Crime, punishment & ethics, Fatali & fires at Delicate Arch affect all nature photographers

Discussion in 'Nature' started by dan_smith, Oct 23, 2000.

  1. As has been reported by various news media, noted nature photographer
    Michael Fatali allegedly set fires around the base of Delicate Arch
    in Utah. He apparently did it while teaching a nature photography
    workshop. Per current news reports he is in danger of criminal
    prosecution for various yet to be determined charges.
    So, now when you go into Canyonlands and other U.S. National Park
    areas, how will this one effect your access and the Parks attitude in
    general towards photographers?
    Right, wrong or indifferent, it happened. We don't know all the facts
    yet. But from what we do know, both from news reports and statements
    supposedly from Michael Fatali, the photographer, is that fire scars
    are now around Delicate Arch, the PR symbol of the State of Utah.
    No matter what happens to the photographer we will all be paying for
    this one for a long time to come.
    Ethics in nature photography? Where do they come in and where do we
    draw the line in our attempts at getting "the shot"?
  2. I only heard part of the news reports last night, but I was so angry at what I heard that I had a hard time sleeping. I had planned a trip to Arches for this week. Now I don't know whether to go or not.

    I strongly believe that all nature photography should leave the environment in its natural condition. And I believe that it's best to portray nature in its natural condition. Fires on the slickrock around Delicate Arch are not natural.

    Last night as I was trying to sleep, I kept imagining similar stupid things photographers might do. For example, a shot of a wildfire in a natural forest would be impressive. How about starting one that I hope to control, but oops, it gets out of control and burns down the forest. (Kind of like what happened in New Mexico and Grand Canyon earlier this year; I also had planned a trip to Grand Canyon the week that fire started.)

    Or, there are just too many trees blocking the perfect view of the landscape I want to take, so how about taking out my chain saw and clearing out a few trees. After all, the park service clears trees from the scenic spots it chooses. Why shouldn’t I be able to create my own scenic spot as well? And besides, the trees I’m cutting weren’t this big 50 years ago when Ansel Adams shot from this same location. I’m just returning the my viewpoint to the way it was 50 years ago before these trees grew this big.

    Or, I’d really like a photograph from the summit of this mountain, but it’s so hard to get there. How about I just plow up the mountainside in my jeep. After all, it’s an off-road vehicle. That means I shouldn’t need to follow the roads to get to where I’d like to go.

    I also wonder about other less damaging, but perhaps more contrived things a photographer might do. For example, I’ve seen a shot of Delicate Arch illuminated at dusk, not with fires, but with artificial lighting. It’s impressive, but far from natural. Would I do this? I might, but I've never tried. It’s not natural, but it leaves the environment in a natural state. Just last week I watched a photographer drop and carefully arrange a bunch of maple leaves in a small eddy of a stream, creating a situation that could have been natural, but wasn’t. It didn’t hurt anything. At the time I remember thinking that it was something I had never done, but it didn’t look like an interesting shot, so I headed up stream and discovered a spot that seemed far better without any manipulation.

    Or, I’d really like a good photo of a wild predator, but they’re so hard to find. So I’ll just provide some bait (a live animal tied up, or a carcass – whatever works) and hide in my blind until my subject shows up. Then I’ll blast away and get some good photos. And of course I’ll use my flash extender so that I get the light I want. No harm done – right? Except now one particular subject has learned that some food might be easier to get from humans – and maybe learns the food is associated with flashing lights.

    I guess I’m rambling. It helps me to think about what I consider to be good nature photography.

    Regarding what should happen with Fatali’s blunder, I'm not sure. My knee jerk reaction is that Fatali should be permanently banned from all park service lands (all public lands if possible). Of course, that may be impractical to implement, but I just can't imagine any just punishment for such an irresponsible act. How can one provide a just compensation for the value he’s taken from me, or from other photographers? I’ve been traveling to Delicate Arch for years, trying different seasons, different viewpoints, different weather, etc. It’s not so much that I’ve been trying for the perfect photograph, it’s more that I’ve been trying to explore and as much of the character and personality of Delicate Arch as I can. I suppose I can still continue this quest, only recognizing that my subject now has blemishes that weren’t there before.
  3. Dan or Tom,

    Could you post the web locations of media that are reporting what is known at present? What you've described is very disturbing, but it is hard to think about without knowing more. I searched several online newspapers (NY and LA Times, Salt Lake Tribune) and news services (CNN, ABC), but found nothing. Thanks.
  4. I found this:
  5. If this story is true, Fatali isn't a nature photograhper - He's a
    f**king criminal who should be jailed ASAP.
  6. I didn't hear about this. As disheartening as it is, thanks for bringing it to our attention Dan.
  7. If true, Fatali is a class jerk, worthy of maximum penalties. There can be NO good enough reason for the wanton damage to any natural treasure. It's fairly certain the motive was money. Hopefully his reputation will be blemished, as apparently is the Delicate Arch, so that he will get no more money from his "patients." Perhaps winter rains and snows can partially erase his trail marks.

    My line-drawing for what is proper is fairly clear, at least to me. If I need to move a blade of tall grass to photograph a flower, I will. Unless I get in a hurry for no good reason, I put it back where I found it. I won't even pull the grass or a weed, under the theory that something might ultimately depend on it for survival. I realize that connectiveness can only be carried so far, but that is the principle under which I photograph.

    I admit I photograph only for the sheer joy and pleasure of it, certainly not for money. It's possible, I suppose, that greed would cause me to alter my views- perhaps some lack of confidence in my own moral structure is even why I remain an amateur. Well, that and lack of talent.
  8. Much of the information has been coming from Salt Lake City's local TV station KSL. Here is a link to one of the stories.
    Yesterday they had a RealVideo, in which, you could see the damage that was done even with the poor internet video quality.
    Mr. Fatali has not only crossed the line of ethics, but he has broken multiple federal statutes. I believe he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Unfortunately, he has possibly given all photographers a "black eye" by his inexcusable actions. Can we as a photography community do anything to remedy this, besides make it perfectly clear that we, in no way, support or condone this type of behavior? Trust is earned. And I, along with Dan, feel that Mr. Fatali may have done a lot of damage to the trust that many of us have worked hard to earn day after day.
    I would urge any that are part of this community to contact all of their aquaintances within the national and local parks and forest agencies to tell them how upset and angry the nature photography community is regarding Mr. Fatali's transgressions. The managers, administrators and legisltors of our public lands need to be assured that we are on their side when it comes to matters such as this.
  9. What kind of a moron would do something like this? It is unbelievable to me. We need to set fire to him!!

    Anyway, I suspect that this will get more press coverage. So, what about some members of NANPA or other nature photography organizations making their presence known and their views known during the sentencing procedures or other "press-friendly" occasions. It may go a long way to mend any "burnt" bridges.
  10. I'll give Mr. Fatali the benefit of innocence until guilt is proven, but it sounds like that won't be a big problem for law enforcement. If he indeed did this then he is a first class idiot and in no way deserves to be called a nature photographer - I might suggest selfish, opportunistic mercenary as being a more appropriate label.
    He certainly should be fully prosecuted and IMHO, a wise judge would consider 3 punishments - first, a stiff fine (not less than $100,000), second, 1000 hours of community service (picking up roadside litter, etc.), third, a permanent ban from all national (and state if the judge has jurisdiction)parks as someone mentioned above.
    Hopefully, all possible nature photography forums will come out in strong opposition to this behavior and hopefully all REAL nature photographers will be that much more careful to protect the environment while enjoying there hobby/job.
  11. FWIW, the email response button at Mr. Fatali's website has been turned off. It looks like the address is and it might be worth him hearing from us about how we feel about his actions.
    Just an idea.
  12. Thanks to Dan Smith for bringing this to our attention and Curt Casteel and Scott Bacon for providing links to some of the news stories. That someone did this is appalling, that it might affect photographic access to nature sites is frightening.

    It is hard to believe that an experienced nature photographer would do a thing like this. What would he do subsequently -- proudly explain to visitors to his gallery that he set four fires so that he and his students could get their photographs? Consequently, I want to plead with everyone to wait until the facts are in. From my reading of the stories, even the authorities were reluctant to name a suspect publicly, but some reporters were able to learn who was apparently being investigated. The authorities, and the press, sometimes get things wrong. Suggestions that violence should be done are understandable but inappropriate.

    I agree wholeheartedly that whoever did this deserves to be condemned. If it was Fatali, or any photographer, our condemnation has to be a lot louder. There is nothing that we can do at present to fix the damage which has been done at Delicate Arch. If there is anyone in the photographic community who is an expert on restoration of natural sites it would be great if they could help. But before we condemn Fatali we need to wait to learn what happened.
  13. Here, here, Hector.

    The media is notorious for stretching the facts, or jumping to conclusions, to foment anger to attract readers/viewers. It's very easy to incite vociferous reactions when a beloved symbol is desecrated. To be sure, such a desecration should be dealt with severely. While Mr. Fatali's alleged actions are a great affront to ethical photographers, a greater affront to photographers will be done by the media by trying and convicting Mr. Fatali in the court of it's bandwidth.

    Follow the story and make a judgment when the facts are documented.
  14. I have read the Salt Lake Tribune report and my initial concern
    mirrors that of all the comments above. What really bothers me
    is the fact that one of the fires was started using a waxy
    substance (firelighter log?) which has almost certainly melted
    into the underlying sandstone. Sandstone is porous which
    means that the damage that has been done will likely be there
    for a long long time. Likewise any smoke damage to the surface
    skin (geologically the skin of a rock is weathered) will not be
    easily erased nor will it easily fade with time. Time for geological
    processes is measured on a different scale from those humans
    are accustomed to - in this case 10,000 years instead of say 10

    Thanks, Dan, for the information. Perhaps the culprit should be
    delicately arched over a similar conflagration til he understands
    the meaning of the word vandalism.
  15. Shouldn't the participants in his group be guilty because they were not smart enough to realize what he was doing was wrong and stop him?
  16. Below is the media release as sent out by Arizona Highways Magazine. I spoke with the publisher about it and he is not a happy camper. They are taking a lot of flack over the incident. It is clear that the action was NOT sanctioned by the magazine. He also said the person who was with the photo tour representing the magazine had been dismissed immediately when they found out what happened.

    With a one year ban on Fatali, his images and products, from the magazine publication and gifts, at least a message has been sent. I have heard off the list from others who are writing to the magazine to say that if Fatali EVER has anything to do with the magazine they will cancel their subscriptions and lobby advertisers with boycott threats as well as making sure they won't ever do business with them again.

    Read the press release below. It is short & simple. Arizona Highways magazine does not agree with Fatali's actions and is trying to do what it can to make things right.



    For further information contact:
    Arizona Highways Publisher, Win Holden
    Office: 602-712-2023

    PHOENIX, ARIZ. (OCTOBER 23, 2000) - -

    Michael Fatali, who is under investigation for setting fires that scarred an arch in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab, Utah, on September 18, has been suspended for one year from conducting photo workshops for the Friends of Arizona Highways, a nonprofit support group of the magazine.

    In addition, said Arizona Highways Publisher Win Holden, Fatali’s posters of slot canyons have been removed from the magazine’s gift shop. "We are exceedingly disappointed in Fatali’s completely careless action. Arizona Highways always has been a powerful voice for protection of the environment and preservation of our natural landscapes."

    Fatali set the fires in small aluminum pans to light Delicate Arch during an unauthorized nighttime photo session while conducting a workshop sponsored by the Friends of Arizona Highways. The magazine itself was not involved in the workshops.

    "This was a totally unsanctioned activity by Fatali," said Barbara Hornor, executive director of the Friends. "We obtained permits to go into the park to photograph as part of a 11-day photo workshop through northern Arizona and southern Utah national parks and other scenic locations. We did not know he planned on setting fires. The permits specifically prohibit the use of fires."

    The Friends have conducted photo workshop in Arizona and surrounding areas for 16 years, Hornor said, and nothing like this has ever occurred. "We have always worked to promote appreciation of the environment, and this incident is offensive to us."

  17. I don't know the man. I don't condone what he did. But why did he do it? Of course maybe he's just a complete fool who casually tossed away a career, years of work, a reputation and did irreparable damage to a natural wonder on a whim, out of ignorance, poor planning, etc.

    As we rush to tar, feather, and crucify Fatali (studiously and ethically avoiding using a cross of old-growth redwood, feathers from spotted owls, and/or paleontologically/archaeologically valuable tar from La Brea in our haste) I think it's worthwhile to find out just what was he thinking or trying to do. Was he working towards a specific and rather spectacular photographic objective? (And trying to maintain artistic purity by not producing the effects in Photoshop?) And things went spectacularly wrong? Some klutz kicked over a firepot and spilled hot burning liquid? A flammable liquid blew up instead of burned? Wind gusts? We just don't know from what is written/linked here. Was this just a colossal really dumb-ass idea that went horribly wrong? (Would we have found the resulting photos spectacular and artistic if nothing had gone wrong?) As tragic as it is, nobody got killed or even injured. Although the name of the movie escapes me, remember a couple of years back an accident on a movie set involving an explosion and fireball brought down a helicopter and killed a child on the set.

    I don't condone or excuse what happened. I'm equally sure we can all think of individuals or organizations that have defaced nature for art, public convenience, etc. Even a massive brain-fade may need to be punished to help reinforce for others that this is simply not the kind of action that should even be considered.

    I think we need to hear his side to see what might be necessary to avoid this kind of occurrence in the future.
  18. Knee jerk reactions to date are dangerous if not slanderous.

    I tend to side with Craig. Media reporting is flakey at the best of times, the Guy must have had a vision in mind when setting up the shoot, there are some clues in the reports that the fires were contained in pans. Now I don't know the guy from Adam, but it seems that some thought was put into the photo shoot to minimise environmental damage, but something obviously went horribly wrong.

    He must have built up some form of reputation before hand to be allowed to lead the photoshoot in the first place, so give the guy some benefit of the doubt that he did not set out to vandelise the site by lighting uncontained fires. Smoke damage may not have been considered, which may be niaivety on his part.

    Before you hang draw and quarter the guy, at least wait and see what actually happened.

    A view from the wrong side of the pond.... probably worth zip.
  19. I haven't seen (has anybody?) the images created during this
    workshop, but it sounds to me from all the reports I've read is
    that he did this to create a lighting effect for an image. He
    obviously thought he knew what he was doing so I infer from that
    that he might have done this before. Or maybe not. Obviously
    something went wrong.<P>
    At any rate, what I am at a loss to understand is why he did this
    when there was a safer and better technique easily accessible;
    he could have used a high powered battery driven portable flash
    like the Hensel Porty , Broncolor Mobile, Profoto 7b, or Comet
    PMT (all 1200 w/s max. power) or the Balcar Concept (from 1600
    w/s to 6400 w/s, max power depending on the number of heads
    you are using) and gelled the flash with Rosco "Flame" or some
    other combination of lighting gels.<P>
    It is a shame I'll never be able to see Delicate Arch the way it was
    before the desecration. Sure I can photograph it and then use
    Photoshop to correct the damage, but that isn't the same thing is
    it.<P>To answer Dan's question: ethics usually involve being
    inconvienced in some way. We all like cheap gas (I know I do, I
    drive a Ford Explorer) but what will be the long term cost of
    continuing our quest for really cheap energy from
    petrochemicals? I'm not knocking the energy companies but I
    live in Houston and have heard for years from refining company
    PR departments about how much it would cost to clean up (but
    pollution control devices) on some of the old heavy contributors
    to the really horrible air we have in the Houston area that have
    been "grandfathered' under current Texas laws. (yes I know it
    has getting bad for a long time. Does that mean it never can get
  20. "...Or, there are just too many trees blocking the perfect view of the landscape I want to take, so how about taking out my chain saw and clearing out a few trees..."

    I recall reading about Fred Pickering of Zone VI fame describing how he did this, and how the those who were upset about it had no right to be since getting a better landscape picture was more important than a few trees. Probably in an old issue of View Camera.
  21. I've been to Fatali's gallery in Zion, and have really admired his work. His prints are absolutely stunning. Ironically with every print, as well as the captions on his website, he makes a point to describe how long he waited for the light to get his image-sometimes days. I've always respected that. If, and this is a big IF, this is true, I'll always have to wonder how many of the other images were made with the flick of a Bic. I agree we should wait until we hear the whole story first before conducting an e-trial here, but thanks Dan for pointing out the story to us.
  22. Indeed, check out Fatali's website, and particularly his description of his workshops at:

    Lots of language there about "following the light" and "waiting for the light" and going to unusual locations rather than the sites that everyone photographs.
  23. Also of interest may be Fatali's signed statement regarding the use of "nature's light" at:

    Now, what was that someone wrote once about Prometheus stealing Duralogs from the gods?
  24. drc


    As others have said, lets wait to hear what really happened (innocent until proven otherwise). I personally hope that the reports are'nt true and at worst some well laid plans went awry. But if the reports are correct then this will negatively affect us all. Fatali is a brilliant photographer, why would he get caught up in a stupid and selfish (career ruining act)? Lets give Mr Fatali the benefit of the doubt everyone until we all have a better and official understanding of the true facts and circumstances. David Crossley/Crossley Photography.
  25. I agree that we should not try and sentence Mr. Fatali on the internet, but really, what are the chances that this story isn't largely accurate. Did he have a photographic objective? - sure. Did something go horribly wrong? - of course. But it really doesn't matter - setting any kind of fire was lame brained and ILLEGAL. There is nothing that can justify it. If he would do this in front of a bunch of witnesses, has he probably done it in private? - most likely. I have little doubt that one and probably many of his images have had contrived light and some probably from fires. I have also previously admired his images, but I would never trust one, buy one or recommend one in the future.
  26. I really admired Fatali`s work, especially the quality of the light in his images and what seemed like his ethics towards his photography and the planet, now it seems all shattered, I think this might be as big of a career blunder as Pee Wee Herman`s .
  27. I am sorry about adding a third posting here, but this news has got me upset. Assuming we have the facts right, Mr. Fatali may have had a curious and disturbing ethic. In one of the web addresses mentioned above by David Goldfarb, Fatali says his images are all by natural light.

    Is it possible that he considers intentionally set fire to be "natural", while battery-powered, non-destructive flash is "unnatural"? Was he guarding the purity of his process to the detriment of what he was photographing?

    This possibility is just as reprehensible, although different in some way, than the possiblity that he just didn't care.
  28. Kind of a side topic here, but one that fits. A few years ago there were a great number of trees in Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs that were mysteriously being cut down. Due to the locations of some of them, I informed a ranger that I was certain a photographer was involved. Sure enough, a photographer named Bijan was caught near a downed limb from a 500-year-old one-seed juniper, and a saw laying nearby. A woman jogging by saw him doing his magic. It added new meaning to his statement to me once that, to paraphrase, "I take photos that no one else can duplicate." Apparently, he was shooting, then altering the scene. He ended up pleading guilty to a destruction of property-type crime, fined, and banned from the park for a few years. The sad part is, the guy doesn't have a grasp of just what kind of paria he has become. He's back now, and he told a friend of mine that he's wanting to publish a book on the park. Another friend of mine joked that it'll probably be printed on paper derived from the severed limbs of 500-year-old one-seed juniper trees.

    And to prove that the act of one idiot can affect the many innocent, during all the press coverage this got, I was shooting in the Garden when a guy came hiking by and sniped, "Oh, you must be one of those photographers that cuts down trees."
  29. Todd highlights another situation above where a photographer has had the audacity to believe that their own intrests come above the intrests of the general public. These type of situations are becoming more common, although not normally to the level of public awareness that the Delicate Arch incident has been brought to.

    I'm concerned that the actions of photographers (like in this incident) will be used to justify the NPS and other federal government agencies imposing of use permits or licensing for professional photographers. I feel that there needs to be a very strong and swift response to this incident by NANPA and any other organizations that are related to photography in the outdoors. We as an industry need to show that we are able to police our own. If Fatali is found to be responsible, and in violation of _any_ Federal laws, then he should be censured or kicked out of NANPA if he is a member. If he's not a member, then a statement should be made that this type of behavior is not acceptable and won't be tolerated by members.

    If Fatali had the proper permits to do what he did out there, then he's guilty only of extremely poor judgement, and should be repremanded in a manner equal to his error that will send a clear statement about the acceptability of actions like this.

    I haven't joined this organization yet, because I was unsure what benefit I would get from it. Now is their chance to gain a member, if they react to this situation in an appropriate and unified manner.

    I browsed their website and found no document that outlines rules of behavior that each member must follow. Other professional organizations (not photography related) that I am a member of have this. Is there a statement of beliefs or behavior in this organization? If not, it is sorely missing and one should be written and adopted...

    Thanks, Dan for the info.
  30. NANPA should speak quickly, loudly and clearly about this atrocity. But, I doubt if it will. I think it is more likely that the current leading Ayatollah in Iran will advocate Orthodox Judiasm before NANPA does anything meaningful to help us. Prove me wrong. I welcome it.
  31. Sadly, I believe such outrageous, reckless, and thoughtless acts will increase as access to many of our pristine wilderness areas becomes easier for unscrupulous photographers who will do anything to 'get the shot'. This incomprehensible act by a 'professional' leads me to ask an even more troubling question: did any of the workshop participants try to stop him or were they passively standing around while their guru leader proceeded to defile(albeit accidentally) part of our natural heritage?

    Perhaps we should all ask ourselves what we would have done had we been at that workshop? Would we have spoken up and challenged such an esteemed 'professional'? Would we have tried to physically prevent him from proceeding with the shoot?

    I am not suggesting that there is a correct answer as it really depends on individual philosophy, personal ethics and commitment to preserving our national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas. However, nature photograhpers should use this egregious error in judgment by Fatali as an opportunity to remind all of us about our obligation to help preserve that which is the essence of our endeavor.

    As I look at my own photographs of Delicate Arch taken two years ago with my family, I know what I will do if confronted with a similar situation in the future. The question is--do you?
  32. Keith makes a good point. What would I have done? I don't know. Are participants expected to know the regulations of the National Park in this matter, or would they assume that since they're on a workshop with a well known pro that he has obtained any permits necessary (and also knows what he's doing).
    I do know now that if I'm faced with a similar situation, I will at least ask if the activity is permissible and condoned.
    For my part, I hope that this was just an accident. That does not excuse what happened but at least it would show that Mr. Fatali was not intentionally harming the landscape just to get a shot.
    I've only met him once but he certainly didn't strike me as the type of person to do that.

  33. drc


    <Keith makes a good point.What would i have done?>

    Both in Canada and US parks ALL visitors/park users have to know and abide by park regulations, it,s your responsibility to work within the rules.

    David Crossley/Crossley Photography.
  34. "Fire" rules are pretty prominently displayed or published in most public Parks and Forests. Unless the "workshop members" with him were shepherded in (by vehicle??) without much contact with the Park establishment, it seems likely that they were aware or should have been aware of the "problem" to at least some extent while it was being set up. It also sounds like there had been fires there in the past. That might lead the casual or naive to think that they are acceptable in the area. Have any of the group offered their explanations yet? However, if the "professional leader" has all of the paperwork and reports to the group that everything to be done is properly coordinated and "permitted," I don't think we should necessarily expect them to have realized it was illegal. (Given the criminal nature of the activity, we may not necessarily get their stories.)

    Let's separate what was accidental from what was intentional. Setting the fires was intentional. (Fires don't just "start" any more than guns just "go off.") The extent of the damage may have been accidental. Getting caught may have been unintended as well.

    Is the world of the nature photographer going to come to an end? No. This was an aberration, most managers recognize that photographers aren't malicious and that they aren't criminals. The problem will arise if this brings up other incidents or is repeated. Managers will react to public or political pressure faster than just a single incident if they don't have their hands forced. Fortunately the current administration doesn't set policy by panic or publicity or have politically or legacy driven western public land policies. OK, maybe you should worry!
  35. In light of all that has been said about Fatali you have to read this web-page from Arizona Highways. The wording is incredible.
  36. I went to the website and read the blurb.<P> I then called the toll
    free # and asked if the workshop would still be offered. The very
    nice lady who answered replied with a firm "No".<P> I then
    suggested the Fatali workshop page be removed from their
    website and she said they are working on it.
  37. Here's a copy of an email I sent to Fatali this morning (

    Dear Michael Fatali:

    As you may or may not know, there has been an extended discussion in recent days on the web of an incident you were apparently involved in at Delicate Arch.

    The discussion can be found on at

    One thing that's missing here is any account from the actual photographer of what went on out there. Care to contribute?

    Bob Keefer
  38. Considering that depending on the results of ongoing investigations, Fatali could be looking at some serious criminal and/or civil charges we shouldn't expect any comments from him until this is resolved. In the meantime until it is resolved, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
  39. Here is an interesting title to one of his shots. What type of "flash" do you think was used?
  40. Hello my name is Tom Janecek,

    I can definitely contribute to your discussion. I have been a river guide in the Grand Canyon since 1986. I have spent thousands of days in the outdoors, literally bathing in the beauty and the spirit of the Southwest. Over time, I found myself connecting with these places in a way where they began to teach me about my beliefs: where we came from, how old we are, how we have a place in nature, how our natural instincts can “tune into nature” in ways that we can’t fully explain and maybe most importantly, how the “spirit” or beauty of a place can affect how people feel.

    Because of this, I began to really understand the unique role that photographers play in communicating how beautiful and important these places are. Needless to say, I have a soft spot for nature/landscape photographers – these/you people as a whole in my opinion are some of the most important people we have in our society.

    I have a vision to communicate the beauty and wonder I have experienced to everyone I meet, and whoever I can. This is how I came in contact with Michael Fatali. In the small town of Page, Arizona nearly 15 years ago I ran into a struggling artist in a tiny gallery. Inside there was Michael and a collection of prints of a quality that I have never seen or experienced before. I asked Michael how he did this, and he humbly explained that all of his photos came from 8X10 negatives, that all of the photos are created from the Cibachrome process, and that all of these photos required hours upon hours and sometimes days upon days of waiting for the perfect light. He was selling the prints for only enough profit to eat some food, buy more film and hike to the countless places in his “light notebook”. He must have been in his early 20’s. I realized that I had met my match for people who see the spirit and beauty of our lands.

    Several years later as a river guide in Page, Arizona, without a dime to spare, I offered a free river trip to Michael, in a hope that maybe he could either make me a deal on a photo, or maybe just get some photos of the incredible places in the Grand Canyon. His response “Well, I don’t think so, this kind of photography takes a lot more time than most people know- I doubt people would want to wait around for me. However, it might be useful for me to record some light in my light notebook. I need to sit in a place for hours and just record what the light is doing. Then I can make a plan for how to take the picture. Maybe next time.”

    Just a year or so ago my wife and I ran into Michael in Zion at his gallery. We complimented him on his work, and I recalled the story of asking him to go on a river trip. He was very kind and open, and offered for us to tag along on a photo shoot he had planned.

    Hiking on the way to the shoot he talked about his vision of helping to protect our beautiful places by showing people how truly special these places are through photography and through contributing his time, money and talent to the causes. He took extra care to stick to the trails, not step on vegetation, and enjoy the process of getting to the site with an 80 pound camera and film back pack and a 15 pound tripod – there was no “politically correct” nature to his desire to walk lightly in these places – this was just who he was – a product of the countless times he had done this before. He even said, the struggle to get to a place was part of the photograph and part of the healthy and natural experience of enjoying a beautiful spot.

    When we got to the spot inside a slot canyon, it was freezing cold — so cold that my bundled up wife had to leave after just fifteen minutes of being inside this spot. So there I stood with Michael in freezing cold water up to our waists. Michael was as calm as he could be and just stared where the camera was focused – for two hours! He was waiting for a tiny little shrub to not move in the breeze that was blowing down the slot canyon. I wasn’t going to ask him if he could use a flash – he harped on me for having a clear UV filter on my camera. Michael, I thought, is a purest in the purest sense as I tried to outlast him in the freezing cold. He took the shot, and we parted ways back in Zion.

    As a river guide, I have spent time with all kinds of people from all walks of life, and I can spot a gem when I’m near one. So I’ll contribute this to your discussion:

    Michael is one of the most dedicated and inspired photographers I have ever met or read about. I know Michael not only strives for but lives by the age-old saying of “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” It is who he is.

    I know that I am in a “room” of people who are feeling fear about what happened. And the disconnectedness of the Internet creates a safe and impersonal place for you to cast your stone at him, but I believe and know with every bone in my body that this incident was simply a mistake.

    Because of people’s fear, this incident is escalating into vicious rumors about vandalism, uninformed attacks on Michael’s character, and assumptions that this is how Michael makes his photos.

    Obviously things didn’t go as planned, the aluminum pans didn’t do their intended job. From what I have read, Michael has owned up to his role in this, and he is more than willing to do whatever he can to resolve it.

    What really gets me is I hear more people making an effort to attack Michael than people asking questions as to how we can help correct the stains on the rock. Isn’t that what you really care about? What are everyone’s real priorities – stoning the villain or making an effort to fix the mess? Only a few of you brought up that point. I didn’t hear Arizona Highways say, “We love and care for Delicate Arch, it’s too bad this happened, lets see how we can help.” Wouldn’t that be the kind of message that the photographic community would want to send out?

    What if Michael decided to use a candle or one of the high tech lights mentioned (I’m sure they get hot), and they caused some kind of scar – would that be acceptable? What if a Park Service employee tripped and spilled a bucket of oil-based paint he brought out to touch up a sign. Would you stone the Park Service guy? The point is this was a mistake, a miscalculation — in other words not intended or foreseen. And what about all the other people there? I’m sure they will tell their story, Michael will tell his, and then maybe we’ll have something to talk about or we’ll just say “Oh, that’s what happened, what a bummer for Michael to get all this flack, let’s clean up the marks on the rock, and move on.”

    The media makes it sound like Michael just lit a bunch of bon fires, took some pictures and then he, an Arizona Highways chaperone, and the students just decided to walk off and leave that worthless arch smoldering now that they got their shot – PLEASE!

    I am assuming that Michael was searching for something beautiful to show his students, that something went wrong, and now he and the park service want to get to scrubbing the rock.

    Am I wrong that photographers are a unique and special breed of people — people drawn to these beautiful places because they are artists – people of vision – capturers of spirit? Come on you guys, is this all you can do? Let’s hear some hope.

  41. Mr. Janacek's thoughtful defense and call for consideration raises some good points. However, Mr. Fatali's nature and intentions matter not one whit IF he set any type of fire AND fires were/are prohibited at Delicate Arch.
    If fires are verboten, at best he suffered an ethical lapse in attempting to photograph the arch by firelight. "No means no," and this incident illustrates why--sooner or later, accidents happen.
    I too hope the arch can be restored. I have yet to visit Arches NP, but just returned from a trip to over a half-dozen other parks with the "for our children" message still ringing in my head. It saddens me to learn that an irreplacable resource has been defaced in this manner, regardless of whether the act was thoughtless, careless or simply accidental.
  42. TJ -
    You're AWESOME!
  43. TJ,
    I appreciate your well intended defense of Mr. Fatali. However, I think that you would agree that "all" of us are idealists in our 20's. Hopefully some of us still are. However, that was then and this is now. People change, pressures change, expectations change and money needs change. I believe that Mr. Fatali is a good person, but I also believe that the pressures of trying to get "the perfect shot" caused him to make a decision that was both unethical and stupid. I think that all of us would prefer to look at Mr. Fatali's prints and be impressed with their quality and style. However, I will now only look at his prints and wonder - "where did he put the flame for this photo?".
  44. The condimation of Fatali needs to have a little reality inserted. Everyone is attacking Fatali as if he is the sole responsible person. The truth is that ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE (part of the ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION)is as much to blame if not more. The workshop in question was run, for profit, by ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE, not Michael Fatali. Attendees on the work shop paid ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE in excess of $2,500 per person to attend; they did not pay Michael Fatali. ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE sent their representative (an escort) on the trip. The "escort" (a job I did for several years for ARIZONA HIGHWAYS) is responsible to assure that the workshop is run the way that ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE requires it to be run. Michael Fitali was a contractor to ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE and was paid by ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE to be the photographer for the trip. He was NOT the trip leader. The escort who worked on behalf of ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE was the leader and therefore responsible, on behalf of ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE, for the entire content and execution of the workshop. But more importantly, ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE, NOT Michael Fatali, obtained the permit for Arches National Park and ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE is the permitee as noted on the permit! The escort was the sole keeper of the permit and had the permit on his person while in Arches National Park. ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE'S representative was on the trip and well aware of the plan to photograph the arch by fire light. He did or said nothing.

    The "PRESS RELEASE" by ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE was totally misleading and done with the sole intent to divert responsibility away from themselves and to Michael Fatali. It is irresponsible and I am sure it was done with intent to try to protect themselves and distroy Michael Fatali.

    Words do not release one from liability and ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE owes the world a retraction and a statement of the facts in the case. The magazine needs to shoulder responsibility, pure and simple!!

    Yes, Michael did something that was not very smart. The ramifications are significant and he and ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE will have to live with the consiquences.

    Finally, I have spent many an hour with Michael each of us waiting for the "right light." I have known him to be nothing but in total respect for nature and would never intentionally do anything to harm nature. In no way did Michael intend to harm anything, much less Delicate Arch.

    Before anyone else jumps on the bandwagon make sure that you too have not done anything that got a little out of control and hurt someone, or something, that you did not intend to get hurt.
  45. I apologize to my fellow photonetters for multiple posts on this question.
    TJ and Ron - I really appreciate your comments and to some extent it changes my feelings a bit. Idealism, tolerance and mercy certainly have value when we are considering another human being and their actions. But I do think it's also important to factor in justice, accountability, respect for the rules, etc. to the formula. I agree with you, Ron, that Arizona Highways needs to share the blame. I thought I understood that they dismissed their staff member that was overseeing the tour - they should have clearly stipulated that in their press release and accepted the responsibility for that person's lapse in judgement. TJ - I wouldn't stone the park service employee for spilling paint, but I might consider punishing him if he got mad at his boss and went out and dumped paint all over a scenic area. These fires were not accidental, they were on purpose. It's possible that they could have broken the rules, set the fires and nothing bad happened - a perfect example of the utilitarian viewpoint some people might have of this incident. BUT, the broken rule ended up in damage that never would have occurred if the rule had been followed - that leaves someone responsible, even if the rest of their life had been flawless. Many of us have a level of skepticism that makes us quite certain (in our own minds) that this was a repetitive pattern of behavior. Breaking a rule usually occurs many times in private before the conscience becomes seared enough that the person readily breaks the rule in front of a group of people that would generally support the rule.
    I don't think Mr. Fatali is probably a generally bad person and I would certainly hope that he can rehabilitate himself from any wrong behavior pattern that he had developed. My long term feelings about him will be greatly impacted by how he ultimately reponds to us fellow citizens about his part in this incident.
  46. Ron,
    I came into this discussion a little late and perhaps I have too much free time on my hands but your argument for Mr. Fatali is a little flawed.
    First, "all" organizations are made up of people - Arizona Highway Magazine included. The trip lead by Mr. Fatali was a "photographic" trip and Mr. Fatali was the leader - period. Whomever the permit was written to and wherever the group representative was is irrelevant. Mr. Fatali is the one that has been proudly proclaiming that his photography is the result of "waiting" for that perfect natural light, not Arizona Highway.
    My brother, who is not a photographer, commented two months ago, after seeing Mr. Fatali's work in his gallery in Page, AZ, that the colors in Mr. Fatali's photos were amazing and he didn't understand how he did it. This is my problem with Mr. Fatali. He has preached patience and light but he uses fuel logs and tin cans to create that same light. Is this type of light natural? I don't think so. It is somewhat reminscent to Bill Clinton saying, "I did not have sex with that women." Fine. Just don't go on national tv and make that statement when you know it is false. Mr. Fatali should not have proclaimed himself to be a "natural light" photographer and then participate in the Delicate Arch mess.
    I personally hope that he recovers and learns from this. Unfortunately, trying to deflect his actions onto Arizona Highways does not work with me because Mr. Fatali was the workshop leader on that trip and there is no disputing that. His best defense is to address this issue in a public manner, ask for forgiveness, take his punishment and try to set an example to the rest of the world so that this doesn't turn into a Pee Wee Herman type career ending debacle.
    Maybe in the long run this will all turn out for the best for him. Maybe he was getting a little careless in his actions, a little desperate in his attempts, and a litte egotistical in his own estimation and this will bring him back down. The world doesn't need another nature photographer, what the world needs are better caretakers of nature.
  47. From the camping regulations on the Arches NP web site:
    1. Wood gathering and ground fires are prohibited in the park.
    Two points: 1) Intent does not matter. Fires are in campground fire grates or not at all. 2) Unless the photography permit specifically granted permission to use fires as a light source, overriding the regulation, the photographer cannot hide behind the sponsor and permit holder (the magazine). Individuals are responsible for knowing and complying with park regulations. Whether they did will get sorted out as the NPS pursues its case.
    In an attempt to return to the topic of the question:
    Right, wrong or indifferent, it happened. ... [F]ire scars are now around Delicate Arch, the PR symbol of the State of Utah. ... [W]e will all be paying for this one for a long time to come. Ethics in nature photography? Where do they come in and where do we draw the line in our attempts at getting "the shot"? (emphasis mine)​
    So. Where do we draw the line? Can you ever justify bending or breaking laws or park regs to get a shot?
    Suppose an exception was granted and a fire was permitted. Do you think it should be? Special effects and special use for, say, motion picture production can be necessary to creating the fictional environment (cf. use of Badlands NP for Starship Troopers, Armageddon, et al.). But that is usually much more involved than a still photo shoot--is it reasonable to request or grant the same kinds of significant exemptions for a single image? If not, when is the project "big enough?"
    Does it all just come down to money, as always?
  48. The thing that seems the strangest to me isn't just that the guy felt like the "no fires" law didn't pertain to him for some reason, but that he actually did this WHILE TEACHING others that this is the way things are done. Something about that is very whacked. If he didn't burn the place up, Everyone would have just gone home and developed their film and gotten a $2500 lesson that the rules at the parks don't apply to you, and do whatever you need to in order to get the shot, "natural lighting" and all.
  49. my wife and i have known michael for about 8 yrs. we were originally stunned by his photos in page, az. over time we met michael and got to know him. our relationship has progressed to the point that we now at times accompany him when he is in the field. what has been more impressive than his images is the way he works. his respect for the natural world is immense. in fact, he regards it as his teacher. it is not unusual for him to wait four or five hours for the light to "take the rock" before he shoots. all work we have seen him do is done with no artificial lighting and no filters. i realize that this may be difficult to believe, but we have seen an image go through the entire process from idea to print, and i can assure you that michael's work is pure.

    i have talked to michael repeatedly since the incident at arches. he knows that a mistake was made and he will make things right. unfortunately in our culture, legal ramifications must often be unraveled before any action is taken. rest assured that michael will do what is necessary to rectify the situation.

    we must also balance this mistake against all the good his work has accomplished. how many people upon seeing his photographs have gained a larger appreciation of the natural wonders of the canyon contry and have become advocates for its protection? i join my new friend tj in appealing to everyone to work toward a solution rather than looking to create more damage. those of us who share a deep love for this unique landscape must stay united in its protection. alan cohen
  50. I haven't commented up to now because I don't know the facts - just the rumors and opinions. So I'll assume the "facts" as reported in this thread are accurate for the sake of my following comments.

    I'm sure Michael Fatali regrets the incident, but how much of that regret is that it went wrong rather than it shouldn't have been done in the first place?

    I'm sure we all make mistakes, and afterwards if things go wrong, we regret our actions and try to make things right. The real question is what we would have done if things hadn't gone wrong. Would we do it again until they did, or would we realize we shouldn't have done it in the first place?

    This doesn't seem to have been a "mistake" or "accident" in the sense that, for example, an automobile accident is. It seems to have been a deliberate act (which in itself was wrong and/or illegal) which got out of hand (the "accidental" part). You can't really equate this with a Ranger tripping and spilling a bucket of paint he was using to fix up a sign as an earlier poster suggested.

    Our ethics should be based on what's right (and what's legal), not what gets us into trouble. If Mt Fatali does indeed have the ethics as stated on his web site regarding natural light and unmanipulated images, what on earth possesed him to start lighting fires around Delicate Arch in the first place - an action which in itself would have been questionable even without the damage? I think that's the question he must ultimately answer, if only to himself.
  51. I am definitely in agreement with Bob Atkins on this one. He is much more fluent with expressions than I; his comments are absolutely on point.
  52. I've done some backcountry hiking out West and could easily imagine how a well-intentioned person, especially after days of "waiting for the light" far from any other human contact, might imagine that lighting a fire near some impressive monolith would give it an eerie mystical appearance, recreating some romantic vision of how it might have been when primitive peoples wandered those same paths. The thought of actually setting such a fire though, even in what might be believed to be a controlled situation, is just unconscionable to me. I don't even light campfires where it's legal to do so, because camp stoves are more efficient and less wasteful in most situations.
    Some of Fatali's images are astoundingly beautiful. This one was definitely worth the six-hour wait for the light. This one, though, taken in 1993, makes me wonder whether after a week of "waiting for the light" the photographer might not have "found" a Duralog at the end of the tunnel. I would prefer to think that it was done with the "painting with light" technique or a multiple exposure, but I guess those artificial photographers tricks would fall outside Mr. Fatali's ethic.
  53. Here is a link to Fatali`s side of the story]
  54. Beerbrain, I can't seem to get to Fatali's side of the story from the link you provided, is there a shorter way in. have you tried it.
  55. I had wondered earlier about the motivations and issues so that we could explore ways to prevent future occurences. None yet. Except possibly just to "get the shot." And apologetics that we need to balance his bad deeds against his other good deeds or good influences. Sorry. No way. That rings hollow. How many nice impressions does an illegal fire cost? If I impress twice as many people can I make twice as big a stain?(on rocks)

    This was apparently a deliberate act by someone (or a group of someones) who knew the issues and laws. People who make mistakes or have accidents can benefit from education, training, experience. Photographers should be worried about photographers who are lawless. Because society enacts new and more restrictive laws in response, which will probably have little impact on those who already ignore the law.
  56. David, try this link

    then look for "Fatali`s side of the story" thread
  57. Well, I read it. Still sounds like more than just sticky footprints if they have to bring in "experts in rock restoration." I don't know the distance in to the arch from parking or the real extent of the damage. The employee's side sounds like just a "spur of the moment faux pas." Sounds to me like he went to a fair amount of effort to have the materials available. Sounds like one of those things you don't ask for permission for because you know the answer. Yet with proper precautions, it probably could have been done safely and been a rather interesting effect.

    Yet I sympathize with those that are concerned about ramifications for other photographers. I dabble in some types of target shooting. Sport shooters have been seriously impacted by political and legal reactions to criminal shootings, in spite of the pious political mouthings that they don't want to affect the "sportsmen." And we are well aware of the gyrations going on about "adult" or "violent" or similar content in art, music and the internet.
  58. I too have read "his side". I agree, it seems to have been an accident, and from what I can tell, Fatali appears to be a well-intentioned nature photographer. Fires should not have been set anywhere near Delicate Arch, and of all people Fatali should have known that. I suspect he did, but was intentionally breaking the rules, expecting that nothing would go wrong, that he and the entire class were in control of the fires.

    If you are going to "do the crime, you better be prepared to do the time (or pay the fine)". I think we have all broken laws or rules to some extent and gotten away with it (speeding, or perhaps our tax forms aren't completely accurate, etc.). In some cases it's accidental, in others it is deliberate with malicious intent, and in others, it is deliberate but without malicious intent. I think Fatali's actions fall in to the final category.

    Let's take this in a different direction. Suppose all had gone well and no scars had been left behind. When the rest of the world saw the photos, (I suppose we still may at some point, it's not clear to me that photos were not made here) would Fatali have admitted to what he did? Delicate Arch is incredibly recognizable, given the right perspective, most of us would be able to identify it in his pictures. In that case, there is no way to say it wasn't taken in Arches, where such fires are prohibited. If all had gone well, even if he had admitted what had happened, it is likely he would not have incurred any consequences. In this hypothetical case, he didn't really get caught, and many people would marvel at the pictures. But, it still would have been wrong (according to Park rules - unless he did have a permit that allowed this) - we just wouldn't have as long a thread about it.

    Similarly, I know of a prominent Colorado nature photographer who says he generally respects private property boundaries, but on two occasions has adimtted to trespassing to get *the shot* for pictures that were published, that (I am assuming) he made a lot of money from. To the best of my knowledge he has not been prosecuted in any way. But, what he did was still wrong. He deliberately broke the law, twice. I am shocked that he tells these stories at public shows. Consequently, I have refrained from purchasing any of his work.

    Ultimately, it is up to individual choice. I may choose to go 60 mph in a 55 mph zone because I don't think I will get caught, and I realize what the consequences are. If caught, I will grudgingly pay the fine. I would not however, even conceive of lighting fires under Delicate Arch, because the possible consequences are too grave. Every choice we make has some possible outcome. We cannot always predict what those are, but we can lessen the risk of certian accidents or having certain bad things happen by avoiding specific situations in the first place. Lighting the fires was risky, and the outcome from this situation was not anticipated. More importantly, it could have been avoided without the fires altogether (obviously).

    I hope we can all learn from this, and generally it sounds like we have (as a collective). It is easy to chastize Fatali because things went badly. I do hope that he ultimately does what he can to rectify the situation. He made a very dumb decision. In a wider sense though, we should all consider this example the next time we think about altering a natural scene in any way. "How much impact could my actions have?" "Is this illeagal?" and on and on.... I disagree with an ethic that would allow fires under Delicate Arch. Just because one may be able to get away with something is no reason to do it - rather it is just one possible outcome.
  59. Geez, meneez, folks. The guy burned a couple of Duraflame
    logs in a pan. It was wrong, and I don't condone it, but I guess I
    don't think he needs to be fed to the midges.

    No real ECOLOGICAL harm was done, and I do hope that Mr.
    Fatali cleans up his mess.

    I find the above discussion fascinating, and really more
    indicative of how folks don't understand how agencies like the
    NPS set policy more than anything else. People really want to
    believe the various malarkey about banning "access" from a
    popular spot. Folks need to get involved with the various
    agencies and find about what the real threats are. Paying for
    this? Please. I have yet to see any spot in a National Park or
    Forest where it says "no photos allowed." And if we do, it will be
    because the national parks will have sold the photo rights to
    Walmart to keep the place open cuz folks don't want to pay taxes.

    We sure look like we're warming up to a GW Bush presidency.
    I'll come back here directly and see if I can't stir up the same kind
    of self-righteous indignation when they release the latest plan to
    clearcut 175 million board feet on the Clearwater NF (about 20
    square miles), my backyard, after the R Congress has
    suspended the Clean Water Act and the ESA.
  60. I'm afraid I've got to come down on the side of "feed him to the midges". He shouldn't have done it. He knew he shouldn't have done it. Whether he has permenantly defaced a national monument remains to be seen. I hope the rock experts can clean up his mess.

    I'm not worried about the NPS retaliating with "no photography" signs. I'm worried about "no trespassing" signs. There has always been a movement within the NPS to severely limit the general public's (and specifically photographer's) access to federal lands. This moron's pit fire will certainly fan the flames of those who think more restictions are warranted. In Birds As Art, Arthur Morris describes how restrictions have grown over his career. Arthus Morris feels this is a real problem already for nature photographers. For those who feel differently, I recommend you read that section of his book.
  61. There's a real easy way to monitor the decisionmaking that goes
    on in Arches NP, or any piece of federal land. You write the
    supervisor at the park address and request to be put on the
    National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) mailing list for that
    park. They will tell you EVERYTHING that is going on, including
    any such proposals regarding restrictions, cuz that
    decisionmaking process MUST follow NEPA.

    It's way easier to not do anything or believe some local pundit,
    then complain ex post facto. But democracy is not a spectator

    Just pick a place that you care about, like Arches. Get on the list.
    It's easy.

    FWIW, don't look for additional restrictions from the Fatali
    incident, IMHO. If anything, look for additional restrictions cuz of
    the constant overcrowding of these last beautiful places. But
    regardless, you can be the first to know of any proposals by
    getting on the NEPA mailing list.

  62. Another factor to consider is the increasing "me too" ethic in photography, by which I mean the copying of the techniques of "pros" by amateurs (and maybe other professionals) to "get the shot". It already leads to harrasment of animals by shooters with inadequate lenses trying to get the same shots as pros with long telephots (we've all seen that happening). I'd hate for the same thing to happen with respect to "spectacular" landscapes. This time it may have been attempted with a "controlled" fire, but if it had worked, the copycats may just have cut down trees and built a bonfire!

    Mr Fatali seems (by way of 3rd party communication) to have gotten this idea from images he saw. Now he not only replicates the technique, but does so in a workshop teaching others. If it had worked, what would those workshop participants have learned other than it's OK to break the rules to "get the shot".

    Are we going to have wildlife workshops in Yellowstone putting out bait to attract animals? Yes, I know people do it which is bad enough, but would you want it taught in a workshop?

    I suspect it was one of those innocent things which went wrong and which wasn't really though through ahead of time. I'm sure Mr Fatali will "do the time" insofar as damage to his reputation is concerned. However in the long run it's probably better for all of us (nature photographers) that it did go wrong and that it has received the publicity it has.
  63. This is a person who profits from exploitation of our national parks and scenery. $2500 per person for photo shoots is a big motivation to break rules or do whatever is necessary to please his customers.

    I, for one, have been subjected to these "workshops" at several sites where van loads of jerks roll up, overrun a scene, and have actually had my tripod and camera moved or had people step in front of my camera to "get their shot" before roaring away to the next location. I guess if you are paying $2500 for one of these workshops you probably think you own the place.

    My solution is simple: Prohibit commercial workshops like those run by Mr. Fatali from using our national parks as their studio, or at least let all of us share in the profits by extracting a modest fee per participant to support the parks. (About 40% would do it--- around $1000 per person in Mr. Fatali's workshops.)
  64. " My view on the mishap at Delicate Arch by firelight "

    Dear Friends,

    I know that many people have been disappointed and upset over what they have heard about the fires set near Delicate Arch. The state landmark of Delicate Arch is loved by many and I understand the natural instinct for protecting this wonder. However, it's time to share my story and the facts of what happened during the Friends of Arizona Highways photo-workshop on the evening of September 18, 2000 and put the spreading rumors to rest.

    Using a common professional technique of lighting during night photography, I selected a few slow-burning manufactured logs set in protective aluminum pans for maximum control and environmental safety of the area. These fires were away from the arch but close enough where firelight would cast a glow on the formations. One hundred feet below and away from the arch was another small fire using an existing pile of chopped firewood in a sandy pit.

    About 4:00am in the morning, after hours of photographing, I and several other workshop participants doused the small fires by stomping out the flames in the pans. Apparently our boots carried the wax-based ashes onto the rocks, causing markings near and around each fire site. Because of the hour and complete darkness, we could not see that we were affecting the sandstone. Fortunately the damages are not as extreme as the media originally portrayed and in no way can be interpreted as vandalism. We packed up the photographic equipment and pans and headed back to camp thinking we had left no trace.

    A national park representative approached our group two days later informing us of the scars. Though my name was not on the special use permit, I immediately took responsibility for the idea of using the small fires and for instructing the participants in this photo session. I furthered offered both financial and physical support to restore the damaged area.

    We were never informed of or given a copy of the special use permit or guidelines from the permittee. We certainly would not have performed any activities that would deliberately violate permitted use nor would we intentionally cause damage of any kind. These were small fires set in the pans near the arch. We made every effort to use protective measures to prevent damage with the sole intent to provide a unique but common photographic special effect for nighttime photography.

    This photographic technique has been published worldwide. It was most recently in the November-December issue of American Photographer showcasing photographer Chip Porter's image, Light in the Wilderness.

    I have chosen to use photography to demonstrate my love and passion for protecting the environment. I have donated many of my photographs to conservation organizations, and will continue to use my images for inspiration to protect the wonders of this region. I have spent the last 17 years photographing the Southwest, attempting to capture the glory of this land to protect it, never to destroy it.

    The Friends of Arizona Highways Magazine has hired me to teach photo-workshops since 1993. I have enjoyed working with the enthusiastic workshop participants not only teaching them new photographic techniques but more importantly for me, connecting them with the landscape.

    We are currently making a collaborative effort with the National Park Service to learn from this unfortunate incident. We now have the opportunity to communicate better with the Park Service in implementing their guidelines and restrictions. Hopefully this will improve communication, cooperation, and the overall enforcement of regulations for photographers/organizations visiting the national parks. It is my hope that we can educate the public to the awareness that all of us have the responsibility to preserve and protect our National Parks.

    I will continue to stand by my personal and professional mission to pursue touching the hearts of many through my photographs. I would like to thank all of those who have given me support and for continuing to stand by my character and the integrity of my work.

    In celebration of land & spirit always,

    Michael Fatali

  65. Mr. Fatali, I appreciate your willingness to enter this forum. You are probably getting plenty of email about this.

    I am still unclear why you or anyone thought that setting the fires would be okay. I understand the effect you were going for, I just don't see how the desire for that affect meant you could break the park rules. (My assumption is of course that any fires are prohibited outside of designated fire pits or campground bbq's.) So, why was it okay in aluminum pans? Why was it okay in the sandy pit below the arch? Did you think the special use permit you refer to (that I assume was in the Friends of Arizona Highways tour guide's name) gave you inferred or explicit allowance to set fires? You say you did not see it, but did the FofAH guide imply this was okay according to the permit?

    Whenever I enter a national park, the overwhelming feeling I get is "don't start a fire outside of a designated fire ring or metal bbq". I am really suprised that no one in the group quesitoned this.
  66. Michael, I entered your gallery in Springdale a few years ago and got to talk with you a little. I related that Barnbaum had not taken us to the "Gulch" as he had alluded to during one of his workshops. You retorted back that it was fine with you because too many groups were going to these special places and exposing them to wear and tear and possible vandalism. I got the feeling you felt about this area in the same way that I and many others felt about the Redwoods in NoCal during the 60's when we fought to keep PacLumber from cutting down to the stream's edges and ruining the stream habitat. I felt you had an abiding love for the area and could see your point. But this smacks of an elitist sense of who you are. It is hard for me to fathom your belief that it would be ok to start any kind of fire, controlled or otherwise, when you layed your response about workshops going to the "Gulch" on me. For your own benefit. Workshop my ass. This smells of self serving photographic effects to make another saleable item in your image inventory. How pompous. How utterly arrogant of you to light a fire for any purpose anywhere in a national park or wilderness area. I own two of your prints. One of "The Subway" and the other of Peach Canyon. For what I paid for them, I won't tear them up but I will put them away for a long time and will discontinue the practice of steering visitors to either of your galleries which I frequent 3 or 4 times a year with friends. Just another nail in the coffin of nature photographers having to pay fees to photograph in our parks with anything larger than a point and shoot paper box camera from Wallmart. Thankyou Michael for all the trouble this may bring down on us in the form of increased restrictions and fees. Thankyou for being selfish and selfserving for the sake of an image you could have done without. James Mickelson
  67. "Everybody else does it." "I didn't know it was not OK." Those would not be acceptable excuses from a child. But this is an adult who has (had?) a passion for protecting, preserving and presenting wildness. Go get a Boy Scout Handbook, (re)learn a little about responsibility and perhaps read about fires in wilderness. Read about buckets and shovels. And please, find some other more responsible adults the next time you go out.
  68. The whole tone of Michael Fatali's response is very interesting. It strikes me as very self-serving and arrogant. He admits he's responsible, but tries to say he did nothing wrong. How about a simple, "I screwed up and I'm sorry." There is no hint of an apology in his response, just self-justification. The final sentences talking about educating the public are laughable. He's the one who screwed up and now he's acting like the teacher. Before I read his response, I was actually on his side, but this carefully worded PR disgusts me.
  69. ...I and several other workshop participants doused the small fires by stomping out the flames in the pans. Apparently our boots carried the wax-based ashes onto the rocks, causing markings near and around each fire site. (emphasis mine)​
    Sorry, I can't soften this (assuming you're still following this discussion): How can you use fire as a lighting technique and be so ignorant of the characteristics of soot and ash?! My God, I won't touch a stray particle of ash from my fireplace with anything but a brushless vacuum cleaner, lest it instantly become a near-permanent part of any porous surface! Stomping out a fire may not be wise, but at least where topsoil is present it won't leave significant tracks. But on sandstone?!
    I concede that the presence of unburned wax in the ashes makes any marks more difficult to remove than comparable traces from pure paper or wood ash. But even "normal" ashes would have tracked up porous stone like a dance-step chart, and ground-in soot is a bear to clean from anything.
    I agree with the suggestion to find and read a Boy Scout handbook. When you think about "leave no trace," think about this: if you can't set one of these small pan fires in the middle of your own living room and snuff it without leaving any evidence but smoke and odor, you're not ready to be fooling around with them in our National Parks.
  70. For those saying to read a Boy Scout Handbook, remember the Boy Scouts were banned from US National Forests for years due to all the damage they did to watersheds with their tent trenching, camping on lakeshores and large group camping damage.
  71. Send that to the urban legend site Dan. The suggestion to get a Scout Handbook was, of course, a little hyperbole to make a point. But the concept of having the proper fire permits for the area, adequate clearances to burnable materials, firefighting tools and extinguishing agents are so basic as for this incident to be laughable it it weren't so silly (stupid?). It's kind of Nature 101.

    On the other hand maybe we just camped illegally all those years or I just missed all the big signs in the forest banning scouts. (Perhaps like a certain well-known photographer who didn't realize that fires were illegal in some places?) The handbooks and fieldbooks have been revised over time as have other materials. Are camping practices different now than they were in the past? Sure, it's now recognized that trenching is not appropriate, uncontrolled wood gathering can not be supported, etc., etc. But the scouts were no more banned from the National Forests than was the Sierra Club, which also had different practices, ran huge groups into the Parks and Forests, etc. Many groups and users have learned from prior experience. The thread is about someone who didn't and should have.
  72. I want all of you to know that I seriously regret this incident ever taking place. I simply screwed up! If I could turn back time I would never have conducted this evening photo session for the Friends of Arizona Highways. But I can't, so I will learn from this mishap and continue to make collaborative efforts to come up with solutions to this unfortunate incident. There was never any willful harm intended. Unfortunately I have made a poor judgment that contributed to some damage even if it is slight. I have been dealing with moving forward from all of this but will continue to face whatever arises in the future. I believe there is something we can all learn from this by not jumping to conclusions so hastily. Why was there so much blame throwing, criticizing, and reporting of misconstrued facts? And why not more positive and constructive ideas for solutions. After all, isn't this part of the reason we are into nature photography? Thank you for your interests and concerns.

    In celebration of land and spirit always,

    Michael Fatali
  73. Michael,
    Unfortunately it is the nature of the internet to rapidly spread news by bits and pieces. Rumors, innuendos, half-truths and bald-faced lies are common. Likewise, it can be difficult if not impossible to independently verify specifics or detailed facts about incidents that have spawned these firestorms. As you have undoubtedly noticed, the mainstream media is often vague or incorrect about technical or specific details as was the case with searchable/linkable news reports on this incident. And as it has been noted, there would certainly be some incentive to avoid making your own comments on the event as it unfolded. So you did a "dumb" and got lynched. At least it wasn't with real rope. Heck, you're probably lucky no one has rushed out and photographed the "damage" to post to the net. OTOH, that might be a better indicator of the damage than all the rumors.

    As you may note, the feelings of disappointment, betrayal, loss of credibility, and other more ethereal or spiritual issues are undoubtedly of more impact than the actual physical damage. You have a dedication and talent that can be restored and shared. As you can't unring this bell, I would offer to you my hope and expectations that your future endeavors will indeed help you put this behind you.
  74. Perhaps Mr. Fatali would be willing to publicly make the following pledge: "I, Michael Fatali, embracing the belief that photographs of nature should be truthful, pledge to NEVER photograph a natural subject by any light other than that which emanates from the sun, moon, and stars. Furthermore, I pledge that I will destroy any photographic prints, transparencies, or negatives in my possession that I created by the use of firelight or by any other artificial light." You talk the talk. Can you walk the walk?

    --Terry James
  75. david_henderson


    Mr. James' post seems to confuse what is a "responsibility/damage " issue with what he thinks does or doesn't constitute proper nature photography. They are not at all the same thing, and the "promise" you seek to exact would seem to exclude the use of flash, or a flashlight. I'm sure Mr Fatali will think long and hard before he again uses a technique that could, if it goes wrong as in this case, spoil the pleasure of a location for others and he has said as much. I don't think that trying to force people to see photography the way you do is necessary or appropriate. It's a line we all have to draw for ourselves.
  76. I take David Henderson's point that it's not appropriate for me or anyone else to impose a particular approach. However, Michael Fatali publishes his own definition of truth in nature. Visit the "nature's light" section of the Fatali website: Here's his own statement: "No computer imaging, artificial lighting, or unnatural filtration were used as tools in the creation of my photographs. I work exclusively with the natural light of nature...." Artificial logs in metal pans seem to me sort of, uh, artifical.

    If you go to the above internet address you will find a current article that talks about Michael's Sprindale gallery being the site of Government types serving a Search Warrant. I still hold to my original written opinion that we have to wait to see what these government types will do. They and the 'Criminal' justice system are starting to move on this. I fear we will see playing out a twisted dance of Federal 'authority' pushing their system rather than just working out an equitable agreement to have Michael pay for the damage that happened.
    But, read it and get as up to date as we can on the discussion and decisions as they happen.
    Again, I belive Michael made a mistake & see where the 'Criminal' types are in line to make even bigger ones.
  78. Have we all never broken a law in pursuit of a photograph, to allow us to be so self-righteous? (Hint: if you've taken a photo on public land in Los Angeles or New York, made money off it, and didn't have a permit, you've broken the law.) I see an act that should have been harmless, if illegal, compounded by a brief lapse of thought, and genuine contrition. Certainly he should be made to make restitution plus some penalty for the consequences of his actions, but this doesn't prove him the soulless evil being he's being painted as!
  79. An update on the legal front. The Salt Lake Tribune today printed a story of Michael Fatali appearing in Court and pleading guilty to all counts. He faces possible fines and incarceration both.
    He has never denied lighting the arch with firelight & when he first heard that there was damage he made contact with the National Park Service & said he would pay for any and all damage. It will be expensive but he has taken responsibility.
    Yes, it was wrong and we all know it. Now if the Park Service employees who have held weenie & marshmallow roasts in the sand area below the arch would come forward & 'fess up, we can all move on. That is the sand area where Michael built a wood fire, the same area that has been used for wood fires, apparently for hundreds of years.
    It remains to be seen what sentencing will produce. Since the prosecuting attorney apparently doesn't like Michaels 'attitude', he seems to be going for all he can. We will wait to see what the judge hands down at the sentencing hearing.

    The above is the internet address of the story in the Salt Lake Tribune for those who would like to read it.
  81. In today's Salt Lake Tribune there is an article reporting Michael Fatali has been placed on two years probation and has been banned from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks for two years as a result of his pleading guilty to various charges relate to setting fires to light natural landscapes for night photography.
  82. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    For those who are interested, the Salt Lake Tribute article can be found in the link as of today, 2nd February 2002. I am not sure for how long this link will be good though.
    Having said (or actually written) that, haven't we spent enough bandwidth on the Fatali/Delicate Arch incident already?
  83. I have felt guilty at times when photographing at Delicate Arch when frustrated that tourists didn't seem to realize that there was the usual "army" of amateur photographers trying to get a shot and would not get out of the way when the light was right, but I have to stop and realize that they are as entitled to this public place as I am. So doing something as off-base as setting an illegal fire seems more than just a "screw-up" as Fatali calls it. It took quite a bit of effort to do that. It's not like you just kept your foot on the pedal a little too long and got that speeding ticket. This incident grows out of Fatali's trademark arrogance.

    The time I had a brief chat with him in Page, he seemed nice enough. But, I'm also reminded of the time I tried to get his input about my web site and he responded with what seemed a "canned" email that just went on about his on work and didn't ackowledge that I had invited him to view mine. So, that's the impression I have, along with the scornful comments of other photographers that I've picked up here and there down through the years while shooting various spots in the Southwest.

    I'm also reminded of the insistance on his web site and in his gallery that his prints are not manipulated, when his primary printer has told me that EXTREME manipulation occurs on the final product.

    Arrogance got you where you are with this incident, Michael. You can no longer be remembered as a talented photographer, but as the guy who set fire to the Arch. That's the nature of being in the public eye. It's not fair. I truly believe that a portion of the scorn you receive from other photographers is a bit of jealousy of your success.

    But we all want a level playing field. Part of success as an artist is not sinking to the level of the weasel-like Enron executive and stretching the truth to fit your needs or behaving like your the only photographer in the solar system.

    The sentence would have only had true meaning if you had been banned from Zion and Vermillion Cliffs as well. Your judge is not familiar enough with your work to know that Arches and Canyonlands are not your prime stomping grounds, but only good for the occassional workshop buck.
  84. The Fatali incident was a topic on NPR's Living on Earth piece on Nature Photography this past weekend. There's also a photo of the damage.
  85. I'm glad to see that Michael Fatali peacefully stood his ground while this whole thread was talking about him. I personally believe in his side of the story. Anyone can make a horrible mistake, even Fatali!

    I've visited with Fatali in his gallery a few times in springdale and I was born in Utah. The photography of this man is very astounding in my views. I've seen the photographs in the gallery up close and personal. They communicate to my heart and my dreams.

    People will envy him. Despite a few attacks on this thread, I think some people need to realize that saying; "Let he who is without SIN cast the FIRST STONE."

  86. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Why are we brining up this topic again? As most of us know, at the end Fatali pleated guilty to all charges.
  87. Pleaded guilty, yes. Taken responsibility, yes. But he probably still uses his own
    brand of 'natural' light whenever he can get away with it. He has never admitted
    that his use of the 'manufactured logs' is OBVIOUSLY not natural light, any more
    than burning gas in an internal combustion engine is 'natural' energy.

    I don't think very many people will be willing to forgive him unless his 'statement'
    on the Web about his exclusive use of natural light is removed or corrected. To this
    day the statement remains, and it does not engender respect from anyone who
    reads it and knows of his vandalism.
  88. Natural light...
  89. O.K. people ... I've read all of your statements ...
    Here's the deal... I known Michael Fatali both professionally and
    personally for the last seven years. Based upon that, I can say
    CATAGORICALLY that there was no concievable way that the incident
    at Delicate Arch was either malicious or deliberate. At the very worst, it was an action with un-anticipated consequences.
    For any of you that have another point of view... I will respect that. But all one has to do is go to his website (
    and appraise his work. Michael Fatali's respect and appreciation for the beauty of nature should be quite obvious to even jaded observers.
    The readers of this statement need to ask themselves if they have ever done anything that they later regreted. Have YOU ever done that?
    If so, then Michael, as well as the rest of us , need forgivness.

    Chris Christiansen
  90. His pretense remains, and he still hasn't corrected his obviously false statement about only
    using natural light.

    This hasn't anything to do with regret. It has to do with responsibility. If he regrets his
    vandalism, he'd apologize for it, and then change his web site. He probably still gives the
    same tired lecture about natural light to all the suckers visiting his galleries, or has his
    understudies do it for him.
  91. Think of this... The American Government desecrated Glen Canyon when they created Lake Powell. When they damned the Colorado river, in many TRUE aspects, they were "vandalizing" the canyon... Sorry people, I just don't believe in a pristine wilderness. Michael Fatali made a mistake, but the arch has been there for millions of years, and the elements will continue to erode the arch away, until it callapses. It is a beautiful place that needs protection, but at the same time, there is an illusion in popular culture, that somehow the wilderness is untouched, untamed, and pristine. The fact is, humans have been dwelling in this part of the world for eons.

    Again, look at Michael's mistake. Then look at what the government does with our so-called "public lands.' Then, think about your own perception of this. How do you define what is wilderness!
  92. Considering there are but a few websites that mention anything about this while most other sites praise him for his work and his place in the world of art, this story should be taken with a grain of salt.
  93. No wilderness is pristine. Of course. But I do not see any reason to make it less pristine.

    --- JDR
  94. It seems to me as I look back at the unehicak acts that Fatali did,
    will only hurt the rest of the photographers. I was recently
    traveling in the east coast and was taking some lessons from
    famed photographer Timothy Wolcott. I ran in to him by accident
    and he was nice enough to share with me what he was waiting
    for, since I saw him in the same spot for hours. He was telling
    me how he was waiting for the shadow of the tree and the lack of
    wind to create the colors he was waiting for, that day the wind
    was the real problem. Finally about 2:20 pm the wind slow and
    within 15 minutes the color comes out. He finally got the shot
    and I got to see how the best photographer in the country
    worked. During that time a park official comes around and
    asked him if he was a profession. Which he said well I'm
    shooting this for my portfolio and said the officer I payed my
    money to get in and it shouldn't matter what size camera I have
    but that I have my reciept for the entry fee. He then said to the
    officer It did not say anything about profession images or usage
    at the gate. The park officer said and mentioned by name Fatali
    how they want special fees to shoot there for pro's. Tim polited
    said I'm not that idiot Fatali and qouted some references from he
    could call. Tim also said he was not willing to accept that one
    bad apple should ruin it for the rest of us. So yes it does affect
    everyone and if we could get rid of the liberal judges who give
    everyone more and more chances to be law abiding citizens.
    You no it was wrong so you should have been treated that way.
    After all this was your second offense. You know its wrong to
    created cibachrome prints since they fade quickly and they are
    very damaging to the earth. But liberals can't live with them can't
    shoot them. For you that have not seen the best check tim's
    work out . thanks John
  95. I can't believe anyone will defend him. Making mistakes, sorry
    doesn't cut it for me. You know the difference from right and
    wrong when your a kid.

    What he did should be jail time and huge fines. He odviously
    doesn't care about the enviroment, cibachromes are highly toxic
    as John wrote about. Thats how you stop stupid people from
    doing stupid things. Yes the goverment has and will always do
    stupid things but individuals, there is only one person to blame.
    I hope you are banned forever in the photo trade. I will help
    anyway I can. There is no excuse!!!!!! Jack Forester
  96. I cant believe this is still going on. Have you ever seen Michaels work. It is phenominal. However, the issue with the forest service is not just Fatali related It goes way beyond his mistake. I have encounterd problems befor during and after this event, just because I have a large format camera. What the service doesn't realize is that with the age of digital photography many more people with 35mm 12-16 megapixel cameras can do the same work. So are they going to have all the pro shooters with hi res cameras check them at the gate. Get off Michaels case. I suppose you have never done anything stupid in your life. Put your energies toward the problem of americans not being allowed to photograph in the parks they pay taxes to support whether they get paid for their pictures or not.
  97. "What the service doesn't realize is that with the age of digital photography many more
    people with 35mm 12-16 megapixel cameras can do the same work. So are they going to
    have all the pro shooters with hi res cameras check them at the gate. Get off Michaels
    case. I suppose you have never done anything stupid in your life. Put your energies toward
    the problem of americans not being allowed to photograph in the parks they pay taxes to
    support whether they get paid for their pictures or not."

    It's not so much the mistake, it's the fact that he comes off as a pompous ass for making
    up the stories on his web site about using natural light even today.

    He should just admit that he puts artifically created substances into an artificially created
    aluminum pan and artificially lights the scene with artificial fire.
  98. I have known Michael since 1986 when his work was published in Arizona Highway.
    He does excellent work and very original.
    As you all know it is tough making a living as a nature photographer. Michael is not alone and is doing his best.
    Michael has a problem which I have noticed over the years. He is not a forward looking guy and human element is missing in him.
    He gets carried away in making an extra buck and using others and he does not realize the consequences of his actions.
    The action of photographing a rock (Delicate arch in this case)in fire lit environment is not what the nature photographers do. Once you lit a fire whether legal or illegal, and photograph a rock, you have, Michael, kicked yourself out of domain of nature photographers.
    Now live with the consequences, Michael. Loss of respect is the biggest you have suffered.
  99. I really have never seen such a display of self righteous pomposity. What a sad spectacle. Aside from the mistake that happened, to the people wanting to crucify Mr Fatali for daring to want to light the rock with his own source, get a life and understand the value of freedom of artistic expression!
    It was an unfortunate incident that I'm sure has brought Mr Fatali much suffering and regret, but you only have to look at his work to see the love he has for nature. Get off your high horses, we all make misjudgements.
  100. Rod, thank you many times over for your post. I cannot agree more. Cheers!

Share This Page