View Full Version : Looking For A Few Good Landscapes
Hello! At the risk of sounding too simplistic, I'd like to submit this for your consideration: An architect once defined a successfully designed building as o ne that would attract people walking by, inticing them to enter even if they had no reason to enter, as if the building were a place where people would want to be. OK so I guess the guy didn't design prisons, but transferring this concept to landscape photography, do you think a successful landscape would be a photo t aken somewhere a viewer would, deep down inside, like to be standing and seeing the sight a photographer captured on film? Do you think this would make a succe ssful landscape or is it too simplistic to consider? What are your thoughts?
Good question. To me, a great landscape is one that I can "lose myself" in, one that gives the feeling that I am not just looking at a picture but that I am actually there. It has to have all the ingredients - light, shade, depth, texture etc.
A good photograph of a landscape needs to fulfill the same criteria as a good photograph of anything else: first it must be a good picture. It has nothing at all to do with whether a viewer would like to be there or not. And what makes a good picture? That's another question enntirely, a question that has nothing to do with subject matter. As I have said in the past, "It is how one sees rather than what one sees that makes any photograph interesting." Many can photograph in the same place, but only very few will make good pictures there. In each case the subject will be the same, but it is how that subject is seen that determines whether it is a good picture or not.
Michael A. Smith
I completely agree that different photographers can shoot from the same location and each will see it differently, and that some photographers---successful ones I guess---can convey their own feelings toward a time and place more successfully than others, but I find that those feelings are more often than not universal, which explains the wide appeal of the likes of Ansel Adams etc... but it doesn't explain other photographers who make the mundane, everyday views many take for granted(or find offensive) and turn them into treasures every bit as successful as say, Glacier Point. Perhaps it is the vision of the photographer that can make the everyday 'on par' with the National Park icons. Toshio Shibata's retaining walls come to mind. When I see one of his photos, I think that I'd really like to be seeing this image in person---same feeling I get when I see Ansel Adams shot of Vernal Falls or Atget's Paris. I guess what I'm wondering is, is this feeling universal among those who find something deeper when looking at pictures? If I am set up at a place I really enjoy being at---in spite of wind, snow, snakes or whatever-- -and if I can convey that sense on film and in my prints---can I or should I expect that a viewer will feel (or maybe feel) the same freshness---interest---serenity(insert you own words here)---that I feel when taking the photo? Or, maybe I just have too much time on my hands!
John: you ask fundamental questions which merit good discussion. Here is my take: Human beings are very diverse, so diverse that what appeals to one may cause disgust to another. I remember once seeing a first price being awarded at a major Photographers society conference. Had someone genereously offered the print I would have quickly thrashed it. To my eyes it was UGLY and without any redeeming features. Evidently not to everyone. Add to this the fact that art judges like to show their preeminence by being different. That sets them aside, they think, as being superiously endowed. Yes, there are times when admiring a photograph I wish I could be there where it was taken, but not always, as I know that photographs capture a fleeting moment which may never again appear quite identically. Commercial success does depend on others liking your work. If that is important to you then market research on what people buy is also important. More than anything, I think a photographer must search within him/herself and take measure of his inner satisfaction with a picture, much more than worry about what others think. That is not to say you cannot learn from people whose talent and knowledge you respect, only that ultimately, you alone can judge your own fulfillment.
If I am set up at a place I really enjoy being at---in spite of wind, snow, snakes or whatever-- -and if I can convey that sense on film and in my prints---can I or should I expect that a viewer will feel (or maybe feel) the same freshness---interest---serenity(insert you own words here)---that I feel when taking the photo?
Not at all, John.
Although it is the reality of the subject before you that captures your attention, the feeling one has while photographing is determined by myriad factors. The physical reality before you?the very real three- dimensional space, the light, the colors, the sounds, the smells, the weather?is of course a major factor. Of the others, some are more or less stable, such as one?s world view and the general state of one?s psyche and health. Other factors are more fleeting, such as the time you have available (it is hard to be calm and contemplative when rushed, whether by quickly changing light or the need to be somewhere else), the other people who may be present, your dreams from the night before, or a conversation you may have just had. All of these factors contribute to determining your mood, which in turn may affect how you feel about what is before you.
Speaking for myself : Realizing the absolute impossibility of trying to create for others and to recreate for myself, in a two-dimensional black and white photograph, the feeling of the multi-faceted experience of having been at the scene photographed, my goal when making photographs is simply to make the best picture I can and thereby to provide, both for myself and for the viewer, a new experience?one of the photograph itself.
One can only photograph the specific. But through the specific the universal may be reached. That will happen to the extent that one is, within oneself, in contact with the universal. One will see it in the specific. In that way the photograph may become more than what it is a picture of and be something more. One doesn't try to do this any more than one tries to get one's feelings in the photograph. The feelings are there (or not) and the connection to the universal will be there (or not) and it is best not to think about any of that and to concentrate instead on making the best pictures one can.
I think a few miscellaneous rare people might NOT want to be at the place, if they enjoy the landscape, but not the average person. Most see, then want what they see if they liked it. Lets not overcogitate this. Its that bloody simple. In other words, yes.
Show people a nice landscape and invariably the words are "ooooh, where IS that". That isnt an idle question. Our most popular natural sights are also the most photographed. That isnt a coincidence.
Its why I usually dont reveal where I shoot my few landscapes, and why I decided never to sell to calendars and such. People dont get it. Why would I show them something and then not tell them how to get there?
........the feeling of the viewer that "he wants to be there, experiencing that moment" is one an argument I have heard used by critics that trash color landscape. The local art critic for the major newspaper in this cowtown once likened virtually all color landscape to pornography in that, like pornography "the viewer wants to be there/ or to possess the moment depicted."
I find it interesting that he did not group B&W landscape in the same category as color.....either the viewer desires to be in/and or possess the moment depicted in a monotone less than one in color......or (maybe) he feels the monotone abstracts the moment enough to keep viewers from getting sexually excited.
Of course this kind of snobbery ignores the possibility that the artist has vision and created an image with power, albeit with color materials. Certainly he classifies the feeling of "wanting to be there" (when viewing art) as a markedly less pure reaction than.....well, other feelings, I would guess.......
So, if ya'll look at an image and think, "god thats beautiful, wish I could have seen it happen" SHAME ON YOU, YOU PERVERT. (John, we won't tell...it'll be our dirty little secret.) http://georgestocking.com
DOes the subject , the landscape really matter? Yes. But what matters most? As someone stated before is the ability of the artist to translate the "visualization" in silver. I have in mind some pictures of artists like Stieglitz , images of non particularly beautiful places , by landscape photographers standards, that have become classics because of the ability of the photographer to "channel" his or her vision succesfully on the paper. Beauty is everywhere, it takes a sensitive eye to isolate it and show it to the world. To look with courage, not with gimmics.....
How about the "landscapes" of Robert Adams? Nothing beautiful there; definitely not a place I'd like to be. But the second half of Lewis Hine's dictum: Two things to be photographed, things to be appreciated and things to be changed.
I think the criterion you mention--the observer of the photograph wanting to be there--describes a successful postcard or travel article illustration, both, of course, important forms of landscape photography. To me, however, a successful l andscape that goes beyond that level, really shows me things I might not have no ticed at all had I been there. Things like this might include: how particular sh adows fall into interesting patterns at a particular time of day, the dramatic c urve of a particular tree branch against a blurred background, or the way the cu rve of a little waterfall echoes the curve of a tree limb overarching it when se en from a particular angle. Seems to me that our job as landscape photographers is to make the natural world interesting even to people who may have already sto od more or less exactly where we stood but who didn't see what we saw. Therefore the tools we have that allow us to emphasize and isolate pattern are extraordin arily important. These include such things as longer focal length lenses, exposu re techniques like the zone system, and chemical or digital darkroom manipulatio n.
I think most of you have define the issue very deeply. I view photography on the following basis 1) simplicity of the image 2) what will make the viewer ask him/herself what was the photographer thinking when taking the photo relatively to space, time, mood etc. Of couse light, texture, angle, shadows being constant. Serenity is for tourism commecial and art is about the powerful emotions the object conveys.
HEY! What's a landscape photographer?
I should have qualified my response to color landscapes. I think B&W landscapes can have a different effect, not necessarily stimulating the "I must go there" response.
What wonderful input! I thank you all for your efforts to clarify this issue. When I show one of my landscapes to someone, I feel like a little kid saying "I want to show you something!" Why? To share a place and moment in time, even with a complete stranger. If that stranger can feel even a little of my enthusiasm for the print in front of him/her then I think the photo is successful, and the stranger not really such a stranger after all. I guess to ask for any more is unrealistic, but when I see a dynamic landscape, be it a craggy peak or retaining wall along a japanese highway, I'm still going to think "man, I wish I could be there!
When I show one of my landscapes to someone, I feel like a little kid saying "I want to show you something!" Why? To share a place and moment in time, even with a complete stranger.
John,just be clear that the place you are sharing is the spot where you are when you have this encounter with person you are showing your photograph to, and the moment in time you are sharing is the moment of the encounter with this person.
To paraphrase Weston "...here is the thing, to photograph a tree, have it be a tree, and yet, have it be more than a tree." It took me a long time to realize what he was saying, but I think that I finally understand. I feel that a successful landscape photograph somehow "involves" the viewer. If it gets the person to ask questions about where it was, how it was done, or even why, I think that it becomes successful.
IMO the most succesful prints I have seen are those that made me stop and say WOW!!! No need to want to be there, no special or particular reason, they just had that extra "thing" that made all the elements in the print fit perfectly to create a stunning whole.....as I write this I remember the first time I saw an exhibition by Paul Caponigro, go check one of his prints and you will know what a landscape should be like.
The image that makes the viewer say,"I want to go there", is a failure. The image that takes the viewer there and beyond to what the photographer saw and felt, is a success.
That's about what I said, about the feeling that you are there somehow. Wanting to be there is not a criterion. I like pictures of snow swept mountains. The craggier the better. Do I want to be there? No, I hate being frozen. It's the strength of the picture itself. There are occasionally "industrial" landscapes for lack of a better term, that are downright unsettling and creepy. Wanna be there? Again the answer is no. But, they get a response. That gut response, before having time to analyze makes them a success.
I find these lines at the end of Jack Gilbert's poem, "Poetry is a Kind of Lying":
Degas said he didn't paint what he saw, but what would enable them to see the thing he had.
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