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Just beyond the frame

4 years ago

We’ve asked a handful of photographers behind some of the best images submitted to the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards to tell us how they created their successful shot. Next up is Leah Schretenthaler who responds to man's impact on the natural world in an artful, alternative approach. 

This photograph, Once Mighty Ko’olau, was taken in January 2018 on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. One morning, my husband and I were driving back from the east side of the island after our last breakfast. We were driving back to my house in the city Aiea. We were traveling on Highway 3 (also known as H3).

I’ve traveled that road since I was young. As a teenager, I’d drive from Aiea to Kailua or Kaneohe to swim, surf, and hike. While the H3 is one of the more controversial developments on the island, it serves as a much faster route to and from popular island spots. 

The Ko’olau mountain range is the backdrop for drivers on the H3 and I’d become immune to it, forgetting its beauty. Ten years ago I moved to the mainland, so now when I go home and see the range I’m blown away by its magnificence. I now also see how the highway carves into the landscape and impacts the natural scene. 

I took this shot that January morning it had just started raining, there was a light mist. The occasional rain clouds were slowly coming over the peaks. I’d pre-visualised this image before the trip. You’re not allowed to stop on the H3, so I instructed my husband to drive as slowly as possible while I took as many pictures as possible from the passenger’s seat. I shoot medium format and my Hasselblad 500CM was loaded with Ilford FP4+ 120 film. I only had a few shots left on the roll. I had no time to set up the shot – I couldn’t even look through the viewfinder – so I just lined everything up as well I could, pressed the shutter and hoped for the best. 

I wanted to take this shot as I see history repeating itself on the island with the development of the Honolulu Rail Transit. I wanted to respond to the ever-present threat of the concreting blanketing of the natural world. I decided to etch the surface of the print with a laser and cut out the manmade structure in the composition. It’s interesting to see how the structure becomes more prominent when it is removed. I embrace old and new technologies, as seen here with analog photography and a laser cutter.  

I entered this picture along with nine other images from The Invasive Species of the Built Environment series into the Sony World Photography Awards’ Professional competition. Being awarded second place was a complete surprise. 

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Enjoy Leah Schretenthaler's full portfolio here

Leah Schretenthaler was born and raised in Hawaii. She completed her BFA degree from the University of South Dakota and holds a Masters degree in art education from Boston University. She is currently an MFA candidate. Her work uses traditional photography, video, and metal casting to create images. Through her art practice, her research presents a connection between land, material, and performance. Her work has been displayed nationally and internationally including Hawaii, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, New York, Wisconsin, and Spain.