The Meaning of ‘Landscape, ‘Photography’ and ‘Art’.
My recent exhibition at the Oxmarket
All of my pictures involve, to some degree, travel, but despite that I regard myself principally as a landscape photographer. When I worked, for 20 years, as a travel writer and photographer my brief was to bring home pictures that showed the reader what the destination looked like – i.e. a travel photograph. A travel photograph is primarily an information photograph, ideally encouraging the reader to buy that holiday or visit that destination. While I can, and have, photographed anyone and anything for PR purposes, there is much more to life, and photography, than that.
I love visiting wild places, particularly mountains. Indeed it is my passion for mountains that has been my inspiration for becoming a landscape photographer. Landscape photography is all about celebrating nature’s beauty, preferably unspoiled by human intervention, irrespective of where that place is. It can be a sky seen over the marshes at the back of my home in Sussex, or a distant Tibetan or Patagonian horizon. The name and the location of the place is less important than the light and the land and the features that inspire me to take a picture that strikes an emotional chord in the viewer.
The meaning of ‘Photography’.
‘Photoss’, pronounced with a short second ‘o’, is Greek for ‘light’. ‘Graphee’ is Greek for ‘writing’.
Without light there is nothing for the photographer to write with. It can happen that I have returned many times, year after year, to the site of successful photographs to find there is no light and no photograph to be taken. This might leave me to wonder what inspired me to (e.g.) stand up to my knees in water for seven mornings before the burgeoning rainbow on the waterfall was just right. (See ‘Rainbow Falls’ on my website).
In the Alps I have sometimes returned week after week, year after year, to a promising scene, and yet been defeated by the lack of good light. But when it is there, the feeling is one of epiphany. At the moment the light is there, the photograph is secured. A traditional artist (e.g. a painter) might say the photograph only took 1/15th of a second but as an art photographer I would say the picture was years in the making and the exposure was just the final act. I might just as easily say that landscape is easy for a painter, who can place the components of the picture as he or she pleases on the canvas whether the light is there or not.
But is it Art?!
Some photographs are, some are not. The Europeans think so. As do the Americans. Everyone has a camera and a laptop and therefore many people believe that is all they need to be a photographer or a writer. To a degree the inclusion of photography beneath the umbrella of art depends on the reason the photograph was taken. Some pictures are just for information - e.g. travel and PR - and anyone can take these pictures. Others are born out of inspiration – wild, distant sublimely shaped mountains, fabulous natural shapes, ‘divine’ light taking an ordinary scene into the extraordinary. It is these things that excite and inspire me to capture an image and bring it home in the hope that it will also inspire an emotional reaction in the viewer. And this is why I still drag bulky blunderbusses of cameras on expeditions, on skis, on safari, to Antarctica etc. – to bring home a quality image that will stand the test of time on someone’s wall and give them a lifetime of pleasure.
Ansel Adams, who pioneered landscape photography and was involved in spearheading the US National Park movement in Yosemite and other beautiful places, must have had the ‘art vs photography’ conversation many times with his friend and fellow artist Georgia O’Keefe in San Francisco or New Mexico.