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Author Topic: Toward New Romantic Landscape  (Read 30350 times)
KF Peters
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« on: April 19, 2009, 06:34:42 PM »
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Landscapes are inherently boring. They are mostly about weather conditions. Long ago I was a museum guard and could examine Ansel Adams prints all day long, they were boring as hell. Yes you could count every pine needle on every  tree, but they were emotionally un-involving. It was all about mastery of the medium which I suppose is fine but in the end it was more about Ansel and his advocacy for the environment than about his photographs. The highest priced landscapes are the photos from Mars and once the novelty of those wear off they become mundane too.

In classical romanticism the landscape was central to the notion of the sublime.

The landscape as an expression of an inner state dates back to 16th century British landscape painting. I think that by adopting this notion, photography took a wrong turn. Stieglitz's Equivalents and the whole Minor White oeuvre is a self referential dead end.

I'm all for romanticism, now more than ever but there is very little humanity in the current landscape photography compared to someone like John Constable's paintings.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2009, 11:27:53 PM »
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Quote from: KF Peters
Landscapes are inherently boring. They are mostly about weather conditions. Long ago I was a museum guard and could examine Ansel Adams prints all day long, they were boring as hell. Yes you could count every pine needle on every  tree, but they were emotionally un-involving. It was all about mastery of the medium which I suppose is fine but in the end it was more about Ansel and his advocacy for the environment than about his photographs. The highest priced landscapes are the photos from Mars and once the novelty of those wear off they become mundane too.
In classical romanticism the landscape was central to the notion of the sublime.
The landscape as an expression of an inner state dates back to 16th century British landscape painting. I think that by adopting this notion, photography took a wrong turn. Stieglitz's Equivalents and the whole Minor White oeuvre is a self referential dead end.
I'm all for romanticism, now more than ever but there is very little humanity in the current landscape photography compared to someone like John Constable's paintings.

I guess the emotion(s) that Adams' photos evoked in people just didn't connect with you.  There are factors of course, too many to name here - lighting, mood, what you ate last, how you feel about awe-inspiring landscapes in B&W, etc. etc.  I have one video interview of Adams, and his humility, almost childlike excitement in his work, and sense of humor came across well (to me anyway).  Probably the only way you would appreciate him (if you had the interest) would be to trace his development from beginning to end.  I know I won't be developing any more B&W in the wet darkroom, but I sure haven't forgotten the magic of what I could do with film and paper, after taking the shots.
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luong
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« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2009, 01:45:30 PM »
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Have you seen Sally Mann's landscape work ? It is all about emotions and memories.
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RSL
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« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2009, 02:48:59 PM »
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Quote from: KF Peters
Landscapes are inherently boring. They are mostly about weather conditions. Long ago I was a museum guard and could examine Ansel Adams prints all day long, they were boring as hell. Yes you could count every pine needle on every  tree, but they were emotionally un-involving. It was all about mastery of the medium which I suppose is fine but in the end it was more about Ansel and his advocacy for the environment than about his photographs. The highest priced landscapes are the photos from Mars and once the novelty of those wear off they become mundane too.

In classical romanticism the landscape was central to the notion of the sublime.

The landscape as an expression of an inner state dates back to 16th century British landscape painting. I think that by adopting this notion, photography took a wrong turn. Stieglitz's Equivalents and the whole Minor White oeuvre is a self referential dead end.

I'm all for romanticism, now more than ever but there is very little humanity in the current landscape photography compared to someone like John Constable's paintings.

I'm with you. One big difference is that Constable's paintings had people in them. They were about people and the landscape was incidental, even though it was very beautifully done. Most of the world's important photographers are or were important because they dealt with people or with artifacts created by the hand of man. Ansel was an exceptional technician. Photographers of my generation learned a lot from him, but the photographs of people like Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson, etc., etc. are where the real art resides.
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JeffKohn
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« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2009, 12:43:35 PM »
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I'm with you. One big difference is that Constable's paintings had people in them. They were about people and the landscape was incidental, even though it was very beautifully done. Most of the world's important photographers are or were important because they dealt with people or with artifacts created by the hand of man. Ansel was an exceptional technician. Photographers of my generation learned a lot from him, but the photographs of people like Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson, etc., etc. are where the real art resides.
IMHO this just goes to show that different people's likes, dislikes, interests, and biases are going to influence what they consider boring and what they consider art. I personally find almost all documentary/street photography boring, including Cartier-Bresson.  The ones with some humor or irony in them can be a bit amusing, but I would never hang them on my well as art.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2009, 12:44:46 PM by JeffKohn » Logged

Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2009, 05:38:02 PM »
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Quote from: KF Peters
Landscapes are inherently boring. They are mostly about weather conditions.

Hmmm. Well, different strokes and all, I guess.
If you don't personally feel any emotional connection with a sublime sunrise in a remote and beautiful location, or a quiet moment alone in a fog-shrouded forest after spring rain, then you have my condolences. You're missing out on something wonderful. There are many folks who can appreciate a successful attempt to capture such a moment photographically, and lots of us here at this site who try to achieve that goal. I mean, in case you hadn't noticed, that's sort of what the entire site is about, no?

Probably the best take I've seen on Ansel Adams and the landscape was John Szarkowski's eloquent description of what Ansel was after in his work, which is available on the PBS DVD. To Adams, the experience of a sublime wilderness moment was the closest he could get to whatever spirituality he knew. He was just attempting to distill that experience into a photograph as well as he could. If his prints just don't sing for you, that's your loss.

I'm not sure what you're after when you want 'humanity' in your landscape photos. Do you literally mean human beings in the photograph? Or are you trying to see something of the hand or mind of the photographer at work? There are plenty of working landscape photographers whose work I find sublime enough with no evidence of humanity in sight. If you can't see the eloquence or mystery or value in a beautiful landscape photograph on its own merits, you're probably at the wrong website.
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kikashi
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« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2009, 02:54:49 AM »
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Quote from: JeffKohn
IMHO this just goes to show that different people's likes, dislikes, interests, and biases are going to influence what they consider boring and what they consider art. I personally find almost all documentary/street photography boring, including Cartier-Bresson.  The ones with some humor or irony in them can be a bit amusing, but I would never hang them on my well as art.
Thank you so much for writing this! It's exactly how I've always felt but I have been too worried about being denigrated as an unaesthetic philistine to say so. Now at least I know I'm not alone.

Geoff's comments above are, I think, spot on.

Jeremy
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jtrujillo
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« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2009, 04:57:44 AM »
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One of the famous quotes from Ansel Adams is "There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer. " so I am curious on what's my contribution....

Definitely each one has some affinity to an specific kind of photography and in this specific type we have a path of learning to enjoy it, somehow like refining senses to perceive and relish its subtleties. Not that I am an expert at all, just I'm feeling very small steps towards that. I think that liking or disliking something is not inherently good or bad, just a matter of affinity and interest enough as to walk that route.


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Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2009, 06:27:43 AM »
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There are city folk ... and country folk ... and city folk who wish they were country folk ... and country folk who wish they were city folk ...

... and some people still have JFK on the wall ... and some people Jesus ...

... and some people just like a nice Ansel Adams - go figure ...

I love flipping through my photography books full of people and street shots, but if you aren't in my family or play for the Yankees, you probably aren't gonna get on my wall ...
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Chris_T
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« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2009, 09:12:42 AM »
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My interest in photography started with AA's and HCB's work, in part because of their popularity. From their books, I learn most of my techniques and aesthetics. Today they remain my favorite photographers. Currently, there seem to be a lot more AA want to bes than HCB want to bes, especially among the amateurs. With the huge number of landscapes, only the really great ones can catch attention. Perhaps that's one reason why some would consider landscapes as "boring".

Instead of focusing on one genre, I shoot both landscapes and street portraits. Some may consider me as "undisciplined". After first seeing my landscapes exhibit and then my street portraits exhibit, one viewer bluntly told me, "You should leave the landscapes to others, and focus on your street work!" But I look at it as someone who lives in the city, but owns a country cabin. Or, someone who enjoys wonton noodles as well as fetuccini alfredo, provided they are both nicely done.

In my own work, I find that my better landscapes depend more on great lighting conditions than on the subjects, while my better street portraits depend more on the subjects than on the lighting. While the shooting techniques are very different, I find that it also takes a certain personality and how one looks at the world to be able to shoot people well. Perhaps that's why HCB said, "The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks! "
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RSL
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« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2009, 10:19:02 AM »
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Quote from: Chris_T
Perhaps that's why HCB said, "The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks! "

That's also why Walker Evans said something to the effect of: "That's a very beautiful sunset... So what?"
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2009, 11:28:23 AM »
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In my experience, most of the people who are left cold by landscape photos have never seen (or at least never paid attention to) landscapes of the sort, so it means nothing to them.  Why some of us love landscape photos so much is that we've been to beautiful and/or interesting places like that, and the photo reminds us of the experience.  Without that experience to fall back on (or, in some rare cases, enough imagination to imagine it), it's just a bunch of colors or shades of grey.  As someone said above, "There are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."  The past experience of the viewer matters.

Lisa
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RSL
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« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2009, 02:17:56 PM »
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In my experience, most of the people who are left cold by landscape photos have never seen (or at least never paid attention to) landscapes of the sort, so it means nothing to them.  Why some of us love landscape photos so much is that we've been to beautiful and/or interesting places like that, and the photo reminds us of the experience.  Without that experience to fall back on (or, in some rare cases, enough imagination to imagine it), it's just a bunch of colors or shades of grey.  As someone said above, "There are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."  The past experience of the viewer matters.

Lisa

Lisa,

I live in the west, at the foot of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. Pikes Peak is just above me. To the east of me are the Colorado and Kansas prairies. I frequently shoot landscapes on the prairies -- landscapes that almost always include artifacts created by the hand of man. I also shoot landscapes in the mountains, but, again, they almost always include the hand of man. I'm no city boy. To see landscapes, all I have to do is step outside. But I also agree with what HCB said. I learned a lot about wet photographic technique from Ansel Adams's prints and books, but I never saw, and still don't see Ansel's subject matter as important stuff.

Some landscape painting is very moving, but that's partly because of what it leaves out. What the pictorialists never understood is that painting is outside time and place. It's in the mind of the painter. If a painting is really good, it gives you a transcendental flash because of what the painter managed to convey, not only through good composition but through simplification.

Photography, on the other hand, is about time and place, and can't subdue detail without pretending to be something it isn't. A photographic landscape can be very beautiful, but it's still, in Walker Evan's and HCB's terms, a "so what?" It may be true that someone who's lived all his life in Manhattan can't truly appreciate landscape because he's never seen a real landscape, but even though he's never seen a farmhouse he'll respond immediately to a picture of a deserted farmhouse with abandoned toys on the floor. On the other hand, someone who's lived all his life on the prairies can respond very strongly to a street photograph from Manhattan that conveys something important about human life -- even if he's never been to Manhattan.

I think the difference lies in the degree of significance. That's why street photography, going all the way back to Atget, survives and continues to stimulate, while early landscape photography largely has been forgotten. It's true that Ansel hangs on, but mainly because of the technical perfection of his prints.
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Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2009, 02:48:14 PM »
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Photography, on the other hand, is about time and place, and can't subdue detail without pretending to be something it isn't.

Russ ... this is where I'm going to disagree.

I appreciate what you are saying about the hand of man and the interaction of the landscape and human life ... that's a very valid theme.

But ... you CAN create timeless landscapes with a camera.  AA proved that ... and it is more than just his technique that has stood the test of time.  It is a sense of majesty that rises above petty human emotions and thought ... the mountains don't give a rat's a$$ about "subprime mortgages".

That's often exactly what goes through my mind as I compose a shot in the woods ... ie that there is a world and universe beyond humanity ... that there is a natural order that speaks with the voice of rustling leaves and bending trees ... where it could be today or 5 million years ago ... and to bring some of that back into our homes and lives reminds us of where we really sit in the big picture ...

Just my 0.02.
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RSL
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« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2009, 07:08:00 PM »
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Quote from: Jeremy Payne
Russ ... this is where I'm going to disagree.

I appreciate what you are saying about the hand of man and the interaction of the landscape and human life ... that's a very valid theme.

But ... you CAN create timeless landscapes with a camera.  AA proved that ... and it is more than just his technique that has stood the test of time.  It is a sense of majesty that rises above petty human emotions and thought ... the mountains don't give a rat's a$$ about "subprime mortgages".

That's often exactly what goes through my mind as I compose a shot in the woods ... ie that there is a world and universe beyond humanity ... that there is a natural order that speaks with the voice of rustling leaves and bending trees ... where it could be today or 5 million years ago ... and to bring some of that back into our homes and lives reminds us of where we really sit in the big picture ...

Just my 0.02.

Jeremy,

Okay. I’ll concede I may be exaggerating a bit to make a point. There was a time when I was very taken with Ansel’s work, and I’m still taken with it as far as technique is concerned.

But I’m not talking about subprime mortgages. I’m talking about the kind of penetrating human truths you see exposed in, say, Helen Levitt’s picture of the three kids in masks on the New York stoop. Those three children are projecting their now into the future in a way that tells me something important about the human condition.

I was born and raised in Michigan and from the time I was five until I left University of Michigan for pilot training I spent my summers next to a lake in the deep northern woods. In those days they were the deep, very deserted, very quiet woods. As a result I have an overwhelming appreciation for the natural order of which you speak. But I question whether or not you can experience that through photographs. Nowadays I return to that “universe beyond humanity” by going up into the Colorado mountains and hiking the high trails. I have plenty of photographs from those retreats, but the photographs can’t take the place of the real thing.

I predict that in another generation or two Ansel’s pictures will be pretty much forgotten. The reason I say that is that Ansel pushed his art well beyond the normal capabilities of the equipment he worked with. We’ve now reached a point, and we continue to exceed the point, where people with greatly advanced equipment can go back into those mountains and not only repeat what Ansel did, but better it. The mountains will still be there and the trees will still be there.

But no future generation will better what Helen did with the kids on that stoop, because Helen captured time in that photograph. There is no “better” in that kind of situation because the stoop and the kids are long gone. Time has moved on.
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Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2009, 07:29:06 PM »
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I hear ya ... you make a strong argument.

Maybe someday ... when human beings live in space and earth is just a collection of photographs and other recordings ... someone will say the exact same thing about AA's collective work.  

I also shoot underwater ... and, unfortunately, the "time" element is there too ... those "landscapes" are far from everlasting and under direct assault.  Capturing that beauty and sharing it with others can hopefully slow that a bit ...
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dalethorn
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« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2009, 08:51:10 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
Lisa,
I live in the west, at the foot of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. Pikes Peak is just above me. To the east of me are the Colorado and Kansas prairies. I frequently shoot landscapes on the prairies -- landscapes that almost always include artifacts created by the hand of man. I also shoot landscapes in the mountains, but, again, they almost always include the hand of man. I'm no city boy. To see landscapes, all I have to do is step outside. But I also agree with what HCB said. I learned a lot about wet photographic technique from Ansel Adams's prints and books, but I never saw, and still don't see Ansel's subject matter as important stuff.
Some landscape painting is very moving, but that's partly because of what it leaves out. What the pictorialists never understood is that painting is outside time and place. It's in the mind of the painter. If a painting is really good, it gives you a transcendental flash because of what the painter managed to convey, not only through good composition but through simplification.
Photography, on the other hand, is about time and place, and can't subdue detail without pretending to be something it isn't. A photographic landscape can be very beautiful, but it's still, in Walker Evan's and HCB's terms, a "so what?" It may be true that someone who's lived all his life in Manhattan can't truly appreciate landscape because he's never seen a real landscape, but even though he's never seen a farmhouse he'll respond immediately to a picture of a deserted farmhouse with abandoned toys on the floor. On the other hand, someone who's lived all his life on the prairies can respond very strongly to a street photograph from Manhattan that conveys something important about human life -- even if he's never been to Manhattan.
I think the difference lies in the degree of significance. That's why street photography, going all the way back to Atget, survives and continues to stimulate, while early landscape photography largely has been forgotten. It's true that Ansel hangs on, but mainly because of the technical perfection of his prints.

Street photography is easy. Most of the "meaning" people see in it is the anguish in the faces of those poor, desperate peasants crowded together in immigrant communities in places like L.A. and New York. And even when you shoot someone who is well off, chances are they got that way by fighting their way up out of the miserable streets. So what. My father-in-law painted for 55 years, some good stuff, won many awards, hung out with some of the rich and famous in the Northeast, etc. Again, so what. Millions of people paint - put their engrams and childhood traumas onto canvas, like therapy or something. But Ansel Adams wasn't trying to run away from his demons, he was a creator, in the sense that an erstwhile creator of a universe would pass some of that passion and creative spirit onto a lesser being like Ansel, or any of the other great masters. Many years ago on TV, Flip Wilson did a skit where he played God and tried to explain why he had the urge to create. I'm still trying to find that clip - I think it would help explain a little of what's inside a guy like AA. Real creativity.
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RSL
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« Reply #17 on: April 25, 2009, 06:40:39 AM »
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Quote from: dalethorn
Street photography is easy. Most of the "meaning" people see in it is the anguish in the faces of those poor, desperate peasants crowded together in immigrant communities in places like L.A. and New York. And even when you shoot someone who is well off, chances are they got that way by fighting their way up out of the miserable streets. So what.

Dale, If you actually believe that then evidently you haven't looked at much street photography. I guess the problem is to define street photography. I've been using the term too loosely -- mainly because I can't find a better term for the general class of photography that deals with the human condition. But if you believe what you said, then you aren't familiar with Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Walker Evans, or the many others who've caught people within their milieu in a way that can expand the horizons of those who examine their photographs.

Can anyone on this forum come up with a substitute for "street photography," a term that's too restrictive if you take it literally? We need a term that can cover the whole range of human-oriented photographs from Robert Frank's picture of the girl elevator operator to Ansel Adams's "Moonrise, Hernandez?" Both photographs share at least two elements: both included humans, or artifacts created by humans and both were grab shots -- or, in the case of "Moonrise," the closest you can come to a grab shot with a view camera.

By the way, if you think street photography is easy, try it. Anyone can go out on the street and shoot a picture of the street with people in it, but to catch something that matters is very, very difficult.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2009, 10:00:44 AM by RSL » Logged

Chris_T
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« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2009, 08:23:05 AM »
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Dale, If you actually believe that then evidently you haven't looked at much street photography. I guess the problem is to define street photography. I've been using the term too loosely -- mainly because I can't find a better term for the general class of photography that deals with the human condition. But if you believe what you said, then you aren't familiar with Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Walker Evans, or the many others who've caught people within their milieu in a way that can expand the horizons of those who examine their photographs. By the way, if you think street photography is easy, try it. Anyone can go out on the street and shoot a picture of the street with some people in it, but to catch something that matters is very, very difficult.

I find that different photographic genres have different challenges. But that's a moot point. Should a photograph's merit be based on how difficult it was made? I think not.

The vast majority of landscapes are intended to be "beautiful", and most of the artist statements are about the love/preservation of nature. Nothing wrong with either. But when a genre becomes so popular, and with most of the photographers treating it the same way with the same intent (not to mention at the same locations),  the sheer volume of sameness can numb the viewers' sensitivity and appreciation.

This is not the case with other genres. Street photography, for example, can range from beautiful to ugly, from joyous to painful, each telling a different story with a different intent. Through their work, these photographers show the gamut of humanity, and express how they react to them. OTOH, viewers of the vast majority of landscapes can only get to know the photographers as lovers of "rocks".
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RSL
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« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2009, 10:09:09 AM »
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Quote from: Jeremy Payne
I hear ya ... you make a strong argument.

Maybe someday ... when human beings live in space and earth is just a collection of photographs and other recordings ... someone will say the exact same thing about AA's collective work.  

I also shoot underwater ... and, unfortunately, the "time" element is there too ... those "landscapes" are far from everlasting and under direct assault.  Capturing that beauty and sharing it with others can hopefully slow that a bit ...

I guess one problem with Ansel's stuff is that, as Chris just pointed out, it's an invitation for his followers to re-shoot his stuff and create cliches. Unfortunately, once a cliche exists Ansel's original becomes a cliche too -- except for the incredible quality of the prints he was able to produce.

I really like the underwater thing. I've never done it, but I'm sure you're right that it's preserving things that are vanishing. That's always worthwhile.
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