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February 18, 2008


I suppose I should say something, at least given I know Tony and share similar landscapes here in Aotearoa. I even photograph them sometimes, although I find them inordinately difficult. Unfortunately, I suffer from the Rushdie syndrome, which is the desire to disagree with what I've said as soon as I've said it. But, I'll offer two hypotheses. First, any substantial conclusion about landscape (or any) photography remains unconvincing unless arrived at by the individual — in other words, unless I work it out (or at least think it through thoroughly) for myself, it carries little weight. Second, as one studies and thinks about landscapes, photographs without some kind of "edge" (for example, a feeling of uneasiness) become increasingly less satisfactory; one becomes increasingly likely to label them nature porn, or eco-porn (Dave kicked off a good discussion about this recently: www.vianegativa.us/2008/01/10/manifest-oh ). Note, I'm NOT saying the only good landscapes are those illustrating some kind of environmental degradation. I wish I could identify the "edginess" I'm thinking of, but I can't, other than to say that grandeur, magnificence, and sheer beauty are seldom enough.

Many thanks for that. do you feel comfortable posting it to my ezine?
I do not find them inordinately difficult. At all. I now know why I do it.I am certain. I am just raking up the courage to expose that aspect of me online.
Why not hit me with the question, so I have no corner to back into?

Thanks, Pete. I appreciate the comment and am glad someone brought this point up - maybe Dave will chime in too. I tend to agree with you about the edginess being necessary -- for me, anyway - and also that our response to what we want to see and feel in our own work is always personal. I' ll have more to say about this when I reply to Tony's letter, since I used to be a painter, and landscapes were a favorite subject.

As a matter of fact, probably we should all pause and read the discussion at Via Negativa that Pete refers to before going further - what a lot of searching comments, not only on "eco-porn" but on artist statements as well, and on how individual our response to beauty in nature really is. (http://www.vianegativa.us/2008/01/10/manifest-oh)

Interesting. I look forward to your continued conversation. I read this account of the genesis of some art and thought of you both.

Creek Running North also had a good discussion of nature photography recently, though it dealt more with wildlife than landscape photography. Rana's comment was particularly valuable, I thought.

A number of years ago when I brought in my photography portfolio to a stock agency here in Japan my photos were rejected on the grounds that they were "too busy. Western photography is always too busy," the art director told me. His comment had merit, of course, since at that time, and still today, I have a lot of learning to do with my compositions and understanding of photography. But the comment has always bothered me. When I looked at the agency's gallery of photos it occurred to me that they always followed the same rote formula of canceling out anything extraneous in the image and creating a false view of what a place was all about. "Wabi sabi" as the Japanese call it. Of course, all photography is a choice, a selection of what you choose to see and a reduction of elements limited within the frame of the camera's rectangular plate, but you have to ask yourself if it is the truth when, for instance you present a lovely view of a tree in a field, but just ten meters to the side stands a huge billboard. It reminds me of a walk I took with a Japanese friend along the south flank of Mt. Fuji. There was so much garbage on the ground that I couldn't relax and immerse myself in the place, constantly getting irritated by the attitude that people before us held toward the place. My friend walked calmly on, telling me, "Just look at the nature. Don't look at the garbage." Typically a Japanese view of things and it seems to bring them a lot of peace, but at the same time they seem to fail to see the whole, seeking instead to see what they prefer to see.

So what is the truth? I( suspect it is close to what Pete describes, the uneasiness. Perhaps an understanding and an acceptance that beauty has something to do with death.

Very interesting, Miguel. I know I would've come home from that trip with probably 300 photos of trailside litter.

Hi Dave,

There was one instance when I returned from a long walk in the mountains and I must have been the last person in the area, trudging down the trail as the last light failed. In the dimness, walking among cedars, I saw ahead of me a strange sight, the black floor of the forest covered with thousands of white, glowing fragments of...something. Stepping closer I realized that the entire floor of this area of the woods was strewn with sheet upon sheet upon sheet of carefully arranged pages from porn magazines, each page with a photo of a naked woman floating in the darkness. It was weird, ugly, enticing, disturbing, beautiful, and strangely magical. If only I could have figured out how to photograph it, but the light was too low and I had no tripod. So it remains a memory. But garbage and porn can be natural and beautiful, too!

Now that has to be a new level of "installation art"! It's always good to see you here, Miguel - thanks a lot for these comments and for enlarging the discussion to include yet another culture.

Clearly, denial is a factor in our experience of beauty in nature, and that's becoming a worldwide phenomenon, not confined to industrialized areas - apparently even in the Himalayas garbage is a problem. This reminds me of some photos I saw in a magazine that were "zoomed out" views of political photo-ops: basically the photos the world saw in the media were set-ups, with small crowds, for instance, that had been photographed to look like a huge multitude. Reality can be easily manipulated, even without resorting to PhotoShop - just move the camera to one side or crop the photo carefully. But this also brings up the importance of being able to find beauty without insisting on a pristine experience - for example, in the city. I'm a country girl now living in a big city, near a large park, where I've had to re-learn a lot about looking and finding and experiencing natural beauty. Sometimes it's easier than others.

Thanks for this conversation!

"If beauty were to be discovered in Denver, it had to be on the basis of a radical faith in inclusion."

-- Robert Adams

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.