"A poet expresses their art through words, a photographer expresses their images through light". These are the words of the esteemed British Landscape/Wilderness photographer Joe Cornish.
Since the beginning of my life journey into landscape photography these words have always been cemented into my foundation and vision as an artist using the camera as a medium to express a moment in time......
In 2002 I had just left Australia having recently finishing university and moved to Europe. The breathtaking wilderness of The Swiss Alps, the rolling hills of Tuscany, and cultural diversity at every corner, blew my breath away. Having witnessed these scenes for the first time in my life I soon after purchased my first SLR camera, a solid tripod and some good old Velvia. I was immediately taken by the essence and this somewhat romantic expression that I could capture and have never looked back.
As early as I can remember the four foundations for landscape photography were; Timing, Light, Composition and Vision. It wasn't until I purchased my first set of filters that I realised that 'light' could be manipulated. Once I could manipulate light, I could become more expressive with my photography and this became even more exciting. Photographers such as Ansel Adams were taking this form of manipulating light even further in dark room film development. However now in 2021 with major changes in technological advances with the introduction of the digital camera, we are now seeing not only drastic manipulation in light, but also manipulation to the landscape scene itself.
Image Taken in 2003 in the Sahara desert with a Pentax SLR and Fuji Velvia film. Direct scan from film slide.
Landscape photography through the medium of digital art today is seeing many shifts in not only styles and techniques to produce the final product, which on many levels is a positive one, but on some levels some form of unequal clarity with regard to preserving landscape photography as it is seen not only through the eyes of fellow photographers, but also the general public who's appreciation for our expression is also through "education of wilderness". If our public audience is seeing this drastic manipulation, then how are they being educated? and would they feel deceived to know that that our photographs were manipulated beyond the truth of "an eye witness" capture of that landscape?
My photographs over the years have always had interest through private clients, family and friends alike and as "a digital landscape/wilderness photographer", more so in recent years, I have gained popularity, especially within the photographic community. In human nature it is normal that once this appreciation is accepted, our expression in art in turn gives us a sense of self worth and sometimes egoism. I for one, have been a victim to this form of egoism and on many levels I blame social media for that. The huge variety of social media platforms on the internet are brilliant resources for showcasing your work, for learning and also for helping others, and I am thankful to be part of this powerful and positive community, but unfortunately there are many negative sides to how we utilize these tools to our personal advantage and more importantly, mental health.
So, what I am getting at here?.... When we use these mediums to showcase our photographs, in recent years it has been my observation is that the way we generate our images to our audience to render them more appealing via Instagram for example, has had a distorted and negative impact on my beliefs are as a landscape photographer. This is where we bring back the subject of manipulation. Luminosity masking pushed way beyond sensor dynamic ranges, composites of landscapes with foreground, middle and backgrounds, masked from three different parts of the globe, artificial intelligence such as sky replacement and fog filters, are all examples of many photographers workflow to gain this popularity. Giving images that "wow effect". Its almost as though many photographers are only out there shooting for social media, and this disturbs me. As Gary Crabbe recently noted; "they are shooting for the likes..not the light".
I must admit, I have tainted with extreme manipulation to a scene and recently I was a victim to this form of expressionism, on some level, not only for egoism, but also for profile promotion. If I didn't shoot that way I won't be noticed. But within a short period of time, the sensitivity within our creativity as artists causes reflection, satisfaction, regret and truth. I quickly felt that I was cheating my audience, as they were the people who trusted me to give them that moment I captured in time. I soon realised it was time that I rediscovered that beacon of light that once called upon me. That light made me feel one within. From that moment on I knew that I had to draw a line. To maintain that umbilical like connection to the "eye witness photograph" as best as I could and not step over this so called "zone" of where the image is detached from the reality of that moment.
Patagonia 2019. Pentax FF dslr. Heavy focal blending applied. 15mm foreground. 200mm background
I will quote the announcement of the 2020 International Landscape Photography Awards result:
As our annual award grows with over 3800 entries this year, so does the range and diversity of subjects, locations and styles. Landscape photography is a powerful medium, even more so when we acknowledge the impact of climate change and our footprint on this Earth.
So, should landscape photography highlight the global challenges that lie ahead if we don’t change our ways, or is it an opportunity to create a landscape of the imagination, perhaps a better place to be?
Fortunately, there isn’t a single answer to this and similar questions and each photographer is entitled to follow their own path. All we’re looking for is an engaging image – and images that communicate something seem to gain more attention.
The International Landscape Photographer of the Year Award 2020 again presents 101 incredible landscape photographs with a truly international flavour, representing photographers and locations from all around the world.
After reading this announcement and browsing over the top 101 images for this year it was clear to me that the direction of Landscape photography for such an important award had now changed its vision. I am not going to say that I don't appreciate the many forms of "digital art" that is being produced by some highly talented people out there, nor do I condemn it. But for someone that has respected landscape photography for such a long time, it saddens me that on some aspects that this is the direction that the majority is taking. Should we draw a line and define "digital art" from "Landscape Photography"? Should such highly prestigious awards such as that of ILPOTY emulate this philosophy? Its a complex argument and one that I constantly ask myself on a frequent basis.
The great Galen Rowell once wrote: "Thoughtful photographers have become aware that photographic styles which depend on quirks of present chemical technology instead of on consistent personal vision will become passé. Only those based on the qualities of light and form will remain equally valid in whatever new technologies evolve.
Something to think about.......
As with any form of art, there is always what we refer to as "popular", and what's modern at the time. There is the top 100 pop songs for the year, then there is underground Jazz, that only a handful of people are fortunate to have heard through passion and patients to discover. Will those pop songs still be remember in 10 years time? I can tell you that names such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis will echo through generations. Maybe photography is just going through a trend and will bounce back to the majority to appreciate it for what I believe it truly is, or maybe it will all be a thing of the past, a forgotten craft and art form.
I sincerely hope the art over that fine line in manipulation is noted for what it should be titled as; "digital art". Where artists are true to their audience about what they showcase. I hope that a gifted and hard working landscape photographer that captures a stunning composition, in a unique location, with incredible light, has his/her vision rewarded to a wider audience that understand the truth behind that moment. I hope they we will see the photograph in large print in a local cafe, not on a smartphone screen.
Ken Duncan once said "if you don't have light, you don't have a photograph"
I express these words with concern, to preserve the essence of the craft. We are all artists in some shape or form. We all deserve to express that. But lets express the art for what it is..... not for what it isn't..... to be true to our audience.
Rocca Calascio, Italy. 2016. Single exposure. Eye witness moment that I will never forget