There’s a certain image of a landscape photographer that seems to be held in high regard these days. This kind of landscape photographer is a person who immerses himself deeply into the wilderness, perhaps spending days or weeks at a time removed at great distances from civilization and insulated from all human contact. A person who travels at great lengths and through epic hardships in order to reach places ordinary people can’t. A person who communes so intimately with nature that he or she appreciates it on a level that normal people do not, and for whom a camera almost is secondary to the outdoor experience, such that any images made manage to be somehow both incidental to the outdoor experience and yet still attain virtue in a way that cannot be achieved by those among the crowded field of ordinary photography.
I’m not that person.
Yes, I enjoy being outside, but my backcountry skills are limited and my outdoor experiences mostly are confined to daytime trips. Yes, I enjoy a good hike to get somewhere interesting, but most of my photography is done fairly close to my car. Yes, I often get to locations away from crowds of people, but I don’t eschew the popular overlooks or the landmark destinations.
The problem is, landscape images made by the kind of photographers first described above seem to be treated with a kind of almost reverence that images made by other photographers don’t get. There seems to be a link made between a person who commits a great deal of time and resources to being in the landscape, and the quality of the images that this person makes there. It’s an extension of the idea that the photographer is more important than the photograph, an idea that usually is treated with disdain by most photographers I’ve met, but somehow seems subtly validated in the field of landscape photography.
I don’t begrudge those who choose to approach landscape photography in the manner first set forth above. Really, I don’t. But there seems to be a negative implication among those who do that those who don’t cannot make landscape photographs that are equally worthy, and I do have a problem with that.
Ultimately, landscape photography is more about the photography, and less about the landscape. It’s more important to see the landscape through the eyes of an artist, not the eyes of a wilderness adventurer. It’s more important to be knowledgeable about photographic techniques and equipment than about backcountry survival skills. It’s more important to feel moved by the landscape on an emotional level regardless of the ability to move through it on a physical level.
I suspect my views on this are out of the mainstream. I’m okay with that, even though sometimes it feels like I’m on the outside, looking in. But being on the outside and looking in sometimes is not a bad place to be. It tends to create a perspective that is less common, more unique when compared to that of the “in” perspective – a potentially powerful tool when applied with creativity and restraint.