The Elk Mountain Range portfolio is a series of B&W aerial photographs of the backcountry surrounding Aspen, Colorado. It grew out of a project to create an atlas of photographs to assist the volunteers of Mountain Rescue Aspen in planning rescues of people who experience the dark side of the mountains and also to help helicopter pilots who were unfamiliar with the area to understand the challenges of flying at high elevation in rugged terrain.
The romantic tradition of black and white landscape photography ignores the reality that those same beautiful mountains are cold, bleak and dangerous. This small selection of the larger body of work mask the danger and disaster lurking in the mountains and emphasize the romantic beauty. The inclusion of the images of the rescue and recovery from a fatal plane crash bring home the dual nature of mother nature.
The portfolio includes two photographs of a rescue being performed on March 22nd 1982 by a US Army Chinook helicopter which transported Mountain Rescue-Aspen volunteers. The helicopter is hovering over the wreckage of a small plane in a cirque above Sawyer Lake. The pilot was flying out of Aspen airport and failed to reach sufficient altitude to clear the pass. He hit trees on the pass and the plane tumbled over the pass into the cirque. There were no survivors; wreckage from the aircraft can still be found on top of the ridge today.
The photography was done by Bill Westheimer from a 1948 Piper Super Cub piloted by Don Hose. An opened window allowed photographing without the interference of glass or plastic which might reduce sharpness.
15 images were printed 14”x11” for a limited edition portfolio and were exhibited at the Aspen Art Museum in the summer of 1982. That edition sold out immediately.
In 2008 nine more images were selected and added to the original fifteen for the 20”x16” edition for a total of 24 images. Three prints of each image plus a few artist’s proofs were produced and are titled, signed numbered and dated on the verso. Two of these portfolios are still available. The 2008 prints of The Elk Range Portfolio were individually exposed and developed on Oriental silver-gelatin paper.