View Full Version : what IS it about nature photography?
hey guys, here's a serious question that i'll probably overstate because i overs tate everything (including that) but here goes: i have this judgment that there are WAYYY too many people out there taking the same photos over and over and ov er again, convincing themselves that they're "artists" but fundamentally missing the whole point of art. in short, a huge part of America's photographic scene is in a serious rut.
sure, shots of aspens and canyon country at sunrise are pretty, but that is ALL they are, and if this were any other art medium (painting, jazz, literature) the people who think that kind of work is "art" would be laughed right out of the g ame because what they do is so transparently formulaic, un-creative and derivati ve. All they're really doing is showing that they can competently and precisely copy the work of others. Where is the art in that?
Painters learn to copy the work of others as an exercise in technique, but in mu ch of photography, copying the work of others seems to be the final goal. It's absurd! Imagine if there were thousands of writers out there who aspired to wri te books that read exactly like Kurt Vonnegut's novels, or thousands of jazz mus icians whose sole goal was to sound exactly like Paul Desmond, or thousands of p ainters whose work looked EXACTLY like Andrew Wyeth's, so you couldn't even tell whose was what. it's hard to imagine such a scenario in the other art forms, a nd yet, i believe that's exactly what's going on in photography. You could borr ow ten photos from each of a thousand nature photographers, and mix them all up, and you'd have NO IDEA which photographer took which picture because they're al l exactly the same.
what will it take to get the photography community THINKING, working on new, dif ficult, challenging projects that involve introspection and sophistication, risk , experimentation and failure? there's a wild-ass beautiful universe out there, right in our own cities and backyards, and yet most photographers think they ha ve to go to these few "special" pristine natural places at just the right time t o take an artistic photograph. it's the saddest and most ironic thing to see th e same old crap year after year being called "art"-- the same hackneyed photos t aken at sunrise from the same worn-in tripod holes from the same places in the s ame national parks, all without an ounce of any of the ingredients that artists from other media would say are the foundations of meaningful art.
where is the satisfaction in doing that kind of work? why is the photographic c ommunity so stuck in this furrow? i think the current situation is worse than t he pictorialist movement at the turn of last century, which in retrospect we all look at with a smirk because everyone was doing the same tacky-looking work and no one realized how bad it all was. a hundred years later, here we are repeati ng history, just with better technology.
please respond sincerely with whatever thoughts you have to offer, so long as th ey're well-considered (one-liners from the shooting gallery will not help anyone ).
~chris jordan (Seattle)
Chris: Several points: The landscapes I create are mine. The light, the time of year, the decision when to press the cable release, the particular scene, and the impulse to set up are my personal decisions.
I also have a wonderful reason to place myself in areas I consider beautiful(with all the definitions that can be ascribed to the word)
Whats wrong with pretty?
You must frequent different galleries than I do or look at the work of different photographers. Either that or you read a new article or got a new book for Christmas. Yes, there is a lot of copying. This is true in any art discipline. Most of what passes for 'art' is lacking in many ways with few really creative individuals doing excellent work... as it has always been. It won't change.
Here are my 2 cents.
In any artistic medium artists operate at different levels. When learning a musical instrument, the first pieces are hardly fine art, but they are to the student. And the simplest melody or photograph, when well executed, can be appreciated.
I think we all suffer from failure to appreciate fully that with which they are most familiar. So the beauty in our backyard goes un- photographed, while the national park we visit on a trip is new, exciting, and gets photographed, often, as you imply, from the same vantage point as every other tourist.
Dan, what really got me to thinking about this was the recent threads where people ask "where should i go in New York to take photos?" Jeez, I wanted to grab them and shake them and say "in your own freaking house!!!!!"
I suppose you're right that it won't change; i just have the sense that it COULD. Other artistic media, such as jazz (which i am familiar with because i am a jazz pianist), operate at a higher level of excellence than photography, I think because there is a general creative drive and energy in the jazz community that seems to be lacking in much of photography. I don't know why though; or maybe i'm just wrong.
I do exactly the kind of photography you describe. For me the satisfaction is in being in a variety of beautiful places, totally surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of nature, and to create a pretty image which reminds me, and possibly arouses in the viewer, some of the emotions that the place gave me. It is to capture as much as possible of this visual excitement. Incidentally, if the same photograph has been made a million of times (see my Delicate Arch image), it is somewhat satifying for me to believe that my image might be among one of the hundreds better ones, for factors such as composition, perspective, timing, light, and the mere information density of the 5x7 format. Why is the community stuck in this furrow ? I suppose a lot of photographers are out there to please themselves (and apparently the viewers as well), rather than to create "art", whatever it is.
Simple answer... people like such images.
I am looking at retirement communities for my mother, and yesterday visited an art center at one community where a painting class was held. Of approximately 30 paintings in the room, about 25 were scenics of forest paths, lakes, mountains, etc. Not a one was of an urban street or city scape. And people can paint anything they like.
For me, I enjoy being in such places, and the photography is the hobby that gets me there. But people who view and buy my works like what I capture. People see their own backyards, vacant lots, buildings, sidewalks, etc everyday. They have to look at that stuff but they don't have to like it. Ask 100 city dwellers if they would rather live in Jackson Hole and see what they say.
I think, experiment and take risks in my job everyday. I shoot scenics for a hobby, but I think, experiment and take risks there as well. For me, my LF photography is defined by the shots I don't take. Many times I will work with a scene for an hour or more, and finally decide there is nothing new or worthwhile there. So don't assume that every scenic was some thoughtless snap of the shutter just because you don't like it.
I am happy for you to stay in the city and experiment, and leave the wilderness to the rest of us.
Hugo J. Zhang
Same photo can NOT be taken over and over again, unless you are using an auto 35mm shooting out of the window of your tour bus. First and foremost, photography as an art is a very intense creative process and experience. It's a form of personal expression. If somebody happens to like my photo, that's fine. I care less if somebody say that my photos are just like others' photos. I know that's not true. Nature is infinite, thus the way to express it.
On the other hand:
Let's say I take a blue dog teddy bear to all of my locations, and place it in every shot (ie. blue dog in "The Wave"). Then I make up a "profound statement" about it.
Now, I definitely have a "signature style". If anyone else does the same thing, it is very obvious copying.
Is it art? Is it just a gimmick?
It is difficult to develop a unique, recognizable landscape style, and not make it a gimmick.
Maybe I should just insist that the prints be hung upside-down.
This all leads me to another question: is there any landscape photographer whose work is immediately recognizable, based on style, content, location, etc? (If there is, then we can all start copying her/him ;-)
convincing themselves that they're "artists" but fundamentally missing the whole point of art.
You're off to a bad start. There is no point of art. There are as many points of art as there are artists. I should stop here because the rest of your question rests on this one issue, but, like you, I like to overstate things.
are pretty, but that is ALL they are
To you (and many others, I admit) perhaps. But I love seeing a well captured landscape--that's my business. Many are more that pretty to me. This is because I like being in a beautiful landscape. I love hiking to distant locations to find something beautiful, but I never think that I am the first one down the path. That doesn't stop me from going, however.
Imagine if there were thousands of writers out there who aspired to write books that read exactly like Kurt Vonnegut's novels
or thousands of jazz musicians whose sole goal was to sound exactly like Paul Desmond
There are. Vonnegut, Desmond, and Wyeth are called geniuses for a reason. You can't expect that from everyone. There will always be those who forge ahead and those that follow. Sometimes those that follow end up outperforming the inovators. J.S. Bach was considered old fashioned in his day. Fugues were out, but he kept on writing them and transcended the entire genre. It doesn't happen every day, but it happens
You could borrow ten photos from each of a thousand nature photographers, and mix them all up, and you'd have NO IDEA which photographer took which picture because they're all exactly the same Speaking of Bach, how would you do if we played the same game with trio-sonatas written by baroque composers. Could you tell ten apart? (most serious musicians couldn't) Does this mean they are exactly the same? No. They are different but it is subtle. Does it make them bad art? No. They've lasted centuries and people still listen to them. If you listen enough you will be able to tell Handel from Bach, but you will still have trouble with ten different composers. The same is true in photography--even nature photography. David Meunch's work looks like David Muench's work. You can usually pick it out of a line up.
What will it take to get the photography community THINKING, working on new, difficult, challenging projects that involve introspection and sophistication, risk, experimentation and failure? A community does not do ANY of this. Individuals do. They are out there doing it as you read. If you look hard enough you will find inovators in every field. If you don't see good photographers doing the kind of work you value either you are not looking hard enough, or you have a unique vision in which case you should stop complaining and show us.
This subject has been beaten to death. If you don't like the work others are doing don't look at it and shoot the kind of work you like.
Michael: As to whether there is a landscape photographer whose work is immediately recognizable, the answer is yes. Adams, Weston, Brett Weston, John Sexton, Clyde Butcher, and others. As photographers, we all see things in a different way. Everyone on this forum could go to the same site, shoot from the same place, and the pictures will look different. That is the individual artist, not duplicating because we are all different mentally.
Kevin M Bourque
Hi Chris -
I'm a fairly conservative, literal-minded guy, and my pictures reflect this. I'm not likely to do a two-year study of "Sidewalks of Amerika" or photograph severed Barbie doll heads floating in pickle brine. For me, art is something I do to relax, and just maybe produce something that pleases me. I don't know that I want to be dangerous or edgy or ground-breaking.
Provacative question, though. Be prepared for lots of warm, roasty flames!
Not everyone can be a master. It would be a sad world if only Rubensteion and Horowitz and other legends could play Mozart and Beethovan. Most people who play the piano do it for their own enjoyment; they are not professional musicians. The same is true of photographers. I laugh at those who seek out the (virtual) tripod holes of St. Ansel in Yosemite, but I've done it and it gives me great pleasure to compare my vision with his.
When I read your post, I went to your website and viewed your images. (Good idea to increase those site hits!) After all, with a blanket condemnation such as yours, I figured that you must certainly be on the cutting edge of art photography.
Yet upon viewing your images, (which by the way are very good), I have to ask you this: Are you the first person to photograph moss covered trees in the old growth forests of the Pacific N.W.? No? Then why do YOU take photographs of pretty nature scenes that have been photographed before. Do your images scream "This photo was taken by Chris Jordan"? Is this art or another hackneyed interpretation of nature?
I suspect that you photograph these scenes because they appeal to you. Why we photograph what we do is a very personal, and at times, unexplainable decision -- something inside of us just "clicks." (No pun intended). We make photographs because there is something that lies before our eyes that appeals to us and sparks a creative interst, not because it meets some self serving interpretation of art ala Susan Sontag. If similar subjects have been photographed before, so what? If a person draws inspiration from a subject that helps them to grow in a way perhaps known only to them, who are we to say that their efforts lack meaning?
Kevin J. Kolosky
"Introspection", "Sophistication" "Risk" "Wild-Ass". Another attempt to define "Art" and photography with words. Such attempts, while interesting, will always fail (less than total agreement), as Art and Photography speak without words in a language all of their own. Kevin
"You could borrow ten photos from each of a thousand nature photographers, and mix them all up, and you'd have NO IDEA which photographer took which picture because they're all exactly the same. "
From 90 percent, yes. But in addition to those already mentioned, Charles Cramer, Jack Dykinga, Jeff Grandy, Kerik Kouklis, William Neill, Richard Newman, Rich Seiling...
I have recordings of "All Blues" in my collection from Miles Davis, Stanley Clarke, Freddie Hubbard, and Larry Coryell. Each is based on the same theme Davis wrote 40 years ago, but each has a unique sound and I enjoy listening to them all. Same with "A Night in Tunisia." Listen to Dizzy Gillispie's original a nd compare it with the versions Art Blakey and Randy Weston recorded. They're each uniquely beautiful.
As with music, photographic variations on themes carry their own unique beauty. Frankly, your diatribe says more about you than it does about the people you are judging.
Hi Chris & All,
Let me fan the flames, and after 13 days we still have plenty here in Sydney to share around.
I have visited your site, Chris, several times in recent months because I really admire your vision, your choice of subject, your acceptance of and fascination with your immediate environment. I find in your photographs inner connections that you must also bring to your music. Obviously the camera is simply another instrument to give expression to your thoughts and emotions.
In response to this no doubt a clamouring chorus will arise acclaiming the camera as simply an instrument of expression for them also. On that point they are probably right. Unfortanately, for the rest of us, the difference with regards many of the chorus is that they sadly have an inner connection to a vacuous abyss. They have nothing to say. Nothing of their own at least. Not that that presents any obstacle to the continuation of their soporific output .
By definition, ensuant to its title, this site attracts devotees with a fascination with the hardware of photography. In fact, very particular hardware. Pride of possession and the veneration of the covetted drive much of the dialogue. Photography as a facile folly and diversion to escape the pressure and humdrum of the daily round of the over-affluent.
Twenty-first Century visual hunter-gatherers bivouac in the wild to celebrate and indulge their primal roots capturing vistas and tableaux which, whilst numinously charged, are devoid of plot or intrigue and are, therefore, incapable of denouement. An inadequate reward to the enlightened viewer - merely the comfort and security of treading trodden ground.
I realize my thoughts may come across as sounding elitist, which has prompted a lot of defensive responses, but i truly believe that "art" is NOT something that is reserved for the special few-- EVERYONE has a unique "vision" inside them, and the only ingredient necessary to release it is the willingness to show up and take the risk of knowing the Truth (whatever that is for each person). It's so sad that so few people are willing to go there, considering the incredibly rich rewards. But, I'll go away now because I can see that I've offended a lot of people. Apologies, and peace.
Chris, I gotta say I like what you had to say. Not being one to go on with a lengthy post. I have tasked myself to begin in my own backyard, literally, and attempt to find beauty. To force myself to be aware of the poetry around me. Be it my wife and daughter on the front porch, grape leaves on a fence out back, the way the light falls on my daughter's swing set. It's all right there under my nose. I am never, never bored. I bet there are legions of photogs doing this in their own enviroment everyday. Thanks for your pos
Perhaps you have offended some people, but you also may have made others think.
So many "Artists"..... so many important sounding words..... So many who are "making statements"... "expessions of inner visions".... All so much B.S. Of the probable thousand readers/posters here there may be an artist or two lurking - but please gents, let's be honest with ourselves! We are, at best, Craftsmen and Technicians of a PROCESS. We enjoy the PROCESS of photography, and we study and strive to produce a more technically perfect product, thereby reaffirming our proficiency of the PROCESS. We compare our results with those of the "masters" in an attempt to validate that proficiency (and all the time and money invested). An artist uses whatever tools are necessary to create the product that reflects "the vision". Whether that be $10,000 worth of computer gear, a camera - or crayons for that matter - or any combination of all media available. Because the VISION, the END is the primary goal - not the PROCESS of arriving there that we are so in love with.
Kevin J. Kolosky
How much time did you spend with your Roget's Thesaurus before you wrote your comments?
Thank you, Matt, for your honest and lucid words. Compared to real masters of the processus of pictorial expression like van Eyck, van der Weyden or da Vinci, we cannot even hope to get there and achieve such intensity, corrupted as we are by today's culture of instant gratification. In this connection, what a shame that naive avidity to name oneself "artist", while "artist" is not a self-proclamed status but a recognition given by the(competent)peers, as somebody once nicely said.
Look there is only one Michael Jordan, but that does not mean that there are not many other talented players. If we take Chris's statements at face value then I guess we should all stop watching basketball because the rest are not at the same level as Jordan. There are many "capable" photographers that are masters of the craft, but once in a while there comes a special "talent" that defines that generation, as Emile said, there was Da Vinci, there was AA or Weston. I dont think is a matter of photographing the same places, is a matter of being in the same places and "seeing" a different thing that defines that special talent. So unless you are one of those special people Chris, probably your phtography is as redundant or boring as ours...
Hasn't it occured to you that our society is really screwed up artisticlly right now.With the extreame commerciality of all forms of art and few giants alive or incarnate to lead the way... we end up with mush most of the time. There is little support in the school systems and also little or no adult societal support...really no way for an artist to live cheap anywhere anymore and be and develop fully and artisticly ... so we suffer.Look what you have to do just to pay rent...not that these were not always a problem but its really bad now....and we can clearly see the proof artistically! A russian friend of mine commented recently that the art and music in the US is really bland and uninspiring generally.Look at the art and music and performance idioms of the 1920's through the 60's here....great creative stuff....nowadays....we have de-volved.We are asleep...and loving it.Jazz is the greatest musical form to come along in a really long time but now where are the Coltranes,Parkers,and other greats that other generations have created? We dont have any.We have much talent but not any need to use it.If times get really bad we might have a chance.We need a fire under our ass.I dont think this society is condusive to much creativity except in rare circumstances where the artist is supported one way or another.An artist really has to eat sleep and drink their art to come up with the goods...how many now can spend 12 to 15 hours a day on this? Not many these days.
Emile....There is a place and an attitude like you're describing that exists now, only it's in Brazil, in the State of Bahia, in the Pelorinho. Bahia is where the slaves were first taken to South America from Africa, where the religion and culture of slaves combined with South American and European culture.
Bahia is the spiritual capital of Brazil, it's beautiful exciting, colorful, as is the rest of Brazil. The culture and religion of the Yoruba and the origins of Carnaval and masked ritual came into and radiated out from Bahia.
The Pelorinho which is located in the downtown area of Bahia is a hotbed of painters, poets, photographers, singers, and like the rest of Bahia, has an INFINITE number of photo-ops. Bahia the place, is as beautiful, and lyrical, and as spiritual as its people.
I went there for Carnaval one year instead of Rio, and spent my first day and night in a wonderful hotel overlooking a quaint lighthouse listening to the beat of Samba from trios electricos, mixed in with James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Miles Davis.
When Carnaval started, it all happened at once. The music, the drums, everything, the whole town exploded all at once, and I felt the music and it's vibration in my feet standing in my hotel room!
Brazil is 500 years old, Bahia has countless churches and buildings and structures that old, that like the rest of Brazil have to be seen to be beleived. The place, the people, the beaches, the music, the air, they make you feel alive, and I always feel refreshed when coming back from Brazil.
I'm not suggesting going off to Brazil looking for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that would be going there for the wrong reason, because I think Chris Jordan is right about stuff right here in front of all of us.
Emile is right to as the issues about a place and an attitude conducive to growth, and Bahia is what you've described, and on that basis, go there at some point in time, the only problem is that no matter what, you'll never have enough film for what catches your eyes.
Before somebody brings up money, plenty of kids go, they get in touch with somebody in Brazil over the web, there's always rooms for rent.
One year that I went to Rio for Carnaval, I rode into town with five kids who had rented a large apartment in Baja de Tijauca a beautiful suburb of Rio, and they got that apartment for less than you would pay to stay in a holiday inn here in the states.
How they got that apartment that cheap was amazing. They paid one fifth of the total rent for the apartment and not individually. Their bill for 8 days during Carnaval was $900.00, they each paid $180.00 for the apartment! Going to Brazil can be done on a skimpy budget given enough time to make contacts and do reseach.
Anybody want to get instant feedback on Brazil online, go to www.brazzil.com, it's an online magazine run by a Brazilian.
Emile & Jonathan,
Once you got to Brazil how could you resist Peru while you're in the neighbourhood? A colleague just had a pretty successful show with work from Chile and Patagonia (although Patagonia seems pretty serious 'climber' territory.
Ah, to dream ... Walter
Here is an essay I wrote that is on my website that stresses my thoughts on the matter.
To what distances would you have to go, to find subject matter that has the feel and flavor of exotic fair, of places on far in which to photograph? As you pour over the many books and magazines loaded with breath taking landscapes, interesting details, folklore, candids of the natives, you wonder if you would ever be able to go there yourself on an excursion of self discovery. Would you have to fly half way around the world, a quarter, or any other fraction there of? Remember, what seems exotic and unusual to the tourist, is common place, every day to the locals. It all depends on your point of view.
If you keep a few common premises in mind that is true no matter where you live in the world, you will be able to find rich subject matter to photograph. These premise are, that there is only one sun in the sky, that rises in the east and sets in the west, that there are weather patterns, seasons, storms, no matter where you live in the world. What it requires is the same for all great photographs, a point of view, desire, discipline, hard work, careful planning, and getting out of bed early enough to be at the location you want at least one hour before sunrise and staying long past sunset.
Familiarity is key, by exploring your backyard, your state, the parks, seashores, old buildings, historic sites, extensively and repeatedly over the course of time, years, seasons, weather conditions, keeping notes, mental or written, the landscape will reveal itself to you. The point is, you have to be out there and in position when those magical moments happen, because they can happen at almost anytime, no matter where you live in the world. The more times you visit a spot, the better your chances. You also have to be ready to shoot and know how to interpret what you're seeing and translate it into a finished, successful photograph that says what you want to say.
One most recent example is the cover photograph on the 2002 Down the Shore Lighthouse calendar of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. This location is about 20 minutes from my home in NJ. I used to work there summers for the National Park Service during college and have gone there many, many times with the intention of making publishable photographs but never found such a rare and glorious site as: "A Rainbow in December!"
It was a lazy dreary Sunday afternoon and I was looking for something to do, so I decided to take a drive to "The Hook" and see what there was to see. Fortunately, I decided to grab (but have not always done so) my 4x5-view camera and bag. A cold front was coming through, it was breezy and getting chilly. I scouted around the park for possibilities, and settled on the "same o same o,"?the lighthouse. Yaaaawwwnnn, I need some variety in my subjects, was running through my mind. I set up, composed a few shots, but did not expose any film. The sky was pretty much over cast and I thought of leaving to go to Twin Lights Historic Site, 5 minutes away. But, I decided to stay, thinking there would be no difference. Besides, I was just looking for a little change of scenery to pass the time.
I broke down the camera, got in the car and waited, turned on some classical music and did a little reading. After awhile, I looked to the horizon, there was a break in the clouds coming. A window of sunlight would soon open up. Still not expecting anything special, I set up and waited and waited and?the first rays of sun hit the top of the tower. A telephoto lens close up was good; a few frames shot off. Then the sky over the lighthouse darkened and a few sprinkles hit the camera, just be patient, I thought, and waited longer?.Then ... and ?.. THEN!... AND?.. THEN !!!!!!!!! WOW !!!!!!!!!!! THIS INCREDABLE RAINBOW WAS FORMING?RIGHT OVER THE TOWER!!!!!! I started with a wide angel shot, then changed lenses and moved closer. This rainbow was incredible! It was just not going to quit! I was able to get off a sequence of 3 different views before it was all over.
A moment in time like that is what I call a "Once in Eternity" opportunity, when all the elements of time, weather and circumstance come together and the landscape reveals its sublime glory. It has about the same chances of happening again as there are of finding identical snowflakes. Sure, there will be rainbows over Sandy Hook, NJ in the future. But will they appear as intensely dramatic, will they appear as a rarity in December, in winter, will they appear right over the lighthouse, and most importantly, will a skillful photographer be there to interpret it?
WOW! Some of you are extremely philisophical and poetic thinkers - guess I must be a simpleton .....
I take photographs because I like to take photographs. Wheter they are of my favorite subjects - Civil War Battlefields - or of some interesting (to me) subject that happens to be in my own backyard. I happen to live in the Detroit Metropolitan area, and as such, am in very close proximity to some of the largest, and most modern automotive manufacturing plants in the world. Additionally, there are more than a few decaying artifacts of what was at one time, a world-class manufacturing facility - for example, Henry Ford's Highland Park plant where the world came a knockin' en masse for a $5.00 daily wage .....
Only recently, have I discovered the beauty (to me) of these behemoths, and will (as soon as I become halfway proficient with my new Ebony RW45) go on "assignment". The client in this case (as it is with every case in my situation) is myself. My involvement with photography is a very personal one. I have never made a dime on any photograph - although I may eventually considering what I spent recently on my RW45 and Fujinon 90, 150, 240 & 300 mm lenses!
Regards - Bob
I used to work with a guy that thought it was stupid of me to enjoy photography. He claimed that all the pictures had already been taken. There was nothing left! He then went on to tell me he had always wanted to be a writer. I didn't tell him to forget it because all the words had been used before. I have been published quite a few times. He hasn't. If what we are doing isn't art, it sure is enjoyable. I enjoy being alone, appreciating nature. Photography just gives me an excuse to go roaming in the forest by myself. No, not everything I photograph turns into a great piece of art. I enjoy it, what is wrong with that? Chris, a lot what I feel are my best photographs have never been published. A lot of my run of the mill photographs have been. Publishers don't seem to want anything different from what is and has been successful in the past. I'll admit it, I have been guilty of not making a photograph I felt I wanted to. I'd tell myself that it wouldn't sell anyway so why bother. I had forgotten why I had gotten involved in photography in the first place. Due to the annoyance of dealing with publishers and everyone else that seemed to want something for nothing, I gave up on photography completely for several years. I have started again just recently. This time, it is just for me. I may never try to sell anything again. Chris, don't judge others if we don't meet your standards of what you feel a photographer should be. If it makes us happy, isn't that what matters? Some people enjoy climbing mountains. Is that wrong because they don't come away from a mountain as an artist? They had fun doing it!
Walter....For years I had listened to the 'Girl from Ipanema', and had loved 'Black Orpheous' the first time I saw it, but for years I said, I don't know anything about Brazil, and its 5,600 miles away. One particular year I just said to myself, I don't know anybody there, but I'm going. One of the best decisions of my life, once you go, you never stop going.
I've gotten into these 'to be or not to be' discussions around here, and some 'butt ugly' discussions which I thouroughly dislike, but what I like about Brazil is what I really like about life, living simply, doing what you'd like to do, and having as many laughs as you can while you're.
There is love and hate and poverty in Brazil, but not a lot of mean spiritness, deviousness, or peoples with chips on their shoulders. Most Brazilians are looking for a smile, a joke, a laugh, and they just live life without a lot of 'moodyness', 'depression', and 'soul searching'. Most Brazilians are good natured, friendly, and will split their last beer with you.
They smile and laugh and 'good nature' their way through life, and its infectous. I know people who went to Brazil and didn't come back, they were so mind blown by the place. There certainly is poverty, it isn't club med, but there is a spirit there strength there despite what they don't have. People will make do with whatever they have.
There is only the rich and the poor, and not really a middle class in Brazil, which is why Carnaval is so big in Brazil, because during Carnaval you are equal with everyone else no matter what you do or have. During Carnaval you're judged on whether you can smile or laugh, and after being around all the high spirits you feel your feet lifting a couple of inches off the ground.
But don't ge me wrong, anytime you go is the right time, and I'm suggesting that it's a good destination for anybody to check out how to really live no matter what your problems or dilemmas. Life is so simple in Brazil, and that's its attraction, it's too hot to go around grumpy, mean, hating yourself or others.
It's just not good for the soul, it's photo-op heavan. There are Afro-Brazilians who are as black as the ace of spades with blue and green and hazel eyes, blonde hair, every type of shade and color and mix you can imagine. There is a large German community, the biggest population of Japanese outside of Japan are located in Brazil. Classic cars that have been long gone here, are still put-putting around some parts of Brazil.
Here in the west coast of the states a lot of people walk around with that 'leave me the hell alone' look, you don't have that in South America and Brazil, people will walk up to and start talking to you like they've known you for twenty years. If you're lost, have trouble making change, need help, a brazilian will likely show up with asking, and help you.
I love the place, because people there know how to live and enjoy life, period. I go every chance I get, because of how good it makes me feel, and because its exotic and photogenic everywhere. I just think you can get too serious about life, myself included, and I recommend traveling to South America on how to get back in touch with just enjoying life.
Walter...I hope I can live long enough to see all of South America and it's people and places.
John P. Ginneyheister
There is a difference between stealing beauty and creating it. When photographers learn to create beauty rather than steal it, they become true artists. Until then, they are just a bunch of wannabes.
One of my favorite comments about photography, which I think could be said in response to your statements, was made by John Szarkowski. "The simplicity of photography lies in the fact that it is very easy to make a picture. The staggering complexity of it lies in the fact that a thousand other pictures of the same subject would have been equally easy." I've always liked that. As applied to your statements about everyone doing the same thing, what Mr. Szarkowski's statement means to me is that everyone isn't doing the same thing and in factit's virtually impossible for everyone to do the same thing even if he or she tried. I could plant my tripod exactly where Ansel Adams planted his for one of his great photographs and I could make literally thousands of photographs that were different from his and from each other, just from that one spot.
In response to Wes, I am lucky, for I still make photographs of the things that interest me and then see if any of them are worth something to others.
For Chirs, I understand what you are saying, nature photography seems to be the overwhelming use for "artistic" phtography. But if we look close at that premise, I think that seems to be the case because most photo publications dedicate a large portion of content to the genre. The general public excepts landscape and nature as the most popular use of the medium because of the packaging of Ansel Adams and to a lesser extent Weston. If you want a reproduction of a photograph in poster form what do people see? Adam's Moonrise, Half Dome, Clearing Winter Storm, Aspens etc. I don't see to many Ralph Gibson, Robert Frank, Eugene Smith, Brett Weston, Robert Adams, Winnogard, Evans, White, Siskind, Clark, Bullock, Heinecken, Brandt posters and calanders.
There are those who are pushing the boundries or at least exploring other genres. Most of it goes on with other formats, I think Large Format has become synonomous with landscape for a lot of people. That is why I first purchased a LF. But I think those who are dedicated to improving thier craft explore many other avenues of expression. To Steve Simmons credit, he presents quite a few in View Camera. But I know people upon learning that a print I made of old cars from the 40s placed along a river bank for erosion control was made with an 8x10 change the conversation from the content and compostion of the print to "why waste an 8x10 tranny, couldn't you have gotten it with 35mm?"
Photography or Art?
Although I am a painter and photographer I have great difficulty defining what is, and what is not 'Art'. The following are my personal observations and definately not a difinitive answer to the question.
When I am wearing my photographer's hat (not wide brimmed or literally you understand!) most of my work is nature and horticulture and although I take great pains to achieve a pleasing composition, with good lighting and a technically competent photograph, I would not describe the result as 'Art'. They are photographs pure and simple.
When wearing my artist's smock (again not literally, please believe me!) the paintings I produce are very personal statements exhibited in art galleries and as such I would not argue if they were described as 'Art'. "Works of Art" suggest that they are of great importance which thank God is not for me to decide!
However, if still wearing the smock I decide not to use oil or water colours and choose to use photographic media to produce an artwork and subsequently exhibit the result in an art gallery, again I would have no objection if the result was described as 'Art'.
When I do a search on the web, for 'Art Photography' most of the results turn out to be large format scenic or nude photographs, a lot of which are in black and white.
Is a photograph taken with a large format camera 'Art'?
Is a photograph of a nude 'Art'?
Is a scenic photograph 'Art'?
Is a black and white photograph 'Art'?
My answer to all the above.... probably not.
However, I have seen photographs taken on various formats, in colour and in black in white, of scenes, nudes and all manner of subjects that I would not hesitate to describe as 'Works of Art'! Photographs of great importance.
Chris, I feel you were trying to bring forth a sincere discussion in regards to the landscape as art and subject matter in photography. I will try to keep my comments brief as I could ramble on and on about this since it is a topic close to my heart. Firstly, you seem to have come to the conclusion (if I understand your statements correctly) that many individuals are photographing pristine landscapes in a similar fashion, style, technique etc. Because so many are out there doing it, and have done it for years and years it should no longer be considered as an artistic subject. You seem to think this somehow invalidates such images as having artistic value and can only be thought of as "pretty" pictures. I do agree with you that there are many seemingly similar and repetitive images of landscapes, but the same can be said of most any photographic subject, be it portraits, still life, nudes, street photography etc. I personally don't seek out the exact same places other photographers have been to but even if I do wind up in Yosemite, which is A. Adams territory it does not mean I can not and should not photograph there. Chris, you state that people are missing the whole point of art but I disagree. Just because a photographic image does not break some new ground showing us the world in a new light in which hasn't been done before does not invalidate it as art. Personally, I do differentiate the various landscape images out there, for I don't view everyone as a successful one. But when I see landscape images which employ good composition, interesting lighting, color if not b/w and is skillfully crafted I am often finding myself drawn into it. Part of the reason is because I think art is in the eye of the beholder. What one sees as art, another may see as garbage. Art can be pretty or gritty, it can be of familiar subjects or seldom seen ones, it can come in all sorts of shapes and forms. If you find these landscape images as inartistic, it might be because you just don't relate to the subject. When I lived in the city of Chicago and attended college there I took some photography courses and found my choice of subject matter, the landscape, in the minority. I felt I wasn't taken seriously because I wasn't trying to "push the envelope" in my choice of subject. I truly believe these individuals who looked down on me simply couldn?t relate to the images I took because they were so distant from the subject. They were city dwellers who were only interested in the doings of other people in the city. This is fine, but it doesn't mean anything outside that couldn't and shouldn't be considered as art. The natural landscape has become a lifelong love for me. I found myself taking vacations to various national parks and wilderness areas, going to state parks and driving for hours on the weekends trying to find places that haven't become farmland or paved over with most of the natural processes and other living things being wiped out. (Although I did and do at times photograph such things.) This love of the natural world has brought me to the Pacific Northwest so I can live closer to such places and have more access to them. I did try photographing in my "back yard", for Chicago is a large city with much to offer. But over and over I found myself going back to the more natural landscape as subject matter. I can't speak for other photographers but for me it is simply a love of the land and a connection I feel in my inner core to the land when out there photographing away from the noise and fast pace of urban life. It satisfies a yearn to try to be more in tune with this planet we call home. Chris, instead of telling people that they should abandon landscapes as subject matter, maybe start a discussion on how to make it more relevant to others, how to expand on it's interpretation photographically and how to keep it a serious subject matter which I think it is and really deserves. And for those interested in this one place to start, if you can find a copy is with a book called Between Home and Heaven. Contemporary American Landscape Photography. published in 1992. Best regards, Saulius Eidukas (Portland, OR)
Really their is a old saying...
"there is nothing new under the sun"
If you look into such things as Jazz they still play the same old things these days as when they started out many years ago. Nothing really has changed except the gear they play it on.
I'm from Australia and yes we have the same thing happening here, 1,000,000 pics of Ayres Rock. but theior is still a sense of calmness around that rock, the light is different everytime, the seasons bring different looks, eg Spring with lots of rain bring the wildflowers etc etc.
And the general public still like looking at the same well know areas.
If I ever get to America i'll be in those well known spots not to copy someone elses image but to create my own and really that is art. It maybe the same scene but we all see it different. And that's what makes one artist different than the next
I would just like to THANKS all the contributors and Chris for this excellent discussion. No nuts and bolts, just good creative input. Though I think the gentleman with the new Ebony camera should not wait until he becomes proficient before exploring his favorite location. Photographers should just go out and quite beating around the bush. Either just take your new camera right out into the field and work with it, or take what you are proficient at go work with that equipment. DOn't waste time! Photography is time.
For me, photogaphy is proactive, get out there and expose film, you see something that strikes you, don't stand there and try to do a self Freudian analization as to why. Just shot the damn thing the best way you can. Then develope it and print what you want. If you accomplish what you set out to do, GREAT, analyze why! If you failed, so what, analyze why. No one has to see your failures but you, and only as long as they stay out of the garbage can. Or maybe you do have something good and you just do not realize it yet. Then file it away and look at it in a month or a year or two. You may then discover you do have something worth while to print.
My feeling is, if you cannot find interesting subject matter to inturpret in your own backyard, then chances are you will have trouble in somebody elses.
I have the impression that many large format photographers are in fact in love with their equipment, and that taking photographs is merely a celebration of this love. Which easily leads to calendar photography.
Nobody marries a woman they DON'T like, nobody wears clothes they DON'T like, nobody paints with brushes they DON'T like, and nobody keeps a camera that they can't stand.
I am unabashedly and insanely in love with my 810MII, and if they could graft a butt onto my camera, my wife would be in serious trouble. If somebody picked some of my work to put on a Calender I would feel fortunate as hell.
Yes Jon, nobody would bear with the hell of working with a LF camera if not in l ove with the tools. Any skilled craftsman likes his tools and if you look at the life of some great photographer s, they were very aware of their cameras and techniques. A.A. is the perfect example. He played of his camera lik e he played piano. Of course, if the tools are an important part in the process of expressing ones skills and creativity, the tools alone do not make the craftsman and there are certainly some out there who like the cameras m ore than what can be accomplished with them. Nothing wrong! Some collect cars, other collect cameras! But getting caught in worshipping gear is certainly a risk for any serious photographer and can divert from the pursut of ones vision and become a trap. My good friend and Master Emil Salek used to hammer this to m e: "Paul, get rid of all your lenses (or give them to me) and keep only one. Then get the most of that one len s until you master the sense of composition, shapes and volumes. Throw away your crutches and face the world with your own vision. Make photographs that are yours and not so and so's!" I must admit that even if I did n't like it at first, his words made sense! (If you'd like to know, I did not give my lenses to him... Oh, just one! which did not suit my shooting style anyway. Maybe I should have ;-)
I did not ask Paul to give me his lenses! I already have hem all! But I see that Paul would like to involve me in the discussion. Well, I am at this very moment bitching on my Calumet C1 because it has no depth of field at the 2:1 ratio (like any 8x10 in general), which I would badly need to shoot that beautiful close up that I can see on my GG and I first have to get that shot before I come back here. I also sometimes say that it is more important to practice than to talk.
Paul if you have any other lenses that do not suit your style I will be glad to help you and take them..:-)).
Seriously now, is it really in love with the gear or in love with the big negative? For myself I'm really not that much in love with equipment. Although I do belive to get the best available I can afford simply because there is nothing like having the right tool for the job, I really do not mind if I own an Ebony or a Gandolfi, I think with both you can make beautiful prints. I think most LF photographers are still in awe of the big beautiful negative and the tonality and texture they can exhibit.
Calendar Photography? I doubt AA had calendars in mind when he was shooting. But his calendar is probably one of the most popular. I buy one every year, inspite of the many complimentary calendars I get from buying publishers. Shooting for calendars is like shooting for a commercial client, it pays the bills.
Yes Paul....I know better, but like my beautiful wife, this camera was one of the few things I've gotten that was even better having, than getting.
This is a long thread, but interesting. I'll read the rest of the answers later but.......Had a fabulous time in Death Valley today with the 5X7 and the 8X10. Made about 12 images just like you described except probably not as good as a whole bunch of other folks might do! I had a fabulous time! Ebem if I ripped the film out of the holders and threw it away. I enjoy the process enough, just being there and doing them that I'm "Paid in full."
This is something I've given a lot of thought to though. And I know you're basically right. And it's getting worse not better with the whole digital thing. At least they can put a show of Ansul's stuff together and say well this is the same but different. With digital they'll really all be the same!! Perfectly the same, and samely perfect! So what do we do?? I recall a couple of years ago wanting to know what some judges comments were on a submission for a grant. It was the same predictable "nice, but doesn't push the envelope..."
Then on the other hand I've frequented galleries where the "avant guarde" are pushing the envelope. Sorry, I'm not gonna make pictures of a person that has both female breasts and a penis. And a whole lot of other stuff that is even more wierd than that.
So what to do? What I want, mostly, whether there's any market or reception or not! People are still buying "Box-Car Willie" at K-Mart aren't they. In fact, though the thought is awful, whoever owns that crap is making a lot more money on it than most jazz piano players. That doesn't make it good, it just establishes there are other markets than "leading edge." I don't really want to be the "Box-Car Willie" of photographers, but I don't care to push the envelope out beyond disgusting and vile just to push the envelope.
Now I'll go back and finish reading all the other posts! Thanks for the good topic. I also get tired of "which side do the notches go on when you load these things?"
Don't be certain about what was on Ansel's mind when he was shooting. Throughout the period he was shooting his best stuff (pre-Hasselblad and pre-circa 1952) Ansel was shooting much of his stuff on commercial assignment for Yosemite Curry Company, Arizona Highways etc. Then, of course, there were his great propoganda photos he did with Dorothea Lange which were dropped over Japanese territory from military aircraft.
A point that is often lost when considering the legacy of many of the 'past masters', and 'present-day masters' for that matter, is that were (are) WORKING photographers.
Cheers, ... Walter
I found the answer from Saulius Eidukas to be the most interesting. I think that everybody is an artist if he loves what he is doing. Art for me is a way of looking, and seeing the world. Some of us can see it in a new way - they are geniuses, big artists. Most of us see it "normaly", in a more common way. In a world of photography it means that most of us take the pictures that show how, exactly, the things are looking like (shots are pin sharp from front to back, with nice light, etc.). I found that the most creative landscape photographers are in Scandinavia. It seems like they are "playing" with the camera and nature. (I'm not from Scandinavia). Because most of readers of this forum come from America, you will probably don't like me and that what I'm going to write now: It is very boring to look at most of landscape photographs from America. You have a very beautiful country, but how long can I look at hundreds of pictures of "delicate arch", "colorado canion", "bla bla canion", etc.? It seems for me like almost everyone of you have the same secret book titled "From where and when, and with what lens you can take an outstanding picture of America's landscape". I found only few landscape photographers from America, who photograph east of America, and these pictures were more interesting for me than "canions". There won't be a second Ansel Adams, so leave the "canions" and look around your home. May be some of you will become a genius?
My feelings about Chris' question have migrated to the very specific and the very general.
The general first: most people are not innovators. Whether it's physics, photography or football, most people simply follow the herd. They are happy doing so, and will fight tooth and nail to avoid the responsibility of being first, best, or different. That's human nature and there's not a lot a point getting bunched up about it.
The specific: my own nature photography is highly conventional, but I look upon it as reflecting my interest in nature, not my interest in photography. When I go into the wilderness I am a hiker who photographs, not a photographer who hikes, and I show my images to other hikers, not to other photographers.
As for art, I think it is important to keep in mind that what photographers call 'art photography' is very different from what artists call 'art photography'. The gap between the two is one of the reasons why fine art nature photography can get away with its relative lack of originality in subject matter, as well as an accepted style of presentation which admits only a miniscule emotional range.
It is true that some nordic photographers are consciously and deliberately trying to move away from this, as a reaction against NANPA-rules fantasies about untouched nature and how we should react to it. Hans Strand, Jan-Peter Lahall and Jan Tove are three who are fairly widely published, and close enough to the mainstream that they can't be dismissed as naked emporers. Personally though, I think the filmmakers have the edge these days when it comes to innovative approaches to nature, but that's a long way from LF.
oi Johnathan, ja sei muito bem essa aspieto do Brasil-- foi la mais de diez veces (mais nunca aprendi como escrever portugues-- disculpa...).
~chris jordan (Seattle)
Boa tarde Chris, como vai isso? Queria a fala Portequese muito melhor! Fico em Brasil uma semana para Carnaval. Meu escrever esta pior!
Yes Chris I speak laughing Brazilian and the Brazilians laugh, incidently I found out the hard way the first time I went, they call it Brazilian.
Brasil, e muito lindo! Chris, O que eacha do pais/das pessoas? Adeus mi amigo.
Thanks for the response. No I do not know for sure, what went through AA's mind when shooting. The juggeling of commercial and pure artistic is difficult and the cross overs common place. Seperating the two is sometimes impossible. I personally take a strict view of the two; commercial work is when I shoot with someone else in mind, what will others think. Pure artistic expression is when I shoot to please myself, regardless of what others think.
Hi Folks, I am tone deaf and can?t speak Brazilian, but I want to put my two penneth anyway.
In my opinion Chris is partially correct in what he says ? although every image is unique there is much of a muchness about many photographs including, but not restricted to landscapes. Check out the stock image catalogues and you will see that many wildlife and portrait shots are repeated ad nauseum. Indeed it must be increasingly difficult for anyone to break into stock photography unless they supply images that portray modern fashions ? state of the art sports goods or clothing, etc. When one photo library has 15,000 images of wolves on its books why do they need any more? Why are photographers still disturbing fragile species in the hope of photo sales when others already have the same images?
For us amateurs it boils down to why you take the photograph? Some photographers are like birdwatchers ? they follow in the footsteps of their heroes and tick off the images for themselves. Others, like Q T and Jim Galli enjoy the experience of actually being out there overcoming the challenges of converting the image viewed onto emulsion. Photographs are memories and in that respect it does not matter whether the subject is hackneyed ? it is a personal possession.
Personally I try to make my images as original as possible by seeking out new viewpoints. I regularly visit Staithes, Nth Yorkshire (the place where Captain James Cook RN first worked) a tiny village haunted by pro? photographers all year round. Despite the host of images taken within this restricted environment and regularly published in the photo press I have several which I believe may be unique. I have another image of a water mill that was taken within a few yards of the well worn spot where every other visiting photographer stands that gives a vastly different perspective of the scene.
As for ?Art?. Well, I never pretend to understand it. The promoters of the Kobal portrait awards and those who claim that an unmade bed, dead sheep or empty room is a ?statement? may be right. Then again they may just be creating controversy for publicity purposes.
Well, that?s it except to say thank you to all the contributors who have enlightened my sparse knowledge of LF photography and did n?t make too much fuss when I finally settled on the half way house option of a 2x3 monorail!
I feel that if you keep just keep shooting until you discover your visual passions, work at it with a sense of personal integrity (e.g. compose images in a way that serves the piece, versus blatantly copying someone else), and just keep plodding along, eventually you'll have art that you'll be proud of. A unique identity will emerge on its own. No worries! I bet there will always be *someone* who will enjoy your stuff!
Que gostoso ver alguma coisa escrita em brasileiro neste forum. Adorei, e aproveitem !!
Grasshopper he say "Art is more than decoration and recreation "
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