Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. -Star Trek, the original series
I suppose that the Star Trek quote kind of says it all. There is little to nothing that hasn't been done before...time to get off of Terra Firma. There is nothing original and honestly...even if there is, it is not seen because you probably don't want to look at it. Seriously. What is it you get from attempting to make landscape art at the iconic locations? What's the point of going places that have already been documented? Is there anything original any more? I suppose you can see I am on a bit of a riff. I was reading one of the gear head sights and they had an article called, "Originality in Landscape Photography." It was surprisingly a decent article, but it sparked some thoughts about my own art (if it can actually be called that).
Why do we go and photograph the things we do? I can't speak for you, but when I am out photographing, I get a feeling - a sense - of myself in connection with the larger planet. I am kinetic in nature - always on the move, and I will bet that others who experience me would say that my vision of the world is just as tentative. I suppose you could say that my own (non diagnosed) Attention Deficit Disorder is colliding with a world that is already moving faster than the speed of sound. Obviously, there is just no good that is going to come from that equation. For me, the process of making landscape art is more or less the rare experience of mindfulness, of being part of a larger order that I frequently feel very incongruent with. Anyone who has gone shooting with me knows that I am pretty deliberate when I take out my camera - My camera is always set to manual so that I can control my sense of motion and depth of field. I almost always drop a tripod and I frequently use filters - so
Many of the places that inspire us to go photograph are iconic locations - places that most everyone knows. A lot of people scoff at others who like looking at scenes that are known to be beautiful. I ask you this question - is the New York Skyline or the 7 Mile Stretch of Yosemite ever over-photographed? Does the fact that others have enjoyed a particular spot make it less photographable? Do you necessarily have to have a fresh take on a particular scene? Sometimes, I wonder even if it is really possible. I mean, come on - how really can you get a fresh perspective on something that is as identifiable that mole you stare at when you look in the mirror in the morning?
Is it still landscape art if I am going to a location that is well known? If I plop my tripod at the Snake River Overlook, am I just paint-by-numbering what Ansel did before me? Maybe. I suggest that every time we go to a place, it may be a bit different. For example, the Snake River Overlook that you see today looks very different from how it looked 10 years ago and certainly 20. Other things also change - the weather, the refraction of light in the clouds, a whole host of things.
There are few terran places on this planet that have not been seen before. There isn't a TV show start starts, "Earth, the first Frontier....I
Not everyone bakes a cake exactly the same. Even when the recipe is great, we all know that if my sister and my mother bake a cake, one will be delicious and the other will be dry and tasteless. I have never heard someone compliment a chef by saying, "This pie is wonderful, you must have a wonderful stove." Baking, like photography, is an art. Did you shoot the exposure with a particular perspective? Did you change the exposure? Did you use filters? How did you process the RAW image? Did you use Adobe or sRGB for your color space? Did you use layers while processing different pieces of the image?
Pieces They say that the best baseball batters actually see the world differently - that they can see the thread of the ball as it is hurtling through the air. I don't think the science actually says this (see article link: https://www.goodeyes.com/bdp-news/how-baseball-players-see-fastball/), but we do get a sense that the best baseball batters are able to predict where the ball will be going and respond in an instant.
is frequently so limited - it is all moving so fast that it is actually pretty difficult to experience beyond a fleeting moment. We have relationships to have and bills to pay. There is very little time to experience the world, even when it is happening around us. Landscape photography allows me a moment to savor the world in an almost slow motion way. The earth always rotates at about 1,000 mph...that is pretty much a constant. However, my singular experience of it may vary based on how I am looking at the scene. Or does it really?
The first time I saw a bison was in May 1996, when my father brought me to Yellowstone National Park as a celebration for having finished my graduate education in Social Work. We had rented a purple Chevy Cavalier, and the bison beside us was so large that it towered over us in our vehicle. For someone who has never seen one in the flesh, a male bison can way nearly a ton and stand over 6 feet tall at the hump. They are enormous - both in height and breadth. It is truly an amazing experience. If you are smart, it can also be a bit terrifying as these are wild creatures. The bison by our car (which we had nicknamed "Plumb Crazy,") was so close, and looking so ornery, that we were both a bit concerned that it would rip the car door off of its hinges. If you spend any amount of time in the park, you will frequently see impatient people trying to drive through the herds in order to escape a bison jam. I have one word for those people. Jackasses.
It still fills me with a sense of awe that such a place exists where such a large wild creature can march side by side with you no different than if I were driving down Broadway to buy a bagel and a coffee. Driving through the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park, we saw several herds of 100 and more. Spread out over the plain, it is hard to contemplate what the sea of bison would have looked like before the Europeans came and killed them all. Like any genocide, it boggles my mind to believe that anyone with any sort of conscience could willingly take part...but they did.
The number of bison in the Americas were culled from an estimated population of between 30,000,000 - 60,000,000 to a number of just a few hundred in 1910. The slaughter/genocide was for a variety of reasons - money (skins sold for top dollar), to make way for the railroads and as a means to starve out the First Peoples. I guess it all boiled down to Gold, God and Glory with a twist of Manifest Destiny - the idea that the United States is destined - by God - to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent. In the words of historian Conrad Cherry, “America is a nation called to a special destiny by God.” Sadly, it was yet another crime in the name of God. I sometimes wonder what I would have felt had I been alive at the time. Would I have been quiet or indifferent? I hope not.
As a result of conservation efforts, today there are about 30,000 bison living on public lands, and nearly a half million on private lands living across the continental United States. It shows that conservation efforts, if provided at the right time, can work with great success. In a world where much of what we see and hear is negative, the restoration of the bison is something to be proud of...not so proud that we can rest, but proud enough that we can think about doing something more.
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