“My interest in photography did not begin with books or mentors, or with any burning desire to see the world through a camera. It evolved from an intense devotion to mountains and wilderness that eventually shaped all the parts of my life and brought them together.”
— Galen Rowell
What an interesting quote by the great landscape photographer Galen Rowell. It’s interesting to me personally because it is almost exactly backwards from how my interest in photography developed. From a very young age, I remember being interested in photographs as objects in and of themselves. I remember when my Dad would travel on business, I would ask him to bring me back a postcard from where he had been and spend an inordinate amount of time getting lost in the photograph. Conversely, I did not grow up with much of an outdoorsy lifestyle, and to this day I have no appreciable wilderness skills to speak of. Most of my landscape photography is done by the side of the road or maybe, if I’m feeling adventurous, down a well-marked, well-traveled trail in a National Park or somewhere similar.
This is not to say that I have no connection to the land or to landscapes. To the contrary, I feel a photographer interested in producing expressive photographs should feel a strong connection with the subject matter he or she is photographing. It’s just that my connection with landscapes has not developed as a result of lots of time spent in the back country or otherwise outdoor adventuring. I love to travel and to see new places – most of my eyes on the landscape likely has come through the windshield of my car.
There’s nothing wrong with the Galen Rowell approach, of course, and indeed my experience is that most photographers who photograph the landscape come at it from this perspective. I’m a little fearful, however, that the Galen Rowell quote may create an expectation that reverence for the landscape is all that is required to photograph it expressively. It is not. It my opinion, it’s far more important to have an interest in photographs – what makes them work, what make them fail – to produce expressive landscape photography. Being an accomplished outdoorsman is admirable, but landscapes are landscapes, and photographs are photographs. It is being an accomplished photographer that is required for photography.