In my recent incursions into the “art world”, a distinct resistance against landscape photography was present in many discussions. Someone went as far as saying “I just can’t stomach it”. Someone I respect, and not being snobbish or pompous. Someone genuinely not interested and, in fact, repulsed. Why?
Now, let’s be honest, I’ve had my share of anti-landscape remarks in these pages in the past and, no doubt, many more to come in the future. But please don’t take this post as a steaming pile of hypocritical go-se.
Even worse, the number of actual landscape photographs in my collection that can be used to illustrate this post is so low that I’d have to search very far into the past just to assemble the few shots necessary, had I not made some during a recent trip to the UK. That’s how uninterested I am as well, in my personal work. And yet, hiking is one of my favourite occupations. Possibly the favourite.
So, what’s wrong with landscape photography? This is a genuine interrogation and I’m typing words as ideas come through my mind.
It occurs to me that maybe, the foremost problem is one of definition. Maybe, so many various types of photography are encapsulated under one same moniker that many have trouble relating to the generic term.
Would you call Salgado a landscape photographer? No. He’s an activist. An engaged social, political and environmental photographer that just happens to photograph landscapes to make his point.
Would you call David Maisel a landscape photographer? No. He’s a conceptual artist who happens to pinpoint and magnify the ironic beauty of man made environmental catastrophes in the landscape.
Would you call Bruce Barnbaum a landscape photographer? No. He self defines as a fine art photographer who uses the landscape as inspiration.
Heck, would you call Ansel Adams a landscape photographer? Possibly. Wiki does, adding “and an environmentalist”. As if being a landscape photographer wasn’t enough to secure a page description. His own website shuns the word landscape altogether.
There’s a huge difference between people photographing the landscape, as I do on this page, and others photographing a subject present in the landscape although, to be accurate, I am photographing paths more than the landscape). In fact, to make progress, let’s even note that the former are called photographers while the latter are called artists …
Which brings us to the second point, closely related to the first but expressed as a gradation rather than a divide.
It’s not so much whether you photograph the landscape or not that matters but how munch intent and meaning you place in your photographs of it.
The reason why my art-centered contact refuses to even consider a landscape photograph isn’t related to the landscape itself but to the lack of intent most of us place in our photography of the landscape.
Take the photographs on this page, for example. Nice photographs of a lovely landscape (an 11-mile walks in the fields around the very pretty village of Pirton, in the Chiltern hills, not far from Luton) made on a lovely autumn day.
The strongest idea in all of those is “my, do I love hiking and public footpaths”. Which is perfectly OK when you acknowledge that’s all there is in them.
And this is often where it gets awry with landscape photography. So many photographers are using complex recipes to create their images that (1) they often end up very much alike, and only the one that have perfected the recipe stand out from the rest of the idea-less crowd; (2) they sometimes add some equally complex train of ideas or vague intentions to somehow justify the amount of effort (no, that 30 sec exposure of the sea and rocks at sunrise with 3 filters isn’t showing the purity of nature, since no one will ever experience it that way 😉 😉 😉 )
Pretty landscapes are pretty landscapes and that’s it. They need no further justification!!! We all love them. But we can all create our own photographs of them, so they have relatively little lasting value to others, which mostly excludes them from the art world. Those are photographs we mostly take for ourselves. We can share them (please do 🙂 ) but they generally don’t challenge our worldview or force us to rethink our approach, hence they are not art in the closed art-world acceptation of the word (for which it refuses to deliver a simple explanation, so here’s our actionable working definition of the word).
Does this mean we can’t create art around our admiration of the landscape? No, it doesn’t. Certainly not! The two photographs below are of the exact same hills. One is the frequent pretty-colour sunset view. The other a more personal approach based on my interest in clouds and b&w.
And I think there are two other ways to turn landscape into art, beyond the previously mentioned ‘landscape as a set for social commentary’.
First, you can apply a strong personal style. This is what Nancee Rostad did in her photographs of The Palouse. Her style is not just a matter of post processing but subject matter selection (a very keen eye-brain kit), gear choice, composition … a whole chain of events leading up to a very consistent, interesting and recognizable style.
Secondly, you can edit and curate into projects and add consistency that goes far beyond the display of pretty pictures done on this page. Also the case in Nancee’s Palouse post.
Combine all three, and you’re Salgado or Maisel. Congratulations 😉 But that’s not my conclusion.
As great as it must be to have your photographs shown in famous galleries and sell them for 5 figures, the landscape is a place for finding personal peace and introspection. When I wrote “those are photographs we mostly make for ourselves”, there was nothing derogatory in the intention. In fact, I believe there’s nothing more important than doing just that: crafting photographs for yourself. Others are bound to relate, as I do to Nancee’s gems. But Nancee didn’t make them with other people in mind. And neither should you.
At the end of the day, the more you like your own photographs subjectively, the better they are, objectively. And the more likely they are to become desirable to others as well, as a byproduct of you finding yourself. Sensibilities will develop in you that will draw you to some subjects more than others, some styles more than others and, before you know it, your photographs will be about you. And that’s what everyone wants to see, not a pretty hedge row, you.
So here’s to landscape photographers and landscape photography. Don’t you think?
(all photos made with a Hasselblad X1D, mostly with the XCD 45 lens, and a couple with the XCD 90)
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Hi Pascal. I’m in the world’s least likely spot to shoot landscapes, but will be back in the magnificent Cape in a week. I’m working up for a major dose of landscape photting and now an article to go alongside yours. More soon.
BTW, Hasselbald or none, you’ve got a dust bunny problem ; -)
Ugh, tell me about it … That’s the single worst aspect of this camera. It screams welcome to all surrounding dust whenever you change lenses (which I very rarely do). I blame Sony and their sensor surfaces 😉
Looking forward to your landscapes! Even more looking forward to photographing you photographing them …
It’s amazing how often I have an article percolating in the back of my mind, only to log in the next morning to see you’ve posted it!
The ‘are landscapes art?’ issue goes hand-in-glove for me with the ‘photograph with intention’ concept…there’s a requirement to put something of ourselves as artists into our images.
I think this is why landscapes don’t sell as art. They seen as 1) a too hyper-real rendering of 2) an image anyone standing there could have taken.
And I get it…other people’s landscapes, sun-rises and -sets…by and large leave me cold. Setting images aside for a year while personal emotions of the day subside is one strategy. But even the really strong landscapes that remain often smack of little more than ‘right place, right time, good on ya’. 😉
I’d like to think that by now I’ve developed a more dispassionate eye, and can tell right away when an image has that ‘something extra’. Of course, my most recent blog post was a sunset shot, so maybe not!
Ah, well … when the dispassionate eye photographs a sunset, it means it saw something special in it. Which I believe is the case, having seen it 😉
> ‘right place, right time, good on ya’
Indeed. And with maybe a pinch of envy thrown in 😉
There’s so many of us making photographs and hiking all over the world that the number of spectacular shots available for free is impossible to mach even for the most talented artist. Hence the move to higher ground (mountaineering, aerial photography, droning, …) or more extreme PP (all that hideous tone mapping, ultra-vibrant colours …) to pursue the even more spectacular. Ultimately, though, the few who do make a living from it are those with true personal vision and a very consistent production.
> “.. there’s nothing more important than doing just that: crafting photographs for yourself.”
“.., as a byproduct of you finding yourself.”
[ That’s what van Goth did with landscapes (and other stuff) – only it took quite some time for people to catch up.]
Ah, yes … That’s a sticky one 😉 When your personal vision is so strong that no one else understands … that must hurt very bad.
Thank goodness for the outliers. We’d still be rubbing hands on cave walls, if it wasn’t for them.
We most certainly would!
The underlying theme seems to me to be a question. And for me, the only correct answer is that if I could give you the answer, it wouldn’t mean anything anyway.
The reason why is that the answer is a conundrum (or is it the question? – or both? – that is/are the “conundrum”).
And you’ve sort of said it anyway – EXAMPLE – where you say “. . . many photographers are using complex recipes to create their images that . . . they often end up very much alike . . . ”
Isn’t that ALWAYS what happens? – when a less experienced photographer seeks help, advice, whatever, to enable him to take that million dollar shot? Isn’t that the fundamental flaw in trying to “teach” the so-called “rules” of composition, with a mindset that imagines this will somehow trigger a flood of masterpieces? – but we all know it’s more likely to produce something with the flavour of a breed of clones?
So is “difference” the answer to your question? Well, that’s a possibility – but if I say “yes”, won’t THAT produce the same outcome, shooting my answer in the foot?
I believe I’ve bored this audience before, by referring to the way artists achieve. Starting perhaps in art school – learning “the techniques” – being encouraged to produce copies of the works of “the great masters”. But this is not being taught to “copy”, to “imitate” – merely being taught the technical skills needed to continue – to develop. The foundation upon which to build. And the REAL artist emerges from that – that was merely the cocoon.
Nothing and nobody taught Salvador Dali to paint his “Madonna – 1958”. And when I saw that painting, I was riveted to the floor of the gallery – competely incapable of moving.
How many times have I walked by a painting, glanced sideways, and simply kept walking?
And no – it has nothing to do with the name of the artist – if Dali had produced a painting that looked like crap, I’d ignore it too. But in front of a GREAT work – of whatever kind – something inside me explodes and takes control of my mind, my body, my emotions, the work. It can be music (my first love) – a painting (my second) – a piece of architecture (my third) – a sculpture (my fourth). It could even be a cartoon, or a piece of literature or poetry. But the impact is transcendental – and immediate – and overpowering.
“Just another . . . [fill in the blank]” will NEVER do that to me.
And the conundrum – for me – is that what WILL do it, is something that can’t be taught. Either it’s there (innate – whether dormant or active) or it’s not.
[By a curious coincidence, this seems to run parallel to another recent post on DS – #906. And by another curious coincidence, that post was written by Pascal Jappy, who also wrote this post. Is this part of a subliminal campaign? – kind of like sneaking up behind the rest of us with a cattle prod, to liven things up a little, and stimulate our creative juices, so that we fire up DS and conquer the world of photography?]
Another example – since you mentioned it “en passant” – “time exposure” landscapes. Personally, I have to confess that they don’t do a thing for me**. It is not an art form that I am familiar with. If it DOES occur in “art” (as in “paintings”), I can’t recall ever having seen it. It bears no resemblance to any other aspect of my life experience. And I cannot warm to it, since I have no appreciation whatsoever for it.
That said – I don’t regard “opinions” as having any significance whatsoever either, and I’m perfectly content to allow other people have the opposite “opinion” – “à chacun son goût” – democracy again. But – again, that said – I do draw the line at promoting such a gimmick – as if it somehow gives cache to an otherwise uninteresting scene, converting it at once to a “great photograph”. Because it is someone else’s idea – and pastiche is never “great” art.
To draw these thoughts together, I will leave you to recover from this long and boring outburst, with one single thought – which I think permeates this twaddle. “To thine own self be true” – “be yourself” – “TEACH yourself” – only try to copy others for the sake of improving your technical skills, and don’t get off on your new, improved technical skills, imaging that they automatically make you “great”. You – and you alone – will make you great. And that most likely will take a great deal of work or input from you.
**[LMAO – I told a lie, here – in fact, it was a whopper! A week ago, I was luck enough to have a private viewing of a dozen or so photos taken by two professional photographers I’ve never met and never heard of before – mostly/all, perhaps? taken at a place called Lake Eyre, a hundred feet below sea level, in the middle of Australia – a place which some people think is incredibly boring and uninteresting and featureless, while others see it as a place of contrasts that in one sense are extremes and in another so subtle that only some can even see them. At times, a gigantic flat lake – at others, a giant salt pan, only fit for making attempts to break the world’s land speed records. Timeless. Ethereal. Haunting. To say nothing of the climate!
When I left, I was asked what I thought of them – and if I’d had to pick a “winner”, I would have given the blue ribbon to at least six of the photos. I left with those photos wedged in my head. If I had the money to spare, I’d buy at least 4 of those 6 photos.
So what makes my previous comment a lie? Simple – there IS blur in these photos – but it’s nothing like ANY of the blur I’ve EVER previously seen in ANY other photo – landscape or otherwise. It’s a blur inherent in the subject matter of these photos, and beyond my grasp of language to explain. It comes from Australia’s soul – from a deep familiarity with “country” – and from seeing the photos themselves. And I can’t add a thing to that description.]
> Isn’t that ALWAYS what happens?
Yes, it is. Which is precisely why I don’t believe in that sort of training. You can help students understand what they’d like to create and show them how other have approached the idea. After that, it all hard work and feedback.
> the impact is transcendental – and immediate – and overpowering.
Pretty good description of good art, if you ask me 😉
> something that can’t be taught.
Well, no. Exactly. We’d all be doing it otherwise. As offered above, a teacher can only help structure the studen’t vision and select the proper “models” of how previous artists have walked the path.
I’ve always felt that teachers can only guide you through two things – “how to” is all about technique, and they can certainly teach people that – and “what others have already done”, which might inspire students, but any imitations will be second rate & pastiche.
In short – either you have the spark of genius, innate & undiscovered or splattered all over the place – or you don’t, and then you’re going to spend the rest of your time trying hard to be better at something less that genius. Oh – and taking time out to enjoy the works of the greats, whenever you get a change to see a display at a museum or whatever.
I also think that being honest about it and recognising this will provide a short cut for all learners to better their work.
Besides, does it matter? Everyone has a chance to better themselves. To outdo the repetitiveness and imitativeness of the Instagram hordes. To gun down the swarms of people out there, backing into each other, with their cellphones and their selfie sticks.
There’s absolutely nothing “wrong” with being second best. It might prove you aren’t Leonardo da Vinci or Piet Mondrian. But it could well mean that you’re better than all of the other 7 billion people on this planet, and I couldn’t see that as a “small” achievement!
Woops – my spelling again – second para of that last comment, “something less that genius” should obviously read “something less than genius”.
BTW – brilliant first shot – OF COURSE the bicycle should be red – this is essential, if you want it to leap out of the picture and balance all the other colours in the frame!
Another photogropher worth mentioning again was Pål-Nils Nilsson, landscapes (& other stuff).
( Search – cut&paste – his name + landscapes , & select images.)
Thank you. I’d seen his reindeer photographs and some portraits, but no landscapes. Very interesting.
OMG – what an amazing photographer! Thanks for the suggestion, Kristian. I was doing my early experimental work with available light back in the 1960s and I have a very good idea of what he was up against, taking some of those photos. They are quite fantastic – especially considering the date when some of them were taken, and the gear, films, processing, etc that it required to achieve such outstanding results!
He got a lot of practice being for many years the main photographer of the yearbook of the Swedish Tourist Organization – each yearbook featuring one of Sweden’s 25 Landscapes.
I always got the impression of a lot of space around, as well as in, his photos.
I think the underlying problem with landscape photography may be much simpler – familiarity! We are all constantly surrounded by it; even in the city. The sun rises and sets every day. We’ve been looking at it all our lives. We think we know all there is to know about it because we’ve seen it forever. The “familiarity” has metastasized into, if not contempt, at least indifference.
Somewhere I heard/read that the purpose of art is to make the unimaginable visible … or something to that effect. If anyone here knows the quote please feel free to correct me. But you get the idea. To paraphrase, the purpose of art is to shift the viewers perspective into a frame they would not normally imagine or consider.
Look at the work of Edward Burtinsky (https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/), Michael Levin(https://www.michaellevin.ca/), Freeman Patterson (http://www.freemanpatterson.com/) and Yes! that of our cohort in crime Nancee. They all show us something we’ve never seen or imagined about landscapes we would otherwise find far too familiar; even if at times we don’t recognize them as landscape. And they are packed with emotion and intent.
As to the creation of “Art”. All we the viewer sees is the end result, not all the hard work and failures that let to that end result. To paraphrase another old chestnut, the difference between an Artist and a wannabe is you never see the Artist’s mistakes.
I do not have the leisure to travel for photo-hunting. However, I like to attempt to perceive the photographer’s perspectives inscribed on landscape photos as well. The better ones will make me pause, while viewing, look closer, and more often than not, bring about some cheerful moments within. Anyhow, I wonder who on earth doesn’t appreciate mother nature, live or in photos?
I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion. Photos are first and foremost about the ‘tog. Start from there, and you get a different definition of a landscape, because it becomes first a mindscape…:-)
This will be my challenge for the day. To go out with one lens only, my least suited for landscape (a 100mm), in the outskirts of a major metropolitan hub, so not exactly a cornucopia of landscape opportunities, and yet, to come back with one true landscape. In my mind, at least…
Brilliant post, BTW…
I run a landscape photography magazine and our broad definition of landscape is ‘photographs created of and in the outdoors’. i.e. When the subject is primarily the landscape itself.
Definitions are a waste of time for any person apart from someone running a magazine, creating a competition or trying to define words so for most photographers it matters not.
I think the whole dismissal of ‘landscape’ photographs as ‘stuff one does for oneself while walking’ dismisses a whole swathe of history.
It’s like dismissing portraiture as ‘selfies and piccies on ones mates while socialising’.
One of the main problems of landscape ‘art’ is that critics struggle to create a narrative around a subject that is often non-verbal. We have run a conference where we have had Jem Southam, Simon Norfolk, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Paul Kenny, John Blakemore all speaking and showing that if you focus and create works with intent you will produce meaningful results.
There was an exhibition of landscape art curated by William Ewing a couple of years ago that I highly recommend getting the book of. It was called “Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photograph”
There are also many photographers that are producing work that really defies a narrative analysis and yet I feel are incredibly strong works which reflect a life lived with intent and passion. Peter Dombrovskis is possibly the best example of this I can think of while writing this.
Landscape has a history of being at the bottom of the creative hierarchy of art (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierarchy_of_genres – I feel sorry for still life artists) and photography sitting close to the bottom and more commonly classed as a ‘minor art’ instead of a ‘fine art’.
The real differentiator in all of this is ‘intent’ though. If you can communicate an intent (either through visual allegory or conceptual narrative or even just through a strong visual/emotive style) then you’re producing something more than just decoration.
Hi Tim, thanks a lot for the very interesting and informed comment.
First, let me just say that I wasn’t dismissing landscape photography as something inferior when saying it’s something we do for ourself. Merely implying that when we are alone in nature, we tend to be more receptive to our personal feelings.
And yes, the focus on intent is the key. The conference you describe must have been fascinating and I’d have loved to attend. After many failed attempts at finding a good workable definition of art, I decided to offer what that has the merit of existing and being simple: the meeting point of craftmanship and intent. To me the best artists combine both: a great print of a meaningless photograph has a very short half life of attraction, and a poorly executed print of a great idea simply lacks desirability. Intent is what separates the hords of technically excellent photographers populating social media with the artists that keep us riveted. And I feel it’s a bit unfair to some great landscape photographers to call their art minor, because it’s probably even harder to find meaning in nature than in man made situations, don’t you think?
Sometime I feel it’s just out of fashion to be in love with nature. Just like it’s out of fashion to create anything actually pretty, as if art somehow had to be provocative. A bit of a shame, there’s room for any deliberate workflow, I feel.
Thanks for the book reference, just ordered it.
Peter Dombrovskis was an extraordinary photographer. But why do you think his work defies narrative analysis? I only know a few of his photographs and they don’t feel like intent is lacking.
What is the name of your magazine? Any chance I might have seen it somewhere?
All the best, thanks again.
You can see a lot of Peter Dombovskis’ photos at this URL, if you press the green button marked “browse this collection”, click on the first one, and use the arrows at the top of each image to move on to the next one:
Thanks Jean-Pierre. Some of those are really superb. Not all of them appeal to me, but the largely monocrhomatic ones, dominated by a green cast and a mysterious light, are just incredible. Never seen one in the flesh, unfortunately. Mebbe a good reason to visit ? 😉 Cheers.
South-west Tasmania is another place – another world – especially in winter!
The magazine is On Landscape, online only and content posted pretty regularly for the last ten years nearly.
Dombrovskis is a great example because his work is really a reflection of his life. After seeing a great deal of his work I get the feeling for the invisible artist and that is very elusive and I think can be unique to the inevitable documentary nature of photography.
I suppose my point is that there are so many non-verbal aspects to being a person and the ability to communicate some of these aspects through your work reflecting a life lived is, for me, an engrossing aspect of photography.
Now we can see this in the work of photographers like Nan Goldin but when you’re embedded in a situation like that I won’t say it’s easy but it’s a lot easier for the viewer to ‘read’ and there is a great deal of verbal/narrative cues as well as emotional etc.
Working in the landscape strips all of these social/human cues away and we’re left with just the choices that the artist makes and a relationship between the artist and the land. With a bit of extra information to give context to the artists life we can get a very strong, non-narrative connection.
At least that’s my reading 🙂
Oh, yes. “On Landscape”, of course. Brilliant.
Fascinating comment. And I totally agree that photographing the landscape – not a big scar in the landscape, not some social comment about the landscape, but the landscape itself – makes it a lot harder for a photographer to be taken seriously as an artist.
What you’re saying is that, in order to bring a personal intent to such photography, you have to make choices that say more about yourself than about the landscape itself, isn’t it? If so, I couldn’t agree more and vividly encourage readers to be as personal as possible in their photography because this is the most interesting reason to actually make photographs !!
Cheers, thanks again.
Pascal, in my opinion [sorry Jean Pierre (Pete) 😉 ] ……
Landscape photography is a continuation of 18th and 19th C landscape art traditions melded with sometimes purist nature/environmental idioms (perhaps not the right use of that word). So the worlds of Art + purist nature/ecological ideology sometimes = pretension or boredom, no surprises then. Basically the same but different for producing empty work, I am as guilty as anyone so not passing judgment, just observing.
My personal take on this is that landscape is any image you place yourself into to appreciate, and it could be a ‘postcard’ or urban landscape not just classic landscape. If it is a work that you are observing externally and seeing an artist’s intent or meaning it is something other than a landscape image, as per your examples. As per usual there are grey areas and no hard borders or binary classifications.
Actually for me I am not sure that Art has anything to do with it but it is jolly nice when lower case ‘a’ art is felt when looking at an image.
Thanks for the article, Noel.
Thank you Noel. The idea of a continuation of 18th & 19th century landscape traditions is really interesting. Maybe it’s a desire to break from this that’s at the root of the Art world’s reluctance to accept landscape photography in its inner circle?
This is the bit that resonates with me where you’ve stated “… At the end of the day, the more you like your own photographs subjectively, the better they are, objectively. And the more likely they are to become desirable to others as well, as a byproduct of you finding yourself…”. In support of your statement, I’ll add this: “Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts, and your photography will look after itself.” It’s what I once said to myself after a period of frustrating nothing. I now pass these words onto others, when needed, just as you have above, in your own words.
Yes. It’s believing in your potential, at least. Most of us have ups and downs and we are not Ernst Haas or someone similar. Those sentences shouldn’t be taken as a pretext for not trying harder, but as a realisation that when we are deeply satisfied with something we have done, thet it is bound to appeal to others as well. We share a common pyschology after all 😉
Pascal, another thought provoking article. I love to shoot landscapes as I enjoy the outdoors and serenity it brings to me. Are my images art, to me they. I agree many shooters do appear to use a formula. I do think most photographers to a certain degree use a formula to remain within their comfort zones, I’m guilty of this, it is something Im trying to change.
There’s nothing really wrong with using a recipe, particularly if it’s a good one. But it doesn’t help us learn very much. And it gets repetitive for someone as impatient as me 😉
You’ve given us another very thoughtful article on photography, Pascal. IMHO, landscape photography does have a place in the art world when it goes well beyond the typical “postcard” view, or demonstrates something other than the common “rules” of composition, etc. I believe that one can simply enjoy a beautiful landscape while exploring without feeling the need to document it with a camera every time. Maybe that’s being judgmental, but don’t we all judge images on some level? Maybe a typical landscape photo isn’t very interesting because it only records exactly what we can plainly see with the naked eye. We tend to miss the details when there’s a huge and dramatic landscape in front of us. So trying for a more intimate landscape might make for a more interesting photo in the long run.
Thank you for the unexpected and totally flattering mention in your article. I’m still blushing.
Thank you Nancee 🙂 I think we all agree that your photographs are very inspiring 🙂
And yes, as soon as someone puts some personality into the photograph rather than render a basic record or a paint by numbers postcard, I too believe it should be called art.
A certain amount of this is semantic, not substantive, and I shan’t wade through those passages. Undoubtedly necessary introductory material, to lay a foundation for the hub of the discussion, but ipso fact not the hub of the discussion.
Oh – and just to be completely irritating – there is at least one landscape amongst these photos (as well as a bicycle – LOL), so there’s something there for your catalogue. 🙂 (Sorry – couldn’t resist – hope you don’t have a glass chin – if you do, not a good idea to point it in my direction:) )
Ah – recipes! Well, having been a part time cook practically for the whole of my life, I can let you into a little secret here. The reasons why so many cook books (recipe books) are riddled with errors in the list of ingredients is that cooks don’t use recipes – they just KNOW what they want to put into the pot/pan/casserole dish/blender/whatever! So when they try to write it all down, for a book, they just run through it in their minds and jot down some numbers. If they ever paused to test drive what they’d written, a lot of them would throw up when they tried to swallow the result. In fact I tried one once, for something called cashew ice cream – it appealed to my twisted sense of humour, because it was such a bizarre idea – and as I went through the ingredients it struck me that the quantity of cashew nuts was perfectly ludicrous, so I slashed it – I only put in a quarter of the required dosage. The result was unbelievably awful – it set like concrete (I was about to suggest “cement”, but that would not do it justice). In fact, it really WAS bizarre – it was supposed to be ice cream, but you had to let it melt before you could possibly shove a spoon into it.
Anyone contemplating taking a photograph by following a “recipe” would do well to bear that experience in mind!
After a brief excursion into the wonderful world of pretty, of photographs (AKA snapshots?), of shots that we share, you climb over the mountains, peer through the clouds, and BANG – you hit us all between the eyes! How to turn a landscape into art!
At this point, we have to remember what we learned about technique – but leave our teachers, our mentors, our idols behind. We have to struggle – conceal from our friends and loved ones the myriad of shots in between our masterpieces – and strive to be ourselves. To create. To produce something that speaks to the viewer. Something which says “this is who I am”, and is not pastiche.
Which was a bloody sight easier for Daguerre than it is for us – he had NO competition. We swim in an ocean filled with people taking photos. There are only 7 billion people on this planet. But there are trillions (plural – and I shudder to think how many!) of photographs, left in their wake. And to succeed, we need to be different. Can we? That’s the challenge – and no, you are not allowed to ask “how” – because then it would not BE “you”, and being “you” is the whole point of the exercise. Anyone can copy – photocopiers can do it – so can scanners – idiots with cellphones can creep up behind you and demand to know what you’re photographing, and then turn around and say “Oh, I can do that!”, whip out their blasted contraption, and show you their shot, before you finish putting the right filter on the front of the lens, and setting up the remote.
Let the games begin!
Pascal, why don’t you have a competition, for landscape photos? – you’ll have to bend a little, to allow seascapes to be included, of course.
Just a thought! 🙂
Are you certain they don’t add the mistakes in their books on purpose, those wicked cooks 😉
It’s not meant to be semantic. The fact that landscapes are rarely considered art is worth discussing. And I think Tim Parkin’s comment say a lot. When your landscape photographs say more about you than about the landscape, then you’ve made real progress.
I can do a challenge (personal) on landscapes, not a competition 😉
Glad you picked up on the bike 😉
Excellent article! And while it focuses on landscape photography, it’s easy to imagine how it’d apply to street photography, and all other photographic fields we can imagine. There’s nothing wrong with creating photos that take us back to some cherished moment, really. But these photos are mostly for the makers to enjoy, and the subjects, often. To transcend, to take them in front of an audience, we need to consider what it is we’d want to express. And THAT is UNBELIEVABLY difficult. To be able to do it requires us to know ourselves, to know how we relate to what we photograph, and what we want others to know about ourselves, about what we are thinking and feeling, beyond the immediate. I find the step between “ordinary” photographs and “art photographs” very hard to pin down. Easy to see in other people’s work, extremely hard in one’s own. But surely something to go for, and I am more than happy that people on this site are seemingly choosing to explore this in depth!!! So big thanks for helping making this happen!