The Other in Landscape Photography

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Landscape Photography / vancouver island / Western Canada

Dark photograph in black and white of a large tree

My main motivation in writing this blog is to explain photography to myself and, hopefully, to others of a similar persuasion.

Much of contemporary landscape photography concerns itself with grand vistas and spectacular locations, but I prefer the landscape of small things — that is, the landscape of whatever is close at hand, often within walking distance of where I live. Granted, I live on Vancouver Island where there is no shortage of subject matter or variation in weather. The world is a funny place in 2019. Much of what a photographer does with the landscape is a mixture, in varying proportions, of inspiration, technical ability, materials, and the desire for some kind of commercial recognition ($). Adobe Stock and Getty Images have millions of landscape photographs on file between them. Many of those images are of said spectacular locations depicted in highly saturated, plastic colours. They look “amazing.”

There are some great individual pictures on these sites but en masse, I find them a little disturbing. These are commercial websites, so you have to know you are being sold something (albeit through the intermediary of a marketing department somewhere). What you are being sold is a narrative — that a good life is filled with breathtaking places and “amazing” (mostly) young, stylishly-dressed people who know what is important in life (experience, not possessions) and may meditate every morning. The much-dreaded term, mindfulness, rears its head.

My experience with the landscape had been a little different. Most often, I prefer black and white to colour. My main motivation lies in an attempt to seek something of a connection with the “otherness” of the external world. Most of us are urban dwellers and we have become increasingly estranged from nature unless it is seen through the filters mentioned in the previous paragraph. In the end, our urban smugness may extract a heavy toll on the planet.

Slow time with a camera in a stand of trees, often alone, is an attempt to bridge the gap — to understand the natural world is largely indifferent to us, and realize this is a world that does not rely on humans for definition or meaning. It simply is and is governed by its own conventions. It does not need to be “amazing.”

Much of the landscape work presented on inkriver is dark. It is a simple response to a natural property of Vancouver Island, with its deep green, foggy forests and fields of twisted Gary Oaks, with its Arbutus trees twisting up towards the light, and its crisscross of dense underbrush. The picture at the top of this post is backlit and about three stops underexposed. I have not done a lot to it — darkened the sky and adjusted the curve to try to hold minimal detail in deep shadows. It favours mood above technical rendering. I am guessing it would not make it as a stock image. That may be its strongest asset.

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