A note by Steve Simmons about the Fatali incident

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Here is a note that Steve Simmons sent to me about the Fatali incident. His email is Largformat@aol.com

After our March/April issue was published, we received a volley of criticism for publishing Michael Fatali's photographs and article. It seems that in September 2000, Mr. Fatali, while leading a workshop in Arches National Park in Utah, lit four fires around the Delicate Arch in order to light the area for some nighttime photographs. Apparently, this technique has been used by other photographers in other areas for the same purpose. However, even though Mr. Fatali had permission to be in the park conducting a workshop, he did not have permission to light any fires. Three of the fires were set using Dura-Flame logs, and the fourth was set with wood gathered in the area. At the conclusion of the session, he and the workshop participants stomped the fires out and left the area. The next morning one of the park rangers discovered the remains of the fires and the footprints of the participants on the rock and in the dirt areas around the arch. One or more of the fires was set in a tin bucket, and there may have been some melted tin on the rock and ground surfaces as well.

This incident was given some attention in Utah-area and Las Vegas newspapers. I am also told there were some discussions about the event in a nature photography discussion group on the Internet and that Outdoor Photographer reported on it but did not name the photographer involved. At the present time the incident is under investigation by the National Park Service and the Salt Lake office of the U.S. Attorney General. It is my understanding that no damage was done to the Arch itself but that scars from the fires remain on the ground and rock areas around the Arch. Restoration work is planned for the area.

The question asked of me was why did we publish Mr. Fatali's article given his conduct. In the eyes of some, I compounded my ethical mistake by offering two of Mr. Fatali's photographs in our Print Collector's Program in the same issue. The fact is, I was unaware of the problem and was not told of the incident by Mr. Fatali when I contacted him in early December 2000 about doing the article. Mr. Fatali also did not inform me of the problem when I asked him about including two of his images in the collecting program. In fact, I did not become aware of these events until after the issue was distributed; I was alerted by one of my readers about a discussion thread on a large-format web site.

This situation raises several questions. Do I wish I had been informed of the problem by Mr. Fatali before we published his work? Yes. Knowing what I now know, what do I wish I had done? In perfect hindsight, this could have been an opportunity to do a sidebar article on the proper conduct for a photographer in a national park-we did actually talk about park policies related to photographers in another article a couple of years ago. We may think that we are free to take our tripods anywhere we please, or that a simple transgression can be excused because of one great photograph pursued in the name of preservation. This is the wrong attitude. The parks belong to all of us, and anytime I show up with a camera, not to mention a tripod, I represent everyone who will come after me. If I do the slightest damage to the park, it will be more difficult for those that follow me. No photograph is worth damaging the subject we claim to love and want to protect. It is the subject itself that has the greater value and not my photograph of it. A sidebar piece such as this could have raised everyone's awareness of this issue and created a healthy discussion. Now that I am aware of the problem, what am I going to do about it? For the time being we have suspended all sales of Mr. Fatali's work through this magazine. If we can work out a system to donate all of the proceeds to the National Park Service Foundation at a later time, we may offer his prints again.

In conclusion, I can only say that this situation has some irony to it. From the narrow, business viewpoint of a publisher, this was a very good issue. The beauty of the images in the March/April issue won us many new subscribers. The Friends of Arizona Highways, for whom Fatali was leading the workshop (and who have suspended him from leading more workshops) ran an ad in the same issue. They have received a large number of calls from people who, inspired by Fatali's photographs, want to take workshops. However, I am disappointed by this publishing experience. It has been one of the more frustrating of my fourteen years in the business. I am more than just a publisher. I live on this earth, I care about it, and it is more important to me than success in business. This experience has helped me redefine my role as a resident of this planet, and I hope that others, in reflecting on these events, will remember to "walk lightly and leave no trace" in pursuing the great art of photography.

Steve Simmons

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), April 25, 2001


Hurray for Mr. Simmons!

Boo for Fatali for his dishonesty and deception by silence in his dealings with View Camera!

Hurray for Q.-Tuan Luong for keeping this forum going!

And finally hurray for the members of this forum and also for Philip Greenspun, our host!

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), April 25, 2001.

Hear hear!

I second that one. Thanks for the wonderful forum to speak about these issues. Thanks to Steve for advancing the large format community. Thanks to Q. -Tuan Luong for the wonderful site. My new found hobby would not be the same without these resources.

-- Andy Biggs (abiggs@tvmcapital.com), April 25, 2001.

I'll second that as well. Simmons letter strikes the right tone, and I'm sure his business will not suffer for having done the right thing, while Fatali's will for having not done the right thing.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), April 25, 2001.

Steve-thank you very much for a thoughtful and well written note about your recent issue. I appreciate all you have done for LF through your own efforts and through your excellent magazine. In hindsight, I am certain lots of people (knowing what they know now) would have done things differently to avoid this situation from ever occuring, but I do not believe you did anything improper, wrong or imprudent. I respect you even more as result of this letter.

Tuan-you have handled this situation with dignity and fairness. Maybe now, we can turn to other matters.


John Bailey

-- John Bailey (mdwphoto@aol.com), April 25, 2001.

I am often amazed by the lack of judgement exhibited my many within our society. I am also proud of those like Mr. Simmons who exhibit a high degree of responsibility in the practice if their professionan. I believe that Steve Simmons and View Camera is following the right path. I also believe that Mr. Fatalli if proven guilty after the formal investigation is completed should make restitution for the restoration of the damage.

We are here on this earth for but a very short time. We carry a burdeon to leave what we have found for the generations to come. Thanks Steve for a most mature and professional outlook regarding this incident. In addition, thanks for a great magazine.

Michael J. Kravit Palm Beach Photographic Centre Board of Directors

-- Mike Kravit (mkravit@kravit.net), April 25, 2001.

I enjoy the View Camera, and I find something useful in every issue. However, I was somewhat disturbed by the inclusion of Fatali's photographs in the recent issue. View camera loses credibility by failing to thoroughly vet its contributors. If someone as isolated as myself knew of Fatali's ethical lapses, Mr. Simmons certainly could have (and should have) known. It is a small step from this sort of editorial malfeasance to having advertisers write editorial copy.

Nonetheless, it isn't too late for Mr. Simmons (and Mr. Fatali) to make amends. If Mr. Simmons is willing to supply the paper and ink, I'm certain there are plenty of us who are willing to provide him with a frank ethical discussion of this issue.

-- Dave Brown (wolfgang@peakpeak.com), April 26, 2001.

While I certainly do not applaud Mr. Fatali's methods, and do applaud Mr. Simmons letter, I would remind all that this incident is so very very small compared to what is really happening to our beautiful earth. come to Minnesota and see the terrible scars left by iron mining. look at the littered sea along the coast of Santa Barbara where the oil rigs stand. Not to mention that there will be no carbon fuels left on this earth in a few hundred years at our current rate of consumption. Yea, I don't like what Mr. Fatali did, but we are all guilty, whether directly or not, of contributing to the slow but sure destruction of our beautiful earth. Kevin

-- Kevin Kolosky (kjkolosky@kjkolosky.com), April 26, 2001.

Thank you Mr. Simmons!!!!!

-- Bruce Arnold (avidhikers@home.com), April 26, 2001.

I think Michael Fatali owes View Camera and its readers another explanation. In the article he wrote he said: "I tend not to use color filter or artificial lighting when in the field". Difficult to believe after hearing from the Arches incident. One can now be very suspicious about the bright yellows and oranges in his photographs. Did he use the same fire technique and did he leave traces of it in other places? It is hard to believe that the Arches demonstration was a first time practice?

-- Georges Pelpel (gpelpel@home.com), April 26, 2001.

Enough on this stupid fire.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@usa.net), April 26, 2001.

Agreed. Mr. Simmons deserves all of our respect for the honesty and directness of his letter. As for Mr. Fatali, I remember a posting some time ago when the NPS began to restrict vehicle traffic in Zion NP and the outrage several members of "our" community expressed at not being able to drive right to the spot where they wanted to set up their equipment. It was my impression that a greater portion of the LF photographers were willing to make small transgressions in the name of their art than we would like to admit. While its easy to pick on Mr. Fatali, for various reasons, how many of us were a little envious for not thinking of using artificial logs before.

-- Kevin Kemner (kkemner@tatesnyderkimsey.com), April 26, 2001.

As a non-US citizen who has never heard of Fatali, nor seen any of his work, I don't feel entitled to comment on this incident, but the overall issue of photography and conservation is one that's dear to me.
I think incidents such as this are to be condemned, but are a drop in the ocean against the non-conservationist tide that seems to be engulfing the whole world.
I'm thinking, at the moment, of the current spate of advertising campaigns for 4 wheel drive 'off-road' vehicles. The thrust of the advertising seems to be:
"you can drive anywhere in these babies, and who cares if you wreck the scenery for everyone else? It's there for your pleasure, and yours alone, because you can afford a gas guzzling monstrosity that you'll mostly use to take the kids to school in anyway"
Now some photographer shoots the footage for those ads, some dickhead thinks up the campaign, some copy writer scripts them, and another photographer shoots the stills for the follow-up poster campaign. Surely they are all far more deserving of our unconditional condemnation.

I apologise for the diversion from the main thrust of this thread, but the Fatali affair really does strike me as just one tiny, almost insignificant incident in very much larger issue.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), April 26, 2001.

Fortunately, Pete, in the US, most of those SUV's (that the NPR Car Talk guys call "Stupid Useless Vehicles") are never taken off road except to illegally pass on the shoulder when the drivers are too impatient running the kids to school to wait for a turning car.

-- John H. Henderson (jhende03@harris.com), April 26, 2001.

Thank you Kevin for stating the truth. If we should learn anything, it is the fact that we have all caused damage of greater consequences than Mr Fatali's unfortunate misjudgement. I certainly cannot hold him more liable than myself, even tho there seems to be a more direct result from his actions than may be from mine.

We seem to have a tendency to act like this world will go on forever unchanged and will be there for our children to enjoy as we have had. At least we want this. The unfortunate truth is, is that we have doomed our children and their children to exist in a world far different from the pristine one that existed before our ancestors came, and for that matter, what we are able to enjoy today. We have literally raped the earth, poisened it, and killed its inhabitants and animals all in the cause of living the good life, and then have the audacity to critize another when we can't even take responsibility for our own actions like they don't exist, like their someone elses. Why don't we compare the burn Mr Fatali put on the rock to the multitudes of species we have managed to destroy, or the ozone layer for that matter. If you think that you didn't have a part in it, keep on living in wonderland. If you have paid any attention to the future as told to us by world organizations researching global greenhouse warming conditions, you have learned that they paint a very dark picture for the future of the whole human race. Compare that to the scarred rock. And what is even more unfortunate is everyone jumping on their high horse like they are the perfect enviromentalist. If we would put as much effort into holding the Government accountable for their enviromental actions, as Mr Fatlli, maybe would would have alot more left; Like the world. Personally, I am as guilty as he is, and because of that will forgive him his trespases. I only hope others will forgive mine.

-- Wayne Crider (waynec@apt.net), April 26, 2001.

Mr. Crider's answer is close to what I would have hoped for the first time around. I am sure we have all done something to the environment that we would like to take back (please do not accuse me of defending Mr. Fatali - I've had enough of that attitude!). I was stunned at the first line of discussion that came through here a few weeks ago. The anger directed at me for publishing Fatali's photographs seemed viscious and very personal at me. I was even accused of accepting Mr. Fatali's ad as a payoff to look the other way and publish his material. (Please note - none of my accusers had the integrity to even call and ask me what happened before attacking me.)

My disappointment came from two sources. First the attacks and their visciousness. Secondly, as I began to explore the issue I became very disappointed at the facts as I uncovered them. Even Michael did not tell me, even after I asked him, about the extent of the fires.

I have two hopes for this experience. First, that all of us will become more conscious of how we live on this earth and how respectful we must be. Secondly, if anyone has a problem with soemthing published in View Camera please pickup the phone or e-mail me and ask.

steve simmons

-- steve simmons (largformat@aol.com), April 26, 2001.

Mr Simmons,

After you have behaved so well, please don't dissapoint me by siding with Mr. Crider (who has definitely missed the point!!). If anyone wants to discuss how the human race is destroying the Earth in this forum, by all means let's do it; but please start another thread!! To even begin to compare these greater destructive forces to what Fatali did is absurd!!!

Although Fatali didn't start digging an open pit mine at the base of Delicate Arch, Fatali's actions were unfathomable, unforgiveable, and criminal!! I can't believe people fail to understand and/or accept this.

-- Bruce Arnold (avidhikers@home.com), April 26, 2001.

There's an almost poetic irony to all this when you consider that the trail leading up to Delicate Arch was cut with jack hammers.


-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), April 27, 2001.

Dear Mr. Arnold,

I'm usually very reluctant to jump into this kind of political debates. However, I feel strongly that, with all respect to your love for the environment, you have gone from extreme to "extremely" extreme! I'm also quite sure that many fellow participants of this LARGE FORMAT FORUM will agree with me on this. If you would like to continue to participate in this forum, please observe a few general rules. First of all, No personal attacks. Mr. Simmons has done the best he could, I believe, to clean up this messy issue and a great job to keep View Camera magazine up and running; and Mr. Crider and Mr. Kolosky just spoke the naked truth! On environmental issues, politically, their views might be slightly different from yours, but that does not give you any right(s) to verbally abuse them. What do you mean "After you have behaved so well, please don't dissapoint me by siding with Mr. Crider (who has definitely missed the point!!)" Let me say this from another angle. Your freedom of speech is NOT equal, by any means, to your freedom of abusing your fellow countrymen. Quite clearly, it seems to me nobody gets your "Point", and that's your own fault: your capability to communicate clearly. Secondly, No personal classified ads. It's not up to your judgement call whether Mr. Fatali is a criminal (you need to first fully understand the legal definition of the term "criminal" and don't abuse it). Please remember that our country is a country with laws, and you are not above the laws! Yes, Mr. Fatali has done something stupid, but as Mr. Simmons indicated that there is an ongoing investigation by the National Park Services and the Salt Lake Office of the U.S. Attorney General. Let's leave the matter to the authorities, and stop calling Mr. Fatali criminal, please. Keep your politically motivated personal "ads" off this forum, and don't start any fire here!

Once you calm down, please think hard to see whether you have done anything, I mean anything, to harm our beloved earth. For example, do you drive a car? Do you know the US is the number one carbon dioxide per capita polluter in the world? That's 20 metric tons carbon dioxide per capita per year. This impact is far more severe, on the global scale, than burning a mark at your front door step. So if you drive a car, you are as guilty as Mr. Fatali burning a mark on a National Park rock! If you think controlling the carbon dioxide pollution is important to you, please write to your congressperson(s), senetor(s), and president Bush to get back to the Kyoto Protocol at once. Thank you!

Let's put this Fatali incident behind us, and move on!

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), April 27, 2001.

Bruce, What Mr. Fatali did was to misrepresent himself and to leave a mess. A mess that would neither have been illegal nor particularly messy if the crime scene was a non “preserved” area. We can debate the merit of his intentions and the consequences of his act but there comes a time when you have to put them in context.

I agree with Pete in a previous post ….”the Fatali affair really does strike me as just one tiny, almost insignificant incident in a very much larger issue”. And that is what prompted my initial comment.

Mr. Fatali will get his comeuppance in the marketplace and at the hands of the law….without any expression of indignity on my part. That leaves the smudge as being the only other matter of consequence. Will the Park Service view this as significant enough to restrict access?– I doubt it. Movie crews have been leaving smudges on rocks for many years…. without a lot of uproar. For me, the only issues of any significance are preservation and the permanence of the scars. bw

-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), April 27, 2001.

As Dan Smith said in the first answer, quote " In hindsight, he (Mr. Fatali) admits he screwed up. It happens. He has taken responsibility and it is now between him and the Park Service. It was a mistake. A stupid one, but still a mistake". Would someone please advise us what "criminal" charge(s) had been brought to Mr. Fatali, and when he was convicted as a "criminal" by breaking which piece of law? He paid a huge price for his action, and I also paid a price for the liberty of democracy. I will rest the case, and forgive Mr. Arnold.

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), April 30, 2001.

Anyone seen my loupe???

Chill out and move on!


-- Lara Murphy (lamurph@hotmail.com), May 04, 2001.


If you go to this address on the web you can view todays article in the Salt Lake Tribune. It says a search warrant was served on Michael's gallery in Springdale, Utah. It gives some other information as well but I think we need to wait to see what is really happening as initial news stories have not been all that accurate to this point.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), May 08, 2001.

Thanks, Dan. I think that the real problem is that Fatali sets himself up as Holier than Thou, with his pretentious print titles and purple writing style. Except in the Movies, Americans don't like smartasses; but we don't like the heavy hand of the Government, either, perhaps even less. This whole thing is getting (has gotten) out of hand.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), May 08, 2001.

I loved this bit from Mr. Portrait Photographer of God's Creations (as Fatali refers to himself):

"Use of fire is "a common professional technique of lighting during night photography," Fatali wrote in his community letter. "

And this response from Friend's Arizona Highways:

" "We were both shocked and sorely disappointed when we heard about the incident," said Holden. "As soon as we were notified, we suspended [Fatali] from leading any workshops for a minimum of one year, we removed his merchandise from our gift shops and we suspended the escort.[Fatali] took strenuous objection to our position." Holden disputes Fatali's claim that firelight is a common practice for photographic illumination, particularly for a photographer who extols the virtues of natural light. "Our photo editor says that is utter nonsense. You don't get more artificial than this," Holden said. "This was clearly misguided, horrible judgment. Here's a guy spending months shooting in protected areas and he doesn't know the rules? That doesn't wash."

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@swbell.net), May 08, 2001.

Per our local Utah news outlets Michael Fatali is being charged with a number of misdemeanor crimes as a result of his lighting fires under Delicate arch as well as lighting fires in slot canyons at another time. A few months ago Federal marshalls served a search warrant on his gallery in Springdale, Utah & took a number of items. On an interview played on the local news a Federal prosecuting attorney made pointed reference to Mr. Fatali's "attitude" about the incidents. AP should have postings on this as well as the Salt Lake Tribune & other Utah newspapers over the next few days.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), October 19, 2001.

Here is the Salt Lake Tribune article: http://www.sltrib.com/2001/oct/10202001/utah/141799.htm

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), October 22, 2001.

See also http://www.nps.gov/morningreport/msg01013.html for an update. Here is the text

To: All National Park Service Areas and Offices

From: Division of Ranger Activities, Washington Office

Day/Date: Friday, October 26, 2001


00-661 - Arches NP (UT) - Follow-up: Resource Violations

On the morning of September 19, 2000, visitors reported that fires had been set in the area immediately around Delicate Arch. Investigating rangers found that four fires had apparently been lit on the previous night, one of which was still smoldering. Three of the fires, set on bare rock and sand directly underneath and beside Delicate Arch, caused scorching and discoloration of the red sandstone. Efforts by local park staff to restore the fire scars were unsuccessful, in part because of the presence of an oily or waxy substance that stained and penetrated into the rock surface beneath each of the scars. An intensive investigation led to the identification of Michael Fatali, 36, of Springdale, Utah, as the man who had set the fires. On October 19th, Fatali was charged in federal court with several violations of federal law in connection with these fires and others set at Canyonlands NP. Fatali, who apparently used the fires as a photographic technique, is charged with injuring or defacing mineral resources in a national park; unauthorized fire in a national park; lighting or using a fire that damages or burns national park resources; leaving a fire unextinguished on public lands; and aiding and abetting. Each of the seven misdemeanor counts carries a potential maximum prison sentence of six months and a fine of up to $5,000. Investigators believe that Fatali used Duraflame logs to start several of the fires, and that Fatali started similar fires about four years ago at Horsehoof Arch and in a slot canyon known as "The Joint Trail," both in Canyonlands NP. Restoration work on the Arches burns was completed on October 20th. Two of the three fire scars are no longer visible, and the worst of the three fire scars - the one directly beneath the arch - looks much better than before, though still visible. The rehabilitation project was undertaken by Bob Hartzler, NPS architectural conservator from Santa Fe, with assistance from Angelyn Rivera of Bandelier NM. Hartzler has described their efforts as follows: "Our treatments were conservative, consistent with our practice of balancing treatment effectiveness against the impact of the treatments on the monument. Most of the soot staining remaining on the sandstone is firmly adhered in the top millimeter of the stone, and proved to be resistant to treatments with either of the two cleaning preparations we brought. Spot tests with a small range of over-the-counter cleaning products also proved mostly ineffective. Cleaning efforts by the park and a year of weathering and natural erosion have removed most of the primarily surface soiling. We were able to remove all of the melted plastic-like deposits... Mechanical removal of the top layer of the soiled stone would eliminate the remaining soiling, but we believe that treatment is not warranted, and do not recommended it. Some soiling remains, but I believe the appearance of the damaged areas was improved, and the stains will continue to fade." [Karen McKinlay-Jones, ARCH, 10/22]

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), October 31, 2001.

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