I Didn’t See That
Text and Images – Chuck Kimmerle
There is a myth regarding landscape photography. This myth, routinely propagated in online photo forums – and reinforced by lazy and inept photographers whose only desire is to mimic postcards they had seen in a National Park gift shop – states that, because we do not have physical control over the landscape, our genre cannot be considered art. That we, as photographers, play a subservient role in the creation of the image. In other words, the scene dictates the image, and we simply, and obediently, comply. Of course, the implication is that all of our photos will, and do, look alike. No creativity necessary.
Of course, those of us who are serious about landscape photography as an art form, who are driven, inspired, passionate and talented, and who have something personal and worthwhile to share, know this is simply not true. We are individuals, not clones. We are the driving force in the creative equation, each with our own unique stories, our own experiences, and our own emotions, all which combine to shape our respective, unique visions.
This was reinforced to me a couple weeks ago during a photo workshop in Death Valley. On no fewer than four occasions, participants said to me, “I didn’t see that” while viewing images I had made during group outings. Images shot very close to where they were standing. When I viewed their own work, I often had the same response…I didn’t see that. How, if we were standing in proximity, if we were but simple, subservient photographic clones did we see, and create, images which were so different? And how, if we were not artists, did we present these images in such vastly different ways?
I can take that one stop further. Not only would I view a particular scene differently than my comrades, I may very well see it differently than….myself. For example, on two successive mornings I was photographing with students on the dunes. On the second morning, I excitedly photographed a developing dune-scape, exploring the curves and dimensionality of this subject as the light changed, satisfied that I had found a new and worthwhile scene. However, when the light had evolved past the point of usefulness, as I was packing my gear, I discovered that it was the exact scene I had shot the day before. The same divots, the same curves, the same basic shadows. I had, on that morning, seen it differently than I had the day before. The resulting images, despite the same physical characteristics of the scene, were quite different. In each case, I saw the scene, and visualized the final images, a bit differently.
So, while landscape photographers may not have direct physical control over the elements which comprise a landscape, we are far from mere pawns. Through the filters of our respective backgrounds, biases, personalities, feelings, visions, intentions, etc, we can each see and create as individuals. It is only after the photography is done, while sharing our images with colleagues, that we are exactly alike, each, in turn, repeating…I didn’t see that.