I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’ve been listening to the “F-Stop, Collaborate and Listen” podcast put out by Matt Payne. It’s a great podcast, I highly recommend it. Since I’m not really plugged in to the photography community at large, it’s been interesting to listen to in part because it discusses attitudes and trends in the landscape photography community that I otherwise would not really be aware of.
One trend that is discussed a lot is that of landscape photographers, whose photography largely consists of identifying popular images of popular locations and then seeking out those locations to make more or less copycat images. It is, apparently, kind of a widespread activity, and as a practice is rightly criticized on many levels, not the least of which is that this kind of photography is, for obvious reasons, not particularly creative.
I think this criticism can go even deeper. The practice seems to presuppose that extraordinary photography relies on an extraordinary subject. Photography done in this way results in exceptional photographs only because the photographer has placed his camera in front of something exceptional to look at. The practice of copying other’s images in this manner probably makes photography a lot easier, because the original photographer already has accomplished half (or more) of the task – finding a subject that is exceptional.
But this approach also seems to me to be incredibly limiting. Imagine how restrictive photography must be, when you have to plan a trip to some extraordinary place just to make a photograph. What does your camera do in the meantime? Sit on a shelf, waiting for its day in the sun? How much easier would it be, if you didn’t have to go out of your way to make a good photograph? How freeing would it be, if good photographs were to be available everywhere outside your door, near or far, any day, any season, under any conditions? That’s the power of the ordinary. When you can find photographs in ordinary things, truly the world of creativity is at your doorstep.
There’s more. When you can make compelling photographs of ordinary things, you begin to see that everything is (or maybe, more accurately, has the potential to be seen as) extraordinary. Even the gesture of a windmill, the line of a railroad grade, and the movement of a cloud. It’s all subjective, of course, but I would not have photographed these things if I didn’t find in them at least a hint of the extraordinary.