Creating For Yourself or Others: Part II
“Opinions” – 2015
Last week, I briefly introduced this topic and in this post, I’ll try to elaborate on my thoughts of this topic. I’m discussing this in terms of landscape photography but much of this is true with other types of creative expression as well. I mentioned in my last post that there are two different approaches to landscape photography, one being recording what a scene looks like with elements of what the photographer experienced. The other is a more personal approach and involves the act of finding and creating images. In this approach, the artist holds little regard to what happens once the image is made because their experience is more meaningful than the final product. Neither of these approaches are wrong, or right. I’m not aiming to single out photographers but you probably know of a few that fall into each category. I’m suggesting a different approach, one that works for me and is in tune with why I use a camera in the first place.
I’ll start with the first example and use a simple phone pic I took a few months ago. This photo of cracked mud is a common subject in landscape photography. After the rains, mud is deposited and cracks with intricate and beautiful patterns as it dries over time. It’s a simple way of creating a visual metaphor of time and beauty. Maybe we relate to this in our own lives as we find more beauty as we grow older? I could tell you I was thinking of how nature shows us beauty in its precision, how things become more beautiful as time passes or maybe simply how broken is beautiful? None of this is true to my experience though. I wasn’t thinking anything along those lines. This is where I stopped to eat breakfast and I felt hungry. Anything I would say about this image, whether I took it with my phone or a 100MP Hasselblad would change this.
I use this example to illustrate that my experience as a photographer when creating an image has nothing to do with how the viewer sees an image. Lets look at another image, one from a 20MP DSLR. This is from Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, photographed on 3/18/16 at 7:48 AM. Settings are 1/60 s, f/8, ISO 100 using a Canon 7dmII and a 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 200mm. You can go there at this exact time with this exact camera, use the same settings and your photo on your camera won’t look like this. Try it out. Dead Horse Point is a vast landscape with views extending for miles in front and to the sides. Cameras can’t recreate the experience of being at such an impressive vantage point as the sun rises. It really is something you just have to be there to witness. So rather than photographing a grand scene with deep, winding canyons and a sun star over the mountains, I chose a different subject to photograph. Once again though, this image has nothing to do with my experience as the photographer at this place at this time. What was I feeling? What was I thinking? Was I warm? Was I cold? Was I in awe of one of the largest views in Utah or was it so busy and crowded that I couldn’t fully appreciate the power of this place? Does any of this matter? It doesn’t.
Untitled – 2016
This image from Dead Horse Point illustrates something beyond my experience though. I’ll come back to this later in this post but lets look at a few examples of the 2nd approach to landscape photography. These images are the complete opposite from the first and have everything to do with my experience of finding of finding and creating the image. I’m not going to share where, when or how I made this colorful image though. There were no people around and I was nearly overwhelmed with the beauty of this landscape. Water, color, light and the way they all play across various shapes and forms of rocks could be a description for this massive landscape or for the more intimate scene I photographed. Being in such an incredible place, completely alone as the afternoon light and shadows filled the canyon, I found myself reflecting on where I was at this time. Many people don’t get to experience this sort of beautiful isolation, watching and listening to crystal clear water flow over colorful stones and feeling time pass ever so slowly. I value this in my life and these experiences bring me much pleasure whether I have a camera or not. I often wonder if I would visit such places and seek such experiences if I wasn’t a photographer but I always am quick to answer, yes. It’s what feeds my soul. This image is a result of my experience. It doesn’t end here though.
Untitled – 2015
Stating that my experience is more meaningful than the actual image is, in my mind, an extremely self-centered and egotistical way of approaching photography as an art. This approach suggests that the artist/photographer doesn’t care about the viewer and is only expressing their thoughts, experiences and opinions. Art is so much more than what an artist thinks though. In fact, art isn’t even art unless someone sees it. Take a moment to consider this point. Would Monet’s paintings be art if they were never seen by another person? No. They’d be paint on canvas.
I say this because I believe photography has so much more to offer than being a medium for recording and expressing. Trying to use a camera to show what the photographer experienced is an act of futility. The viewer wasn’t there, and if they were, they see differently than the photographer. If the act of creating the photograph is more important than the actual image, don’t share the image for the world to see. In this case, it’s not art and any justification for it being so is comes off as the artist seeking gratification from the viewer. This isn’t art either. Photography is a different medium that allows a connection between the viewer and artist in the simplest way possible. Visual language is universal and crosses boundaries of all types. It allows the creator and the observer to draw different interpretations and meaning from an image that doesn’t physically change.
Untitled – 2015
I believe landscape photography can allow for both approaches, one for the photographer and one for the place. My experience of finding and creating images is deeply important to the final image. In fact, without it, I couldn’t be a photographer. The final image isn’t just about my experience though, it’s about YOU. My thoughts, opinions and experiences are all contained in the final image, in the simplest way I see possible. I don’t intend to show, or tell you, how to think of a subject, I only give you a starting point to build upon. This aspect of photography is also highly important to me and is at the top of my mind when seeking and creating images. Simplifying a scene to create an image that acts as a transition of my thoughts to yours is more important to me than the actual place. If the name of the location is needed to make this transition necessary, I’ve failed as a photographer. Think of this in terms of a relay race where the baton is the final image. I’m just handing it off to you to do with it as you wish.
Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
“Memory II” – 2015