Here is a classic image of a road fading away to a point in the distance. I say classic because it’s well-worn subject matter. This particular road is one near Thompson Springs, Utah, but this kind of composition is an oft-repeated motif in the repertoire of many landscape photographers.
What is it about a road fading into the distance that’s so appealing? I suspect there’s a strong aspect of concept and metaphor. Roads are a simulacrum for journeys made, both physical and spiritual. Depending on your philosophical bent, you can see it as moving forward into the future or looking backward into the past. The open road can stand for many things, to be filled in by the mind of the viewer.
In contemporary photography, I think there’s a real emphasis on making photographs as concept or metaphor, at least in fine art circles. Under this approach, the value of a fine art photograph is not the photograph itself, but rather a concept or metaphor that the photograph embodies. The goal is not to make the viewer react to the photograph itself so much as to an idea that the photograph represents. The photograph is not of a thing, but rather is conceptual or metaphorical for something else. This is why (at least in my opinion) so much contemporary fine art photography is not particularly beautiful to look at. Aesthetics takes a back seat to concept and metaphor in the hierarchy of artistic validation.
I’m not a particularly conceptual or metaphorical photographer. What drew my eye to this scene was the way the road cut created a perfect little division through the line of hills in the distance. To me, photography is an opportunity to play a visual game, arranging compositional elements until they fit together in a way that is just right, and the road cut in this image is the linchpin that holds the composition together. The image is about a particular place at a particular moment, and I think there’s real value to photographs that approach the discipline of fine art from this perspective. While concept and metaphor are not lost on me, and I enjoy a philosophical contemplation of these topics as much as the next person, they tend to be incidental byproducts of why I practice photography, not the principal focus of it.