The problem with landscape photography, in my case anyway, is the notion, that pretty much anybody who buys a camera and is a bit tired of photographing their relatives, their friends, Glamor?? or any other subjects, which when we face up to it are the real reasons why we have cameras. Down the list comes landscape, Sontag said it was a way of proving you were there.
I’m quite insecure about the process of making a landscape. You would have thought, that with the number of people who make landscapes, for example at www.photo.net that somehow there is a living to be made from these beautiful interpretations of the landscape from around the world.
What is it that makes us want to climb hills and photograph the sunset.
I have my personal answer to that, I’m not sure if it’s about photography. It’s about my freedom, in a world where even though we live in a democratic country, freedom is a myth. So I try to find my freedoms within my photography. Other people find their freedoms in their cars, in their painting, in their family lives and in their work. I have an emotional release when I walk in the hills. My imagination flies wildly around my head. My eyes are looking for a form and a shape within the landscape. In my hand my camera is ready, I try to visualise how the camera is going to interpret the scene that I am looking at, and simultaneously try to include the thoughts that are moving around my head. This fusion of experiences and thoughts, go together to make an image, that later will be processed in my digital darkroom. If I get a surprise when I look at the photographs on the computer, I am not sure if that is a good thing any more because I may not be interpreting the visual and emotional reasons why I’ve been taking the photograph or capturing the image.
Of course, sometimes when you look at the picture after it’s been in the camera. You will get a surprise, something unexpected, a colour, a shape, a form. I hope that the surprise will enhance the original intention of the photograph. When I walked the hills, and in my case these of the Port Hills, and the crater rim track, I try to go out with a theme. The theme is the single most important thing that I have, that justifies my landscapes.
My life, whether I like it or not, is immersed in this thing, photography. It is an obsession, it’s like a hunger, being creative with this mechanical lump, and it is nothing more than an expensive lump. Even when I look at my work I find it hard to understand why I do this thing. I believe it is the doing rather than the showing that is important to me. However I must have an outlet, it least so I can cover the cost of making my images.
Perhaps it’s the mental health thing, this striving to make a picture, yes I do enjoy my family saying, “that’s a great picture”.
I was thinking the other day, when does this stop, when do I give this up?
Because I could put my skills to other things and actually give up my day job rather than continually strive to make landscape pictures, which, I really sometimes feel are pretty, but lack a certain conceptual strength. Perhaps I would have been better served as a photographer with a glass plate camera, a processing tent and an empty landscape to photograph and document. Though I do believe Ansel Adams would have embraced digital technology wholeheartedly. Adams a man who was obsessed with documenting the landscape, but was quite happy and willing to strongly change his images to suit the creative norms of his day, in the darkroom. Photoshop of course gives that power and ability to anyone who cares to learn the software.
What a strange world this photographic world is, I guess, I won’t get poisoned by the chemicals any more, just blinded by the light of the screen.
Here are some responces from Photo.net
Phil B [Subscriber] , Jun 18, 2009; 05:47 a.m.
I’ve spent 20 of the last 21 years in Lancaster County, PA, arguably one of the most photogenic, and photographed, spots on the planet, and I had absolutely no motivation to use my camera there. I left my dingy, depressed hometown 30 years ago, and it took me most of that time to realize that all I wanted to do was hike up and down these hills and take photos.
Back in the 90’s, as the internet was becoming universally accessible, and I was accessing the internet with my Web-TV and stumbling upon Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing (and thus, Photo.net), I found that there were precious few photos of home on the web. From then on, my home visits were dedicated to capturing postable scenics of local landscapes and events. My goals were 3-fold:
1. I was a bit jealous of globe-trotting photographers and their exotic subjects. I wanted to demonstrate that there are awesome and inspiring landscapes available just about anywhere you can go. Sure, we’ve got no kaleidoscope slot canyons or rugged snow-capped mountains here, but there is a natural beauty here that deserves to be exposed, and I’m just the guy to do it.
2. I wanted other exiles, like me, to be able to catch a glimpse of home from far away.
3. I wanted to show those who never left what they were often missing while scrambling about through their lives of quiet desperation.
My goal was never (so much, and directly) to validate my own existence, but rather, to record and validate the existence of my home. I suppose they may be the same thing. I’ve been home for a year now, doing what, it turns out, I’ve always wanted to do, and now I’m content and fulfilled. In short, I’m a pig in poop, and I’ve never been happier in my life.
I’m rambling again. Does that address any of your points?
John Maillard [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 06:03 a.m.
Yes, it is about home, place, I walk the hills when I can get out with the dog and the camera.
I don’t think the images have worked when I went to other countries away from home.
The rub is my home moved when I emigrated from England to New Zealand, but it took 8 years to think of it as home.
mark beaumont , Jun 18, 2009; 08:06 a.m.
I liken it to fishing, it’s not catching the fish that counts, it’s the quiet “sit and wait and watch” that makes it for me. If I get a good picture, that’s just a bonus.
Charles Stobbs [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 08:21 a.m.
Amen to all.
Dick Arnold [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 09:56 a.m.
To me photography is visceral. I keep the pictures I like and throw out the ones I don’t. I don’t try to explain it. I love classical music but that is visceral also. I don’t examine this gift, I just appreciate it and enjoy the music as I have all of my long life. If I look at one my pictures and I feel good about it I enlarge and print it. If I feel really good about it I enlarge it and print it and try and show it somewhere. I flew airplanes professionally for a number of years. When I got together with my fellow pilots we did not talk about the joys and majesty of flying rather we talked about women in a visceral way and told half true war stories. What we did was just go fly airplanes. In the same way, I just go take pictures. I never tire of the human face. I do some landscapes. I like birds. I like cameras. I do not indulge in the philosophy of classical music, or the rapture of flying(hours and hours of boredom, punctuated by moments fo stark terror), or the reasons why I take pictures. I just take them as bad as they are a lot of the time.
Chris Waller [Hero] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 10:36 a.m.
Someone once asked Sir George Mallory why he climbed mountains. “Because they’re there,” he replied. The landscape we see today is the result of aeons of unimaginable geological forces and I think it is this notion that inspires me. Finally, I hope one day to achieve the skill to render the tonal subtleties of clouds as I see them.
Mihai Costea [Subscriber] , Jun 18, 2009; 11:08 a.m.
Chris, Dick these are my feelings too. I coulnd’t have said it better.
Stephen Penland [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] [Current POW Recipient] , Jun 18, 2009; 11:23 a.m.
This question is so important to me that I addressed it directly in my biography here on my photo.net page:
I prefer landscapes. There are two reasons for my choice of subject matter. I grew up in a family in which alcohol and the unpredictability that it produced was a constant theme. In contrast, I find landscapes to be solid, stable, and predicatable, even when they express their potentially violent aspects during the seasons. Another reason is that I had cancer 32 years ago, and that experience did away with any sense of complacency about life that I may have had. The silver lining to five years of radiation and chemotherapy is that it is impossible for me to take the beauty of the natural world for granted. Trying to capture the essence of a natural place through photography only enhances the experience of being there. There’s nothing else that I’d rather be doing.
John O’Keefe-Odom [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 12:28 p.m.
I feel differently about landscape photography. It’s not way down on the list for me; it’s up front. To me, there is a story in that landscape; I find it hard to divorce the landscape from closer photos of nature, or flowers or rocks. I don’t always enjoy being there, but go there with a camera deliberately so that other people can see it.
The purpose of the camera leads me there. I am almost uninterested in seeing it for myself. Not entirely so, but I would feel purposeless just being there as an activity. I am there to make pictures with the camera.
There is something about letting other people see for themselves what is there that keeps me photographing. I don’t think the landscape is stable; instead I find it complex and transitory. I have a tendency to return repeatedly to landscape locations. One area I am working on right now, will see me visit several times a week; several months out of the year; another, I may return to several times over years.
To me, these pictures are often about change, conflict, growth, birth, death, complexity in details, strength in structure, and a hundred other human events or ideas, with nature as an analogy.
Even in those transitions, though, there’s a timelessness and a neutrality that I think lets us accept life in silence.
That silent acceptance lets me know I am seeing into the photograph. I think other people experience this, too, and that is part of why we look at landscapes and botanicals and nature photographs again and again.
It’s exciting sometimes, and I enjoy the discovery of getting there; but I enjoy moderate travel in general. I mention these things not because I desire to disagree, but because it occurred to me that I feel I approach it from the other end of things. Instead of photographing the landscape instead of people, I’ve had to remember to include other people more. The landscape and nature was primary; the people photographs come later. This is fun, too; but, it’s a different activity. It’s a different approach in some way. Some ideas are just instantaneously gone; they’re people oriented. For me, it was more that the landscape and nature come first on the shot list.
To me, the more timeless subjects of landscape give us a chance to see into ideas and to show ideas with places changed, far away or maybe even long gone. And, who does not find the beauty of nature attractive, even though we often live so much of our lives indoors? I’ve not always been in pretty places, but I find that the picture of the place says a lot.
John O’Keefe-Odom [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 12:51 p.m.
The wildest areas seem particularly complex. They often show evidence of the most change; there’s a high degree of absolutism in their unkempt, and sometimes cluttered wildness. The forest is crowded with living plants being slow and fragile but strong, reaching for the sun, reaching for water, pushing for their space. The rocks fall from the cliff face with tons of weight, after staying in place forever. They crashed with a suddenness.
The people? The people left their trace with a mark of plastic trash and a cut trail in this space they set aside for whatever reason. Or, maybe they are there, being people, consuming, polluting, and at the same time, maybe living full lives. There’s a rampant cacophony of story in nature and landscape. Sometimes it is hard to shut some of it out, and find focus on one subject in this crowded field of view. It can be like trying to make a portrait in a dancing and ranting mob at a rock concert. Not impossible, but sometimes difficult, if you want to pay attention.
The plants fool us because they seem immobile and slow.
John O’Keefe-Odom [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 01:10 p.m.
Don’t expect this level of sensitivity in the future. I’ll go back to being my usual crass and cavalier self now. 😉
Roy Skridlov , Jun 18, 2009; 01:23 p.m.
To Mark Beaumont.
Mark, I take it that you’re not an angler! Still less that you’re commercial fisherman!
John Kelly [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 03:21 p.m.
I don’t do much “landscape” photography, but I do spend a lot of time hiking in remote places. I care more about photographing people, and I do mean relatively formally…virtually never “street” style.
IF I photograph “landscape” it usually means I’m impressed that something dramatic is happening (weather, relation with people etc): rock formations and trees and animals pretty much mind their own business, don’t need me to interpret them 🙂
I like John O’K-Od’s comments, above.
Sally Mack , Jun 18, 2009; 04:04 p.m.
John, why landscapes? Through my landscape pictures, I am able to show a version of what things–plants, water, hills, etc.–look like that most people ordinarily don’t see. I return repeatedly to a wetlands restoration area that I’ve been photographing since 2001. It’s always the same. . .and it’s always different. I want to be there, I want to see it, I want to photograph it, I want to share it.
Charles Heckel [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 04:15 p.m.
Speaking for myself, I couldn’t care less about the landscape itself. I go to your portfolio to see what you have done with it, and so, I suppose, to see pictures of you. I observe that you are not interested in landscape itself, either, but in form, design, repetition, light, color, and in a pictorialist tradition that lets you take a done-to-death genre into new representations with the power to surprise us and make us reflect.
And there’s something to be said for going out for a walk, preferably with a dog.
Charles Heckel [Subscriber] [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 04:15 p.m.
Patrick Dempsey [Frequent poster] , Jun 18, 2009; 06:35 p.m.
I never photographed landscapes because I was tired of photographing people… I only started photographing people when I got tired of shooting landscapes! Honestly I find that 99.9% of people in the world can’t even see the landscape they are in. If it exists beyond the walls of their house or the fence of the yard or the sidewalk, or just beyond the tall buildings, they don’t see it. When I worked construction I would get off work everyday and go to a nice burrito place that had a porch. From the porch there was one of the best sunset vantage points I have seen in awhile. Sure, it’s a sunset over a grochery store, but the sky does amazing things in that spot. I would sip my after-work Guinness and munch on some chips alone and just watch it. And all around me the people sat, talking to each other, reading the newspaper, reading books, playing with cell phones, puffing their cigarettes and completely missing some of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. For awhile I would try to attract people’s attention during that 1 minute “peak” but most people didn’t even care… it was like they were saying, “yeah so what? the sun sets everyday, get over it man.” I sat on the porch FOR the sunset… they were there for the cigarettes… if that place had had indoor smoking all of those people would have been indoors. And that’s when I realized why landscape photographs and paintings are important. Because people really are that short sighted.