Well, it's been a while since I wrote anything here (not that anyone even noticed). In the interim, I'm happy to say I have been steadily evolving with my photography as well as my philosophy of it. Small steps to be sure but significant ones nonetheless.
I recently purchased a wonderful book called Examples by Ansel Adams. It’s a remarkably insightful guide for photographers who are interested in understanding the thoughts and visions behind this icon of photography and his monumental works.
What strikes me most about the book is how very valid his principles still remain even in this “quick-results” digital world of modern photography today. It still comes down to the powers of observation and the nuances of understanding about what makes light do what it does and how to capture it in a photograph.
I don't intend to review the book here but I must admit, reading through it, I am horribly tempted to go back to film and, especially, to try my hand at medium or large format. These formats in digital are basically cost-prohibitive for any casual indulgence. One would have to make a serious commitment to venture down that path and perhaps someday I will. For now, I will stick to my Nikon D3 and squeeze as much as I can out of it.
Ansel’s images are provocative but, for me, the most compelling aspect of them is their astounding sharpness and clarity. Personally, I am less interested in his subject matter than I am his composition, tonality and sharpness. Looking over an Adam's landscape is like an amusement park for the eyes. There is so much wonderful contrast and clarity everywhere!
The book has a few places in it that I have both visited and shot myself. However, the images I think I like the most are the ones he took of people! This is just a personal preference as I have taken way too many landscape images myself but I find the images with which I am most fascinated are the ones where a human being is capture in the act of living life.
As I progress in this personal “education,” I have noticed that others along this path see things remarkably different than I do. That might sound like a big “Well, duh!” but it is never quite as obvious as it is when taking pictures of the same things with other photographers. It can actually make you sometimes question whether you were even in the same place as they were. When I've done a shoot with others, I have occasionally heard the question from them, “Where was THAT?!” And the truth was, they were right next to me when I shot it. Mind you, I have often found myself asking them the same question as well.
The point is, photographically speaking, life always happens from the single perspective of the photographer. Even the slightest change in perspective or angle can radically change the look and feel of an image. Making it different as well as interesting is the all consuming task at hand.
For me this all means that the assumptions of quality of camera and lens are nothing when compared to the mind and message of the photographer. Adams is most known for his landscapes but his shots of people were (to me) even more revealing of the man and his perspective of the world.
The odds are that if you take a long hike into the wilderness, eventually you will find yourself in the presence of the glory of Creation which is in the process of some rare transition. It’s everywhere and anywhere you take the time to look for it.
In the time of Adams as well as today, showing others the beauty of nature is like chanting the mantra “Stop and smell the roses.” Modern life certainly seems to breed a lifestyle that needs a constant reminder of this message. And, naturally, photographers who take images of these things deliver this message loud and clear. Adams sure did.
However, for me, the most interesting images I have ever seen are of people. You could take a shot of an incredible landscape and appreciate the beauty unblemished by human existence. And yet as soon as you put a person in the frame, it suddenly becomes something quite different. It gives it scale, reference, context, and an emotional target. Do you relate to the person? Do they spoil the image? Do they enhance the image? What are they doing? Are they appealing? What emotion are they showing?
I don't know about you, but I don't find myself asking these questions when I see a landscape. I just find myself trying to imagine being there or appreciating the technical aspects of the image. The colors, textures, contrasts, tones and composition. Seeing people in an image evoke a response that is almost impossible to suppress.
Of course, I say all of this knowing full well that my own portfolio is disproportionately stacked with people-less landscapes and photo-anthropographic* studies. Still, it is the people photos I linger on the longest when viewing.
When I take a picture of nature, I am saying, “Look! Here is beauty” making me another messenger of the mantra. Without a human reference, we are left with nothing more than trying to experience the beauty as best as the image can show us. We see it for all the technical vagaries it may contain or the recognizable and innate beauty. Ah, but when we see a person... we instantly have a portal into the image that a landscape alone could never provide. We are seduced into an emotional part of our brains that either consciously or subconsciously compare ourselves to them or live vicariously through them.
The more I shoot, the more I long to photograph people. Yet, the more I also understand how truly difficult it is to capture an image of one that can speak as loudly as the beauty of a landscape.
* Photo-Anthropography = photography which shows the evidence and influence of man without showing people.