opposite when it comes to my art. I do as little Photoshop as possible. I studied (photojournalism) and that taught me a very truthful, straightforward view. It all comes down to what is the end message of the art. With these books, my goal is to show how beautiful this coastline or this property or landscape is. To raise awareness, to educate about it, to help conserve it — then I’ve done my job. I’ve got to strive for authenticity for that reason.
CC: What makes you so particularly good at collaboration?
BG: We (Jingle Davis and I) are cut from the same cloth. We’re kindred spirits. That relationship brought a lot of success to those two books (St. Simons and Jekyll) and opened the door to other authors and historians. When it came time for Buddy Sullivan (Sapelo), the common denominator was me. Then Stephen Doster (Cumberland) came in. Mary Jane at G.J. Ford had the (Cumberland) book before I did and sold her first shipment in one day. I tell people if you have those four books, you have so much history. I’m nowhere near done documenting the Georgia Coast. I definitely have my sights on more photography.
CC: Your book with Jingle Davis about oyster tabby, due out summer 2021, what was the most surprising shoot?
BG: Jingle and I took a trip to Beaufort and met an historian there who is particularly devoted to preserving tabby. It was more of a scouting trip for me. I planned to do research and go back. But of course I brought my cameras. It was a rainy day, and there was a place called the Chapel of Ease on St. Helena, SC. We were three people piled in a tiny sedan. Just as we got there, the mist stopped and the sun came out. It was almost spiritual. Gorgeous photos came from that day. There’s a mysterious tabby archway with no visible support. Nobody really knows how they pulled it off that early.
CC: You've been photographing the coast for decades. Where have you seen the most change
and the least?
BG: The greatest change by far would be St.
Simons. Without a doubt St. Simons has seen a lot
of growth. The least amount? Sapelo has hardly changed. It's stuck in time. My experiences on Sapelo were as remote as it gets. I would not see anybody all day. (When) spending the night on Cumberland, I would camp. Even there you would see people. Unlike Sapelo, where if I saw anybody, it probably was because their mother and her mother and her mother were from there.
CC: Your cover photo of the south end of Jekyll Island could be an abstract painting. Is that what first drew you to drone photography?
BG: In part, yes. At first it was the perspective: a different angle on the coastline that I have spent so
much time photographing. Lately, I’m more interested in the textures and abstract nature of these scenes. I think that allows people to look at it and think about it more.
CC: When did you shoot that image?
BG: Early December, 2019, just after sunrise. That time of day is my favorite to shoot.
CC: Is gallandphoto.com the best way to acquire prints?
BG: Yes, that’s perfect!
CC: Most importantly, what are your kids asking you to cook for them?
BG: We have gotten very comfortable with any form of pasta, and my kids will eat that for breakfast, lunch and dinner for days until it's gone. I love to grill. It gets me outside. I've been making bread for years, but recently I have been making a loaf almost every other day. My sourdough starter is "Tina", named after a friend who game me her starter to feed.