An interview with David Balyeat.
A Denver native and expert photographer, is pushing the boundaries of modern technology to create fully immersive experiences.
Standing in front of one of Balyeat’s commanding landscapes transports the viewer into the scene itself. Each landscape emanates powerful, emotional energy. Balyeat’s expertise is in sensing the lifeblood of a city and capturing it in an image. Through this technique, his cityscapes pulsate the human heartbeat of a skyline.
Seeing Balyeat’s prints, one would, naturally, assume that he has had extensive formal training in photography. Yet it is his curiosity, not formal education, that has been his teacher. The desire to capture images has been a consistent theme throughout each stage of his life. As a 10-year-old, his father gave him his first camera, a primitive Panasonic point-and-shoot with few settings. However, its simple capacity to change basic shutter speed and aperture to create an image of his very own became an enduring memory. “I was one of those lucky people with one foot in the analog age.”
While David first cut his teeth in the analog age, he also utilized the digital revolution to his benefit. Like many others, he discovered that the equalizing power of the internet could serve to teach photographic skills to anyone, anytime. His passion for the artform bloomed out of sheer enjoyment, never becoming a chore. With his first Canon Digital Rebel TI at his side, Balyeat was free to learn by trial and error, escaping the banality of his corporate career.
Living in New York City, David Balyeat felt the ceaseless, competitive spirit of the sprawling metropolis. The desire to capture that culture in a single image turned into an obsession. During our conversation, David described the magic of living in this urban environment, where you find yourself surrounded by chaos. The noise and bustle of millions of people is all-encapsulating. Yet a drastic change, an almost audible quietude, awaits you once you cross the East River. “It’s amazing, the minute you look back at the skyline, everything quiets down.” The city takes on an entirely different persona from a distance; its overwhelming energy is replaced with a feeling of wonder and amazement as its architectural marvels reflect tranquility in the surrounding waters of the East River.
“When we finally made a little bit of money, we bought an old, beat-up car,” he explained. “We’d drive it up and down the coast on weekends, stopping if I saw something really beautiful or interesting.” Even without expensive equipment, Balyeat was producing images and showing them to friends when they visited his Upper East Side studio apartment. It was the dawn of the digital era. Never had it been possible to create images so quickly or to expand one’s knowledge simply with a click of a mouse. This newfound power allowed Balyeat, among many others, to hone his art. Throughout their lifelong travels, he and his wife, Kristen, have seen many stunning landscapes. However, it wasn’t until their trip to Honolulu in 2008 that photography emerged as a viable career. Walking into a gallery on a whim in Waikiki, Balyeat encountered the massive prints of Peter Lik. These photographs were presented unlike anything he had seen before. Unlike the typical 10x13 inch prints he had always been exposed to, these works were presented on a large scale and in vivid color. He described it as the difference between seeing a Mark Rothko painting in a textbook and seeing one in person. Walking into the Tate Modern and experiencing a Rothko painting, in all its grandiosity, makes that textbook image pale in comparison. Shortly after his Waikiki experience, a second gallery encounter in SOHO inspired Balyeat to commit his life to photography, merging his passion for capturing cities and architecture with the desire to emulate this large-format approach. He began by setting up a booth at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show, in a small section designated for fine art. Balyeat printed a dozen images, not expecting much. Yet his setup was the busiest booth. It was enough to push him into what would become an extremely successful career.
One of the things that has always set his photography apart is his commitment to implementing the best technology available, no matter the cost. He says, “Painting is often about texture, but photography is about precision. I really want to convey that in the piece.. I wanted to invest in a camera platform that would create the most precise and life-like depiction of what I was actually seeing.” Quality is of the utmost importance to Balyeat. He uses a Phase One medium-format system, which captures an astonishing 80 million pixels per frame in true 16-bit color and has a dynamic range that rivals the human eye. Balyeat can capture scenes that cannot be captured with conventional pro cameras. In addition to this superior camera power, Balyeat prints his photos with LASER-precision by utilizing Lightjet technology. Because each pixel is individually exposed with the LASER, he’s able to create a strikingly detailed image. Additionally, Lightjet prints utilize a true chromogenic printing process -a nod to the classic film photography prints of Ansel Adams, in which the sheet contains photosensitive silver-halide particles trapped in an emulsion. A vast mosaic of silver particles, the final prints mysteriously seem to emanate light from within.
Today, David Balyeat is pushing the boundaries of his own work. Finding new locations to shoot is crucial. However, it is never enough for David to just find the perfect location; he wants to experience the living energy of each place and capture it in the image he produces. “I love the energy of being in the city. I thrive on the creative capital.. that tide and the energy current is what really gets me going.” He says that the whole point of photography is to channel the cultural energy of the subject to the viewer. When living in New York City, Balyeat captured the ceaseless, competitive spirit that has made it seem like the center of the man-made world.
Now, living in Denver once more, he is evolving to capture Colorado’s true essence. In his view, the driving energy of Colorado is not within the cityscape, but in nature itself. This past summer, David used Denver as a hub to reach some of the most beautiful landscapes this state has to offer. Deliberately straying from the beaten path, he has chosen to avoid Colorado’s most photographed places. The Maroon Bells, while beautiful, have been photographed exhaustively. Instead, David and his wife have spent weeks on end exploring the backcountry wilderness. Trekking through vast expanses, he shot hidden beauties such as Island Lake and Lone Eagle Peak. How does he find these places? Through another technological gift: Google Earth. By searching the skies digitally, he can find the seldom-trodden land that will set up his perfect composition.
While some artists choose to explore the darkness of humanity, David Balyeat’s work exemplifies his own personal philosophy. He gazes back into thousands of years of human history and is grateful for the progress that previous generations have passed down to him and the relative luxury we all live on. “We are constantly receiving things from other people, standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. I have a desire to give something back, to produce something lasting and full of value. I want to focus on things that are beautiful and meaningful… to put something back into the pool of human experience.”
Words: Anthony Casillas
Issue 1, Year 2022/2023