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Thread: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

  1. #61
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    Hi mmerig - I studied fluvial geomorphology under a relatively young fellow (back then) who went on to set up the Geomorph program at Princeton. We were deemed heretics by the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers because all they wanted to do was stream channelization to get water from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, which is exactly why New Orleans gets flooded over and over again, and the whole Mississippi Delta is eroding away. So it was strictly a research field back then. But now my nephew has a very successful geophysics company based on applied geomorphology. The underlying science is pretty much the same, but now they have all sorts of computer modeling that makes the practical side of it quite efficient and in demand. But I was also a heretic because my main interest concerned the close of the Pleistocene - a lot of periglacial geomorphology; and I was the only one at the time who was convinced - and had distinct evidence - of human migration to the New World mainly via a coastal rather than inland route, and probably a few thousand years earlier than most assumed, or even still assume. That made me a pariah with traditional peck-order archeologists, but brought backing from the geomorphologists who were far more scientific in their approach. But someone had come to the same conclusion twenty years before me, and was not only ostracized and forgotten, but all his research effort only accidentally rediscovered in a garage cleanup in recent years. Now those same ideas have become mainstream, as "smoking guns" slowly continue to turn up. But I never made a career of any of this. The only actual jobs were in the oil fields of either Arabia or the North Slope of Alaska, which didn't appeal to me; and I was fed up with the backward mentality of the academic set back then. A lot has changed; but I keep up with just bits and pieces of it. Now I go out and see a big swath of land with an interesting fenceline up a hill, and eroded old tractor or bulldozer roads, and potentially make a very detailed prints of it from 8X10 film. A city art critic would just turn his nose up, if he even bothers to look at real prints, and would suggest that's it's just another example of a dated genre devoid of contemporary human interest. Those kind of people are functionally blind, stuck in ideological stereotypes. But to me those dilapidated fences and winding old tracks are someone's autobiography. Generations of ranchers lived and died according to those lines on the hills. It sums up their entire lives - a rich human story otherwise forgotten, as well as the story of the land. And all the erosion in between, that I understand as part of the ongoing story. And in certain places you discover bits of chipped stone that tell you, if you have studied the specific subject enough, that someone set foot on those same hills thousands of years earlier, when things might have looked quite different. It's all in the details. Well, I should stop at this point and check out the sky, to see if today has potential too, or if it will just be too rainy again, like yesterday.

  2. #62
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    bthphoto: in a way, I have been involved with a similar project over my photographic lifetime. It takes a while to get to know a Place well enough to form an understanding of the processes and life that created it. Photographing along a section of creek in the redwoods these past 40 years has opened my eyes to such processes...taking a class in redwood ecology by the expert on the subject when I first started to photograph influenced me, also. Forty years is long enough time to see, after a fall of a giant, an opening in the redwoods close back up...to see the fallen redwood slowly become an elevated forest floor. Enough time to have to say good by to 200+ year-old, 80 foot-tall Big Leaf Maples as they age and collapse, to witness changes in the creek, and see the steelhead, salmon and cutthroat swim up from the sea in the winter. And also enough time to notice the fluctuation in trail maintenance funds, impacts from road construction, increases in visitor use and hints of our changing climate. And of course, plenty of time to fall in love with a Place.

    So that is what I am bringing to the viewer -- my exploration, experience, and understanding of the landscape/ecosystem/world through the workings of light. I suppose that when I reach the point of perfect understanding, I can set the camera aside and like the Aborigines, just sit and observe, but I doubt I'll reach that point so I'll keep on taking photographs (but with an increasing desire to be still).

    One way to express a system is to follow it top to bottom -- a classic way is to do that with a watershed with emphisis on the water cycle.

    https://www.amazon.com/San-Joaquin-R.../dp/B000N3VUXK
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

  3. #63
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    I was unaware of that book, Vaughn... what little is left of the San Joaquin, at least. I lived right on the edge of the San Joaquin canyon, with a view right up the canyon (the second deepest on the continent, just behind the Middle Fork of the Kings nearby) to the Ritter Range. The Indians once had huge salmon camps at a couple places on the River nearly. But so little were things like environmental impact reports in existence when the river was "tamed", that this can be explained in a single anecdote. My dad had come from the big dam projects in the Northwest and asked the chief engineer why a salmon ladder could not be installed there too, beside the dam. The engineer thought about it and made an instant decision, "Nobody is going to drive way out here just to go fishing". That's how the whole salmon run for the southern half of the State instantly ended. A few landlocked chinooks still swim around in Mammoth Pool. Most years much of the San Joaquin riverbed down below is totally dry. But during an exceptionally heavy rain year, exactly once in my memory, a single salmon made it all the way up through San Francisco Bay to the dam. So their instinct is still there. Ironically, that's right where the Fish Hatchery is, attempting to mass produce enough trout for the hordes of fishermen.

  4. #64

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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    In the thread starter, the OP asked for ideas which he might use to express his views on the ecology of a place. Staying away from the philosophical musings, I suggest using Google to look up Stephen Wilkes and his "Day to Night" series. His use of photography to capture the passage of time might trigger some creative ideas which the OP could pursue. While a search returns many possible sites (i.e. images and interviews), this article from Shutterbug is an interesting introduction (and points out that, much to my amazement, Wilkes is shooting with a 4x5!) https://www.shutterbug.com/content/h...riginal-images. His own site, https://www.stephenwilkes.com/fine-art/day-to-night shows many of the images in the series.

  5. #65
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    Gosh, I hate those kinds of gimmicks, Peter. I find it the antitheses of real visual contemplation. Every issue of Natl Geo these days is basically gimmickified with such fare, mostly via abuse of the adolescent digital toy mentality. I can understand it as a fun diversion; but it's all so darn shallow. Reminds me of advertising photography - Gotcha imagery. Guess I should clarify that a bit. The idea of trying to put a successive frame time-lapse story into a single fixed frame is interesting, and has been done before. In this case, it's digitally doctored-up for mere surface drama. But I'm a lot more impressed at how the concept of time can be encapsulated in a fixed moment. I think of de Chirico's Pink Tower painting, with a Spanish schoolgirl pushing a hoop on an empty street. Or, musically, Christ Christoferson's "Sunday Morning Sidewalk". These leave a lingering impression based on a single moment, rather than briefly gluing your eye to a temporarily clever technical concoction. Wynn Bullock's long shoreline shots of blurred surf had nuance to them; it wasn't all on the surface like an advertisement seeking an instant payday. But if this kind of thing is what rings true for you, who am I to decide otherwise? I'm just giving my take, and why it doesn't do much for me. Too commercialized in look.

  6. #66

    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    Gosh, I hate those kinds of gimmicks, Peter. I find it the antitheses of real visual contemplation.
    wilkes uses a linhof. - look at his videos. this isn't gimmickery. i like his photographs. he knows how to use the digital medium. it's tough.

    btw. such pictures were painted in renaissance and baroque, as theatrum mundi. studying art and it's history isn't stupid at all. even if you have an opposite opinion, apparently, as you wrote above.

  7. #67
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    Semantics. Maybe if you called it something other than photography, like Fauxtography or imitation painting. But a real painter can do it vastly better, as art history itself abundantly proves. Cameras have a different kind of strength. Yes, just my opinion. I happen to prefer real ice cream to imitation ice milk. Don't worry. It's a good day for me to be grumpy. I wish it would either clear up or outright rain. This flat blank slate sky overhead is my least favorite kind of light for either color or black and white photography. It should make up its mind. I'd prefer to be outside. Finished all my yard chores yesterday.

  8. #68

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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    I'm of the persuasion that it is easy to make things complicated. Sometimes, too complicated.

    Using photography to effect art, and using paints and canvas, etc., to effect art (as with music, stone and hammer, wax and bronze), is a kind of language vehicle, a communication vehicle. The artist uses such vehicles because they say it the best way for him/her. So, necessarily, words aren't the best communication vehicle for this kind of artist. On the other hand, for the poet, words are indeed the best, the only.

    There is a story about Beethoven and Immanuel Kant. Kant was going to give a lecture, and Beethoven's pals urged him to go. He wouldn't; he didn't. Maynard Solomon, writing about this incident, said that for Beethoven, words were clumsy, inadequate, and for him, difficult-to-use vehicles for what he was saying in his art.

    So, I think photography to effect art doesn't need in outdoor locations a foundation or appreciation of ecology, geology, anthropology, etc. (As an ecologist, too, "landscape" means much more to me [scale, for instance] than it does as a modifier, e.g., "landscape photography." To me, it means the artist is working outside.)

    Bruce Birnbaum noted his work was better when he had an emotional connection with the subject. Let's start there.
    Peter Collins

    On the intent of the First Amendment: The press was to serve the governed, not the governors --Opinion, Hugo Black, Judge, Supreme Court, 1971 re the "Pentagon Papers."

  9. #69
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    No thanks. Barnbaum could be too conspicuously theatrical for me at times, image-wise; and non-doctrinaire he certainly wasn't. But I suppose that goes with his "longhair" musical gravitation. Perhaps my dislike of opera is coming to the surface. Or maybe I just didn't appreciate him blowing his top for for simply noting AA's famous image of Mt Willamson from Manzanar wasn't, as Barbaum and many others continued to claim on local workshops. It's a mere bump on the ridge of an unnamed peak. Mt Williamson is plainly visible from there 7 miles to the north - a huge thing thousands of feet higher. Just an anecdote, and I had the advantage of being a local; but illustrative of how art historians and workshop gurus are often full of it. As for all that digitized time lapse imagery previous discussed, it's just way too Disneyland-esque for me, theme-parky. Even when I was a child I had zero interest in going to Disneyland. I was far more content with real cliffs, n caves, n forests, n critters. Still am. Why attempt to gild the lily when all you're going to do is spoil it?

  10. #70

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    Re: Musings on landscape photography from a landscape ecologist's point of view

    Drew, I see the problem. I (and probably some others) actually enjoy classical music, opera, and maybe even ballet (my mother was a professional ballerina who danced all over the world). In other words, what you dislike as “long haired,” some of us gravitate towards.

    I’ve met Stephen Wilkes and discussed his photography with him. He was a professional photographer who transitioned to digital as it took over the professional and commercial world. For him it was an intellectual problem: if he was going to use digital, what did it allow him to do which he couldn’t do with film? His answer was the compression of time into a single image. You may find it artificial or theatrical, but to Wilkes it was expanding an existing form to make use of new tools now available. Like all art, some will like it (I particularly like some of his images which coincide with my interests, such as the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and the Tour de France cyclists rounding the ARc de Triomphe), and some, like you will not. Goes with the territory.

    I only raised his work in response to the OP, who is looking for ideas that will allow him to encompass a number of ecologically related themes or ideas into a single image. Wilkes’s work may give him ideas, or it may not.

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