Tag Archives: Matt Payne

The Power of Ordinary

Windmill and Railroad Grade. Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2020.

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.

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Just. Sounds. Terrible.

White Trees, Series 1, No. 9.

I’ve been listening lately to the photography podcast “F-Stop Collaborate and Listen” by Matt Payne.  It’s a great podcast, I really recommend it if you are a landscape photographer.  Every week he interviews a different landscape photographer, often a full-time working professional, on a variety of topics in current landscape photography.  Being pretty much an outsider, I’ve learned a lot about how this field works and who some of the personalities within it are.

One topic that comes up over and over is social media.  If you want to be a professional landscape photographer starting out today, I gather that social media is critical to succeeding.  Myself, I have virtually no social media presence, so I can’t really speak from firsthand knowledge, but I have to say it just… sounds… terrible.

First, as near as I can tell, the consensus seems to be that social media for photography is basically a big, hothouse, echo chamber.  It appears to reward the posting of essentially the same kinds of images over and over (the same locations, from the same viewpoints, under the same kinds of lighting conditions, etc.), typically in the form of a grand landscape in bold colors.  Since I photograph in black and white, often in anonymous locations and with somewhat subdued subject matter, it seems to me my photography might not have a place in this kind of environment.

Second, I get the impression there’s a lot of hostility in social media.  Say the wrong thing online, even with good intentions or by virtue of simple mistake, and you run the risk of being slammed with a backlash of vitriol and negativity.  While I realize that I’m an outlier, I’ll confess that I find people unpredictable and volatile under the best of circumstances.  I certainly would not want to expose myself to the ire of thousands of strangers online.

So, I used to think of my lack of presence on social media as a bit of a personal failure.  And really, it probably is – if someone wanted to magically offer me 100,000 followers on Facebook, I’d have a hard time saying no.  But given what I’ve learned about how social media works from listening to interviews with the pros, I do feel less bad about not being engaged with it.

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