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 no glory in repeating what has been done before -if you are not looking for the Lost City of Atlantis these days, there is little that hasn't been seen or done. If COVID has taught us anything, it is just how little free space we actually have. Our National Parks have been completely overwhelmed in the last couple of years, and sadly Parks has done stuff about it which has made them harder to access and in many ways a lot less fun to go and explore. I guess that there is not much to do - and it is time to get off of Terra Firma. Maybe I can hitch a ride with Elon. First, I want him to complete his purchase of my Twitter shares. Jesus - we all knew it was an app filled with bots. Don't get cold feet now, Elon!
I was reading an obnoxious, but (and I hate to admit) really decent and thought provoking, article on of the gear head sights and they had an article called, "Originality in Landscape Photography." They started off with a lovely (but admittedly not amazing) image of a mountain scene in Norway with the following description. "The famous viewpoint in Reine, the Lofoten Islands, Arctic Norway. Light: awesome. Originality: 0/10. Art? Not by a longshot." The premise for this seemed to be that because someone else had done it that it is not 'original.' Given that we have just discovered that taking your own image at the iconic locations is just placeholder material, I have decided to do some soul searching. Let me ask the basic question - Am I just an artistic hack? For the record, I am not that impressed with myself, and I leave well open that I have room to grow as a photographer. However, does that mean that everything I have produced in the past is not really art? That it is essentially just documentary material?
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 or artistic? 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 can you get a fresh perspective on something that is as identifiable as the mole that stares at you in the morning in the mirror? Is a painting that you made of a piece of still life actually art? Some would argue that it absolutely is. However, there is a bit of a 'self hating' bias in photography that you don't see as much in other forms of artistic medium. I guess that is in part due to its accessibility to the common person.
But is it art?
I guess the answer is, "I don't know." Everything I know, I have learned in the field. I have never been to an art class. I guess I had always thought of it as art, but is there anything actually creative about it? Is a still life of a bowl of fruit art? Heaven knows, there seems to be an awful lot of them. If my photography IS art, it does not seem to be worth very much (lol, not that I have ever tried to sell it). When looking up "What makes art art," I got this nice definition from Smashing Magazine. Never heard of them before, but it reads really nice. Art is...the "deliberately arranging of elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions." By that definition, any attempt to put together elements in a way that is pleasing is art. It doesn't matter that there are 253 of your best friends waiting with you at Oxbow Bend in the morning. Each person is there to try to do something special - for them.
The next question that I think is important to beg, is why do we go and photograph the things we do? I can't speak for you, but I do it for me. When I am out photographing, I get a feeling - a sense - of calmness and order that I don't get when I am doing any other activity. For those of you who don't know me in person, I am kinetic in nature - always on the move. I pace constantly, even at the office. I can't sit still. I am well into my middle years, but I typically bike to work every day and hike at least 5 with the dog. In the last several years, I have hiked the Yosemite Loop, part of the Appalachian Trail and attempted to get permits to cross the Grand Canyon. Life is too short to sit in the apartment watching TV. Photography provides me an anchor when I am out doing these things. It grounds me. It allows me the moment in time to stop and watch and process. For me, the process of making landscape photography is more or less the rare experience of mindfulness, of being part of a larger order that I frequently feel very incongruent with. If it were not for photography, I might seriously never take a step into the woods, or onto a mountain. It is the medium by which I experience the larger world.
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 to help control my light. One can argue that these 'technical' components are separate from the artistic process. I disagree. 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, can be considered an art. Did you change your exposure in order to draw out a particular element? 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? All of these elements are YOURS when you take a photograph - no one elses.
So, my advice? Ignore the gear heads. Go ahead and enjoy yourself.