"I've been everywhere at least once," said photographer Clark James Mishler. "I've been traveling around Alaska ever since I arrived here in 1971. I was lucky that I had a job that took me all kinds of crazy places."
It also put him in contact with all kinds of interesting people, young and old, village folk and city people, residents from the arctic to Southeast.
On April 20 the Anchorage museum will host a solo exhibit of Mishler's portraits of Alaskans. The show has been in the works for some years, Mishler said. But only recently did he realize that something was missing -- a book to contain the photos after the show comes down in September.
"It's an add-on," he explained. "At the last moment I thought, 'I need to do a book.'"
The deadline for publishing a book that would be available when the show opens is this week, and Mishler has been scrambling to get the pages together
"It's full color, 128 pages," he said. "Like 204-206 images, I think."
It will cost $38,000 to produce the book. To raise the money, Mishler has turned to a Kickstarter campaign, which raises donations from the public on the internet. Donors get something in exchange for their gift. For instance, those donating $50 can have a copy of the book sent anywhere in the country.
But the deadline for the Kickstarter campaign is also this week -- noon Alaska time on Tuesday to be precise. If the full $38,000 isn't raised by then, "Everything blows up," Mishler said.
The public outside Alaska is familiar with Mishler's work in National Geographic, Smithsonian Air and Space, Parade, Time, Sunset, U.S. News and World Report and such publications. He's won numerous awards and was among the photographers who participated in the 2003 America 24/7 project, a massive documentation of every state in the union taken over a week in May of that year.
His previous book, "Anchorage, Life at the Edge of the Frontier," was well-received. But the new book will be different in several respects, he said. "Anchorage" focused on urban landscapes. "Portrait Alaska" focuses on people and, he says, "It's a lot more artistic." A blurb for the museum show likens it to an Alaska version of the classic "Family of Man" show at New York's Museum of Modern Art in the 1950s.
"My first criteria for the book was to show my best images," Mishler said. "My second was to try to get some cultural and geographic diversity into it. So it has photos from all regions of Alaska. I really want this to be a portfolio of my best imagery."
Mishler said he didn't originally think of himself as a portrait-taker back in his pre-Alaska stomping ground, California.
"I was a graphic design student," he said. But even then, a professor at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles told him he would someday be taking pictures of people.
Coming to Alaska to do commercial work and video documentaries, he kept his camera with him. Over time, he accumulated a trove of razor-sharp pictures he shot of people he encountered in his travels.
The Troll brothers, Tim and Ray. © 2010 Clark James Mishler
Getting a good portrait is something of a balancing act, he said. You don't want it to look staged, but sometimes a little direction from the photographer can make a picture tell a greater story.
"What I try to do first -- and often I'm not successful at it -- is to try not to pose them. I want them to interpret the moment as much as possible. If you do too much, you kind of screw it up."
Sometimes, however, the photographer needs to do some composing. Mishler gave an example of asking three people to stand for a picture. "They automatically tend to form a line. Sometimes that just isn't the best-looking arrangement. So you say, 'Well, that didn't work. Let's try this.'"
A commercial photographer's assignment is to get a specific photo with a specific look. "As a documentarian, on the other hand, you sort of sit there and let things unfold in front of you. I can go either way. I can take control and become the art director. But I like to start in the documentary mode then move into the more controlling mode if necessary.
"But I'd rather err on the side of letting people be themselves. That's better than missing the opportunity to have somebody do something that you would never have thought of. And sometimes the lineup of three people is perfect. Sometimes that really stupid first picture is actually the best one."
Mishler said the online fundraising program "has been a kick. That program is fabulous. The opportunities it gives you are just terrific."
However, as of last week, his Kickstarter effort had raised only about 20 percent of what he needs.
He didn't sound worried. "My research has shown most of these programs earn 90 percent of their goal in the final week. According to that, we're right on target."
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM