Photographic Point of View

Anyone can do the craft. Only the individual has the unique personality to build a point of view. Al Weber

My good friend and extraordinary photographer and writer Guy Tal recently interviewed me on his blog. Mine is the second installment of interviews Guy is conducting with photographers he considers “creative and innovative” (he’ll also need to interview himself in a future installment). Guy’s questions are unlike the typical ones you’ll find in interviews with photographers; they’re thoughtful and in-depth, and I had to dig deep for my replies.

The most important question Guy asked pertained to my treatment of my images as “expressive art rather than purely a medium for capturing natural beauty“. Before I proceed any further, I’d like to have you reread the quote at the beginning of this entry. Indeed, anyone can do the craft – more so today than ever before. Even amateur photo hobbyists now own 16-18mp D-SLR’s purchased from Costco or Sam’s Club, and if they point them reasonably well, they, too, can produce “professional quality” photographs. But simply owning a high resolution D-SLR and Lightroom 3 makes you no more a photographic artist than me describing myself a writer for owning an expensive keyboard and a WordPress blog. No matter how technically stunning your work – and despite rationalizing that it’s “your unique take” – you can’t own your photographs when they are composed of common subjects and grand views captured similarly by others from the same viewpoints and perhaps with better gear and possibly even under better light. Alternative or derivative? Indeed, but unique it will not and cannot be. The trap of becoming involved in the landscape photographer’s “circuit” – whereby a number of photographers shuttle around North America photographing mature subjects during their peak seasons (hopefully with “epic” light) – is that you’re not likely creating images for yourself or for your audience. You’re instead likely involved in the photographer’s rat race of one-upmanship: “I can do it better”.

I’d like to share a secret: buyers of photographs don’t care about location-based photography (photo-stock excluded) nor do they care about how close you came to dying or how you lost a camera and lens while producing the photograph. Buyers buy because a) they are too moved by your photograph to not buy it b) they have a direct connection to the subject or particular elements within it. It doesn’t matter that you have the very finest Moulton Barn photo of the thousands that are out there (millions?), and it doesn’t matter if you’ve captured the most epic light ever over Coyote Buttes. If your audience has no connection to these places, you simply cannot sell them a print no matter how hard you try.

Instead of trying to separate yourself from the photographic herd only by way of technical excellence (which, by the way, does not matter to buyers), consider building a point of view to share with the world. You’ll first need to develop this, of course. Everyone is quite aware that nature and natural landscapes are beautiful, so sharing the beauty of nature and landscape is not sharing your point of view; it merely affirms what is already celebrated. Dig deep into your collection of photographs; find common threads through the work which you can claim as your photographic voice and yours alone; and continue to develop photographs and themes that reinforce your unique point of view. You do have one, and the world is interested in it (if this were not the case, every nature/landscape photographer post-Ansel Adams would be a complete failure).

I am far from being the first (and last) landscape photographer to shoot the places I do and using the tools that I do. I am not the first to photograph the Mojave Desert, Joshua trees, or the Sierra Nevada, but I am the first to present my point of view of these subjects and places. It is the only way I know how to work, and it is the only work that I believe is worth doing. I don’t need to run about North America photographing its most photographically mature subjects, and I have little reason to outdo other photographers. I work in my own arena. I care only about making photographs of subjects I love and can portray in a way that I can say is uniquely mine. When I do this most effectively, compelling photographs emerge. Epic light and icons be damned – I can even sell prints of busted vehicles.

Stop paying attention to what other photographers are doing. Photograph anything you want. Do it with your voice and your point of view. If you can do this with love and conviction, success will be yours.

PS: I am judging Guy Tal’s Ten Weeks of Creativity contest this week, and I want to see your unique point of view! Guy’s got great prizes lined up for each weekly winner – enter your photographs now.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Follow your muse and be willing to fail

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Sir Ken Robinson

Thirty-six satisfactory exposures on a roll means a photographer is not trying anything new.” Freeman Patterson

Casa de Tilapia

The idea behind this article originated after watching a video of Sir Ken Robinson speaking at a 2006 TED conference on why schools kill creativity. Before I go any further, let me first recommend that you watch this 19:29 length video in its entirety. Sir Ken is a brilliant thinker and an engaging and humorous speaker, and you’ll hopefully be as moved by his entire commentary as I was.

The crux of my commentary herein is summarized by Sir Ken five minutes into the video: “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” How exactly does this relate to the photographer/artist? Reflecting on my own history and career, if I had heeded all the advice offered to me, and if I had obeyed all the discouragement and dissuading thrown my way, I might never have had the courage to take my work the places it has gone. I would have never explored and proceeded forth with my own black and white photography; I was told that you can’t sell it and there’s not a big enough market for it. I also would have never explored and experimented with selective- and soft-focus in traditional landscape photography. There was no evidence that I could succeed with either, but I’m stubborn, I bore easily, and I listen to me first.

I’ve begun a new project (photographs coming soon) that is a bit different in concept than anything I’ve done previously, and I’ve already had good friends attempt to invalidate my new work even though I’m excited by it. When you’re trying to grow your work and your style – which is imperative for any artist who doesn’t want to stagnate – you must ignore your naysayers and follow your instincts; they are what drive your art. It is better to have tried and failed then to have listened to those detractors who would have discouraged your explorations in the first place.

I offer here a few suggestions for growing your own art. I didn’t just randomly pull these ideas out of a hat; these are some of the exact steps I took in order to get where I am today. If you’re tired of reproducing your own photographs and tired of your formulaic way of working (shooting fish in a barrel), consider some of these style- and consciousness-altering methods:

    * Be willing to return from a shoot completely empty-handed;
    * Be willing to create your own photographic brand even if you know that not everyone will like it;
    * Recognize that not everyone will like all of your work all of the time; you’re no different than any other artist in this regard;
    * You can never apologize for the work you create, even when someone expresses their direct dislike for it. It is, after all, your work;
    * You must be willing to forgo the obvious and commonplace photographs in order to find your own photographic voice;
    * You must be willing to let go of all your preconceived notions about what your photographs should or must look like. They don’t have to be sharply focused or highly detailed (great work is being done with iPhone’s!); they don’t have to contain beauty or anything beautiful; and they don’t have to provide a documentary representation of the location in which you are shooting;
    * If you feel like the photograph you’re about to make might be derivative, it probably is;
    * Your photographs must represent you and your photographic voice in a compelling and engaging manner;
    * Your art is a journey, never a destination. You’ll never know your potential until you allow it to come forth;
    * Be willing to fail. Not every experiment is successful, yet there’s something to be learned from every experiment.

Finally, make lots and lots of photographs, for exploration is the key to discovery.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

The Creative Landscape Photography Experience

Canyon BonsaiAnn Torrence attended our recent Creative Landscape Photography workshop in and around Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, and shares her experiences and post-workshop thoughts on her blog.

It’s great to learn when your teaching and photographic philosophies really reach your clients. Guy and I resoundingly believe that the strongest photographs arise as the result of a commitment to and a love for your subjects. A plane ticket or road trip to where every photographer wants to go is merely a distraction – the enlightened creative process is a journey, not a destination. Strong photographs can be made in our backyards, and our creative blocks come only from within, not from a lack of something special to photograph or special places to do it.

I’m really pleased that Ann got it, and that it was our workshop that made a difference. I look forward to seeing your new work, Ann!

Creativity – that overused word for such a mysterious process – is often simply the process of learning about ourselves, learning how we have placed limitations on our thinking, and finally, learning that we are our own barrier blocking the creative act“. Brooks Jensen

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website