The two words landscape & photography have come to represent a vast spectrum of styles, nuances, characteristics and aesthetics. From a single exposure on a piece of film to multi location composites being passed off as genuine experienced events. I’ll start by saying I’m not here to judge, as this is not the purpose of the article. I’m here to challenge, to question, to delve into the why; not just of our images, but our own lives. What I’m here to write today is my perspective on the value of landscape photography, how it can help us find peace in a chaotic world and grow to be a better version of ourselves.
In my first article for Luminous Landscape I gave some background on how I got back into photography and why. This has been an evolution of purpose, and where I am now is to use photography as a metaphor for my own growth and personal development. I’m sorry to say that as images become devalued, selling for pennies as stock, or more often these days, popularity fodder on social media, ironically however, my images have more value than ever: To me.
I’ve spent much of this year writing a new eBook: The Colour of Meaning, and that has given me a lot of time for introspection and finding new words to describe how I feel about the landscape and the images I make. It’s also allowed me the luxury of spending time processing new images for the book, a rare pleasure in this busy life. In the taking and the making, moments of life to be savoured.
Light | Camera | Action
As landscape photographers most of us have a healthy appreciation for good light. The mantra of the golden hour, sunrise and sunset, and the angles of the sun in relation to our subjects. For years the concept of chasing the light was as natural to me as breathing, and I did just that, from the rain forests of Borneo to the oxygen depleted heights of the Tibetan Himalaya. However, for every dramatic shot I made there were a thousand more by other photographic peers from even more insane locations: Baffin Island, Patagonia, or Alaska. As a historically competitive person that sense of one-upmanship fuelled my passion, my drive and my commitment to be as good as I could be. The concept of peer approval, external judgement and being seen to be good was a motivator; not a kind mistress. Not for the last time in this article will I refer to myself as that fool I used to be.
There is no objectivity in art; any concept of good, better, best seems somewhat abstract and counterintuitive, and as soon as we introduce that goal into the game we have to ask ourselves What if my motive?
We know in our hearts and minds that popularity is no guarantee of quality, we feel this in the small hours before dawn as we contemplate why we make images in the first place, and how did it all get like this! Is competitive formulaic photography a creative dead end, or merely a detour en route to our true calling? Is that stage of mimicry and plagiarism an essential part of our development? I’ve been there, done that and had to redesign the t-shirt!
What is the value of a photograph?
If we use the time honoured scale of dollars, a raw file on my hard drive is essentially worthless. Should I share it on social media and get a few likes, the larder at home is still bare and the bills still need paid. If that photograph moves someone enough and they want a print, then the absolute value of the print is the cost of the paper, the pigment and some abstract addition for time and energy. Similarly if that image inspires the purchase of any of the photographer’s products; ebooks, videos, workshops or mentoring, then the image has some monetary value. All professional photographers are in competition for the finite pool of purchasing.
Most of us are fighting an inner war for creative integrity, desperate to balance the value of the experience and making photographs we believe to be valid and honest, with the treadmill of popularity.
What is the alternative to all of this competition? For myself, I have had to detach from the battle ground and reconnect with why I make photographs in the first place. Being honest and true to myself is of far more value than mundane popularity if the images I make are unoriginal or trite. For myself, the drum I want to bang is the one that promotes our innate relationship with colour, mood, emotions, aesthetics and our own simple joy of life.
Life in potential
If you were to ask yourself these questions, what would your answers be?
What do you value the most in your life?
Why do you make photographs?
Do you believe that what you create is valid?
Is external validation necessary for this sense of value?
Do you feel pressured to make images in a certain way to get noticed?
I have asked all of these to myself in various forms over the years, I’m not proud of some of the answers that the fool I used to be justified to himself, but I know the answers I have now, and I believe in them.
In the Colour of Meaning eBook I wanted to explore the relationship between our emotional selves and the landscape. I know myself that some days I can go into the landscape feeling happy and relaxed, whereas on other days I can feel tense and melancholy. I wanted to find the connection between those emotional spectrums and the images we choose to make on those different days. The quality of light, its colour, the season, time of day and aesthetics of the environment are all working together to shape our mood, or to be ignored if we are too single-minded in our concept of what we are there to achieve.
I’m less interested in subjects and more inclined to a resonance with my emotional landscape. If I’m feeling edgy and irritable I know I can be drawn to chaotic, cool, shady, mysterious scenes. Or, quite the opposite, a calm, uplifting landscape can shape my mood, take me gently by the hand and guide me, with quiet instruction into a better frame of mind.
I do not make landscape images to scream fury at the world, I make them to find peace, exorcise the weakness in my own mind to find equanimity and a peaceful acceptance that all things change; even a bad mood, or a period of depression.
The colour in the landscape exists in a familiar spectrum, cool at one end and fiery at the other. There is emotion tied up in these colours; moods, feelings, perspectives, nuances of our very existence. For this thing that is so familiar to our eyes, how often do we ever go beyond the thinnest veneer of the surface.
More than a photograph
As autumn fades to winter, many of us have been out and about in nature witnessing and experiencing the beautiful colours of fall. Yellow, gold, orange and red; the emotional landscape of joy, tinged with the fading rebirth of the seasons. Billions of leaves falling, nature recycling itself into next years life. Millions of images saying what? I have read thousands of books in my life, I cannot imagine how many photographs I have looked at. Each one is no doubt a book in its own right; a thousand words at least, but I have barely skimmed the surface of their messages. We rarely do these days.
Each of the photographs on this page means something to me, I like them all for various reasons, but at the very least, each one of them represents a very clear and definite thing. Each one represents a moment in my life when I was engaged with and appreciating something outside of myself, that in some manner stands as a metaphor for some aspect of myself. As I write those words I am trying to rationalise the balance between the narcissistic “It’s all about me!” notion, and the selfless altruism of innate creativity! But what is a photograph if not our voice, our perspective, our soul, our honesty?
Colour is so much more than the hue of things, it can raise our hopes, or calm a troubled mind. As I write in the book: Colour is the emotional hue of our subconscious.
Here is the link for my new eBook: https://expressive.photography/education/