Landscape photography - ethics and approaches
A recent (wonderful) gallery post by Bill Scwab got me thinking about regular visits to the same location:
I am strongly attracted by the idea of visiting locations over the years in all lights and seasons, and building up a body of work that attempts to covey the 'meaning' of a place rather than simply taking some pictures and moving on. I like the idea of rhythm and the idea that some places have a 'presence' that goes beyond a 'nice view', and try to work in a way that takes account of this. I've been doing a series on a particular beach over the years for example.
Does anyone else work in this way, and is there a particular value in working like this?
Does anyone have any thoughts on the values and ethics that frame their approach to photographing landscapes, and how this affects the images they produce?
Or am I just waffling away here...!
I think the validity of a body of work comes from familiarity with the subject which usually takes a while. It may even be that there are soooo many reiterations of the icons because they've been pre-digested and 'approved' by being photographed so often. Those who then stick their tripods in the existing holes feel as if they have a long established familiarity with that subject even though they may have just arrived there. But, I don't usually have much interest in their work.
It takes some courage to declare: "this is important to me...that's why I'm making this image", even though no one else has ever done so. It's also why, of all the photo essays from NOLA after Katrina, I much prefer our own Samuel Portera's to the portfolios of others....he lived there! Not landscapes, of course, but a body of work based on knowing the subject intimately.
So....no, IMO, you're not waffling away .
Every time I go to Hawai'i I can probe a little deeper, and what began as a record of one or two visits has become an ongoing project.
My best shots are probably of the area right around where I live, in places that I pass by all the time, thinking about when the light will be best for a photograph I have in mind.
I'm not fond of returning to the same location as I've done it all before. I will only return if I failed the first time. I have a habit of working with an image in my head beforehand and I'll visit the location until I can achieve that.
If you have some emotional sentimental attachment to a particular beach then I can understand why you would return time and time again.
Waffle away, I say!
Sustained commitment to a subject or theme often yields the best, most interesting results. No matter whether it's landscape, portraits, or whatever.
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A year and a half ago I ventured up a seemingly nameless narrow dirt road that split off from the slightly larger "main" dirt road that traverses through a State Park near our home in Copake. It took me up an incline to an large open meadow a few farm houses and outbuildings etc. with a small apple orchard to boot. Beyond was also posted privately-owned fields etc.
Apparently this farmstead abuts the edge of the Park so the road is a public accessway although it ends up at the edge of private lands.
After discovering this idyllic landscape I regularly return there at different times of the year - often when I'm stumped for something to shoot. It is kind of a "fail safe" place to grab a couple of shots.
Posted in my Gallery here are shots of a fence line that I have been shooting up there from time to time.
Now I don't visit this place at specific times over the course of a year - such as to do a "seasonal study"; but I figure that, over time, I will have captured some of its essences and moods.
BTW: Once I discovered the dirt road - I learned its name: High Valley Road.
Thanks so much for the kind words on the photo!
I'll chime in here and say that I don't think you are waffling at at all!
I love to travel and I love to work on the road. However, after doing this awhile, I have come to the realization that my best and most fulfilling work is that done in a landscape with which I have an ongoing relationship. Like a spouse, child or good friend, it grows and blossoms. I see my work as a problem that will, with any luck, take a lifetime to solve and learning to work within the confines of my own environment has been one of the more liberating and valuable experiences I have had as a photographer. I no longer feel the need to go anywhere "special" to work and can therefore practice more. I'm certainly not saying that I can't make good photos outside of my environment, but I do notice that I now feel the need to really get to know a place through repeat visits before I can feel I am doing any justice to the landscape I am exploiting.
Last edited by billschwab; 07-25-2007 at 02:24 PM. Click to view previous post history.
I've been photographing along (and sometimes in) the same stretch of creek for almost 30 years. Never tire of it and never fail to notice a new feeling of light. I have even re-photographed a similar scene when I have changed format (4x5 to 5x7 to 8x10...and when I borrowed an 11x14).
I also return to Yosemite on a semi-regular basis to photograph over the last 20+ years.
So I guess I am a fan of getting to know a place on a personal level in order to photograph it in a way it deserves. But given the opportunity, I do like to explore new places...but my percentage of "keepers" is lower with new places than with the familar.
I spent 3 months hitch-hiking around New Zealand with a 4x5 that had a bad light leak in the back...didn't get much that trip. It took me 5 years to save enough money to return (new 4x5, new bicycle) for a 6-month bike tour. Even though I got almost no usable negs from the previous trip, the experience of creating those images (and printing them in my head as I waited for the next ride) helped me increadibly to take the images on my 6-month adventure.
The knowledge of the light and land from the 3-month trip (and living there as a college student for a year...pre-photography), allowed me a connection to the light and land of New Zealand.
It doesn't always work, though. I have been on several 11 day backpack trips down into the Grand Canyon with my 4x5, and worked there one summer. I still have not gotten many substantial images of the Canyon -- ones that really talk to me about the place and the light there. Part of the problem is that I am not personally into the "grand" landscape -- the sweeping vistas. Perhaps that is the problem...a canyon of that scale might be best expressed that way, and my attempts for a more intimate interpretation of the inner Canyon just don't work.
I think it is a great idea, but there are just too many places that I love to photograph to make it economically feasible. I just can't afford to take multiple trips to the Western MacDonnell National Park in Australia's Northern Territory - a place I absolutely love.
Originally Posted by coigach
Originally Posted by roteague
I suppose that's the advantage of living in a wee country like Scotland! I like travel too, but find that nowhere fires my imagination as much as the Scottish Highlands. Elusive and changeable light only add to the mystery...and don't get me started about the midgies in June-Aug