b&w images • blog • project journal


Norberto Seebach – Tribute to a Fine Photographer and Good Man

Dec 21, 2018

We met Norberto Seebach in 2006, not long after arriving on Easter Island for what we planned as a year-long project. In October we were able to do him a big favor – he lost his place to stay during his last week on the Island at the same time we were to fly home for my emergency operation. We handed him the key to our cabana – rented for the entire year – and told him to just give the key to Terry when he left. When we returned in January, a copy of his latest book was waiting for us.

Norberto was a regular visitor to Easter Island, never failing to include an image from there in one of his books and/or calendars. Visit airport gift shops in Chile or the States – as well as elsewhere I'm sure – and find a variety of his coffee-table books. All with the highest quality printing. We crossed paths twice more during our stays. Unfortunately we were never able to accept his standing invitation to visit them on the mainland.

Terry on the Island just informed us that Norbert has passed – a victim of cancer. He is missed. In spite of being a very successful photographer, Norberto was quiet, humble and just plain nice. Yes, he worked exclusively in color, or so I thought, but he appreciated B&W. 

His style was interesting, especially for the grand scenics that were his forte. What "oomph" he lacked in his personal mannerisms he made up for in his work. I imagine starting with a high-quality HDR image and then punching it up to a hit-you-in-the-face level. The one book of his that we have that I enjoy the most depicts his transition from film to digital – a struggle I was undergoing at the same time. 

As I was putting my own book together, I noticed that in his I could, if I looked really close, discern which images were originally exposed on film, and which digitally. OK, maybe a less trained eye couldn't see this, but, especially with naked B&W where this difference would be exagerated, I knew I needed to avoid it somehow. It sent me back to the computer to experiment with different ways to add grain to an image – looking for the one that would render the digital and film images in my book indistinguishable.

Norberto was never what one would call a professional photographer – he was a math professor who took his photography to heights, traveling the length of Chile to create his very successful books and calendars. Chile is unique, stretching from Patagonia on the icy tip of South America to the dry, hot deserts bordering Peru in the north. One of the more entertaining things to watch on Chilean TV is the weather, watching a little cartoon character bounce from north to south ticking off the dropping temperatures and changing climate – making a side-step in the middle to and back from Easter Island, a five hour plane ride into the Pacific. This makes for a tremendous amount of extremely varied landscapes. Norberto took full advantage of this.

We just received his 2019 calendar in the mail this week – adding a very sad note to his passing. He always included image notes in both books and calendars, in the back in Spanish, English and German (there's a large German population in southern Chile) – the inspiration for the format used in my books on the Island. One interesting thing about the calendars, like all we have seen in Chile, is that the week, unlike ours, begins with lunes (Monday) and ends with domingo (Sunday).

While writing this I went to Norberto's web site – here: http://www.recorriendochile.cl/en/Welcome.html – lo and behold he had just put out a new book – RECORRIENDO CHILE LUCES Y SOMBRAS, this one in B&W. It's massive, with a 145 images, spanning most of his photographic career. Unfortunately they aren't available anywhere in the States. So I immediately contacted Terry on the Island to get us a copy. Hence the image at the top celebrating Norberto's life and his final, wonderful work – it's just so disappointing that I can't email him how pumped I am about this. All this is, very oddly, depressing and exciting at the same time.

Terry got back to us immediately – here’s the more interesting part of her reply, referencing her efforts to get us there for a couple of months this coming Spring:

"I beat you to it.  I already asked Angie to get you a copy -- and, of
course, one for me, too.
I'm not going to count on it coming to the Island either.

Now we'll have to study about how to get it to you.  Postage will kill
me/you.  So I guess you'll have to come to get it."

Norberto is one more in our lengthening list of very dear people on or connected to the Island that are no longer with us. Between losses due to accidents, tragedy, age and disease, combined with some complicated issues the Island is facing right now, we are having a difficult time facing the idea of returning. We’ll be making a decision in January.