Is Landscape Photography a Viable Genre in the Fine Art World?

Is landscape photography a genre which the fine art world accepts? If it is a viable genre what are the first steps you’d recommend to break into this world? How can a relative newcomer find an audience for his or her work?

These are questions I am often asked by aspiring professional photographers/artists and they are rather difficult questions to answer. Every artist travels a different path. There is no ‘standard’ one-size-fits-all approach. The first thing to come to terms with is whether you seek artistic and creative success or economic success.

It must be immediately pronounced: It has likely never been more difficult to make an income with photography. The competition is greater than ever and the demand for wall art and professionally-sourced photography seems to be slipping in the DIY era (even Costco now offers metal, acrylic, and canvas prints).

In the “fine art world”, landscape photography might be the most maligned of genres: it is beautiful for beauty’s sake and rarely rooted in fantasy or the “human condition” (commodities for galleries); it is passé, and it doesn’t push artistic boundaries (some would suggest). Unless you possess a rather unique and distinctive style, process, or message, you will be competing for eyes with thousands if not millions of other photographers working in the same genre. Your website may never be found by Google (it takes time, effort, and strategy to rise to the top of searches) and you may never make a single online sale regardless of how beautiful your website is or how enabled your shopping cart system may be. These are realities.

I don’t mean to discourage you from the attempt. Know that you will have to work hard (forget about 40-hour work weeks), be tenacious, and be stubborn to find success – this is not a great avenue for quitters. It might only take ten or twenty years for you to become an “overnight success”. Or it may never arrive (again, define your own success). If you plan to chase a big income or fame or compete stylistically with other landscape photographers, you are likely to burn out and will almost surely fail.

But know that there is a market for everyone and everything. The supreme challenge is finding your market for your particular brand and style of work. No one can tell you how to do this or offer guidance; it’s your path of discovery to walk. By all means, contact art galleries who you believe might be interested in seeing your work but realistically expect no replies or success in this market. The Great Recession killed many galleries and those whose doors remain open are generally not seeking new artists to represent.

Consider this your artistic journey. “Fine art” is unlike any other business or business venture. You can’t hatch a standard business plan, find funding, and be assured of success – it just doesn’t work that way. The journey involves lifelong learning and growth processes which may continuously evolve and unfold into perhaps unimaginable and even beautiful paths. I will say this: it is the most rewarding experience and career for those that can find personal success. Making a sustainable income is the hard part. The latter might not be a huge concern if you do what you love.

Although upset by the 2020 Coronavirus, another viable option for your consideration is in-person Art Festivals, where the artist can bypass galleries and take their art directly to the public. Please read Art Festivals: Alternative Exhibition Opportunities for the [Fine Art] Photographer for more details.

The following books have all been helpful on my artistic journey. I wish you the very best on yours! Thank you for reading.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Toloache (Sacred Datura)

 

Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

The Sacred Datura plant (Datura wrightii) is known in Mexico as toloache, from the Nahuatl words for “bow the head” and “reverential” (how can you not love this?). Beverages made from this poisonous deliriant induce hallucinogenic visions; when used improperly, even death. It is used for sacred rites of passage by Native American tribes, has been used to hex and to break hexes, to produce sleep and induce dreams, and for protection from evil. It has also been used for divination, to find one’s totem animal, to allow one to see ghosts, for communing with birds, for long hunts and strength, for sharper vision, for sorcery and to increase supernatural powers. Sacred Datura (also known as Jimson Weed or Devil’s Weed [Yerba del Diablo]) is one of the subjects of Carlos Castaneda’s critically acclaimed The Teachings of don Juan. I have personally used it only for photographic power.

Accordingly, a sacred plant commands sacred photographic treatment. I experienced many rejects and failures before I finally landed a successful photograph. Sacred Datura grows in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts and blooms from April through October, rainy season dependent. In clear weather, flowers may open in the morning or evening but close during the heat of the day. In cloudy weather, they may open earlier and last longer. Individual flowers do not last long, timing is everything. In windy conditions – common on the desert during it’s blooming period – flowers can be quickly damaged by wind (folded and bruised flower petals don’t photograph  well). Further, wind is often disastrous for large format film photography where long exposures are common and camera bellows become wind sails. My exposures are timed carefully to fall between gusts of wind. Unlike digital photography, there is no instant feedback in film photography – results are not visible until I later develop the film. A second negative is often made to counteract wind movement; one is routinely a throw-away (due to blurring).

Toloache resides in my gallery of Strange Growths. For photographers and other artists, my next post here will detail the origins of and methods used in this ongoing body of work.

Put a print of this on your wall!

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Visionary Image: Conceptual Development

Place two photographers side by side on the the very same scene or subject and they are likely to produce distinctly different images. Excluding the most obvious images easily gathered from accessible vistas, photographers have largely known this to be true. With any given scene of any scale, how we approach it and what we choose to most focus on is largely based on our mood and temperament of the day; our previous experience with such a subject; even the subliminal influence of other photographs and photographers may come into play.

Guy Tal and I wandered a Death Valley canyon following the close of our most recent Visionary Death Valley workshop. We stopped intermittently where we found interesting rock outcrops and healthy fruiting specimens of Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) – these wild desert pumpkins can be intriguing subjects for photographers of our ilk. I have casually photographed Coyote Melon for many years; an artful black and white image of Coyote Melon was still elusive and resided only in my head. Required to make this image was a perfect confluence of my mental state, a good visual arrangement, and unfailing vision. I still had yet to find that while in the company of these gourds.

We were now just a few miles from road’s end where we would begin a walk into desert wilderness – this is our method of rest and recovery. But Guy spotted one more beautiful Coyote Melon specimen – we stopped to investigate. It was a large enough vine to provide working space for both of us. We each identified our objects of interest and and got to work.

_DSC0713I was immediately drawn to the delicate but elaborate etchings on one particular fruit – I honed in. Space and space exploration has been on my mind a lot lately. I spend many nights each year staring deeply into it and sleeping under it and NASA’s InSight Lander touched down on Mars just thirteen days after this photograph. I like to use space and time metaphors in my images and titles. The etchings reminded me of planetary surfaces similar to Jupiter or the Moon. This became the metaphor that I forced into my approach.

My very first frame is seen at left. It’s a solid documentary image but it’s not terribly creative or exciting. I’d be happy to have it published in a plant ID guide but I can’t call it “art”.  Over the next 17+ minutes (happily mired in a flow state), using two different lenses – including a soft-focus brass portrait lens – I exposed 46 frames in total, each with slight shifts in perspective and field of view, each working towards the image that I had now developed in my mind. I already knew how the print needed to look. The camera position moved exceedingly closer to the ground in order to force the perspective I sought. I wanted the gourd to be tucked behind some of the leaves – similar to the way a full moon rises into a bank of clouds. In fact, I had photographed this very thing a couple of weeks prior. The dramatic image I had made of a full moon rising was finding its way into this image of a simple gourd. But I was no longer photographing a gourd – I was photographing a Rising Coyote Moon.

Coyote Moon Rising

Creative photographers who find such ideas and discussions stimulating and inspiring should consider joining Guy and I for Visionary Death Valley.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Immense, Silent, and Sacred

I have released a beautiful 46-page 8″x8″ softcover book containing eighteen of my photographs exhibited during The National Park Service:100 Years-California Dreaming exhibition at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento, California. These eighteen images span many years of my work in Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

Books purchased through my website are signed/autographed. Immense, Silent, and Sacred can be fully previewed at MagCloud. Please note than purchases through MagCloud are unsigned/not autographed. Digital downloads are also available.

It has never been easier or less expensive to own my photographs in print form (that’s a little more than $1 per photo). Many thanks in advance for your support and purchases!

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

The Joshua Tree Fine Art Folio

The Joshua Tree collector's folio - Michael E. GordonI am very pleased to announce the official release of my new The Joshua Tree collector’s folio. This beautiful folio features twelve of my photographs from The Joshua Tree collection and measures 11×14” – conveniently sized for easy framing – with each image measuring approximately 8×10”. These beautiful prints are a delight to hold in the hand and they’re made using the same archival materials and techniques as all of my gallery prints, featuring rich warm/sepia tone carbon pigment inks on delicately textured fine art German Etching paper (a perfect match to the texture of the Joshua tree). Each open-edition folio is sequentially numbered with a title page, artist statement, and all twelve photographs arriving in a handsome embossed die-cut art paper enclosure.

My good friend and fellow photographer Guy Tal had some flattering things to say about this new folio on a recent blog post“I can say without hesitation that this collection is among the most beautiful things I own…If you are one who appreciates the power of an exquisitely conceived and printed photograph, you will cherish this portfolio.” Thank you, Guy!

The Joshua Tree and  Desert fine art folios make wonderful holiday gifts for those who appreciate fine photography and the well-crafted print. Order yours today in time for the holidays!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook, Google+, and  Twitter.