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« urban ku # 180 ~ myth and daggers | Main | The Hedges 0n Blue Mountain Lake »

urban ku # 179 ~ objectivity vs passion

The Famous Grouse Scotch # 1click to embiggen
Doug Stockdale asked (on his blog, singluarimages) "... what constitutes Contemporary Landscape Photography?" Past Landscapist guest host, Chantal Stone offered this answer -

Contemporary photography, I don’t think, is easily defined. But it’s more like photography without emotion…like a “way I see things” kind of thing. I think the idea of CP is to simply show the world, or snippets of the world, as objectively as possible. No easy task, imo ....

But in terms of landscape photography, I think CP is the best way to approach it. Contemporary landscape photography, I feel, is the most truthful way to show our world, as it is…the good, the bad, the pretty, the not so pretty. There’s no pretense with CLP, and with how rapidly our landscapes are changing I feel it’s important to document the world just as it is.

Chantal went on to opine that I - that's me, gravitas et nugalis - am "one of the best contemporary landscape photographers around" which implies that I might actually know what the hell it is that I am doing and, by extension, what 'Contemporary Landscape Photography' is as well. However, even though I rarely shrink from issuing forth with grand sweeping pronouncements, I am not going to rise that particular bait. That said, I would like to comment on the "photography without emotion ... show the world, or snippets of the world, as objectively as possible" thing.

IMBC&EO (In My Brilliantly Considered & Educated Opinion), there is an overwhelming and ubiquitous tendency, especially amongst those photographers given to pictorialism excesses or hopelessly romantic themes, to label landscape photography in which the referents are neither "spectacular" or iconic nor embellished with velvia-esque qualities (however attained) to be "without emotion". It also seems, IMBC&EO, that the emotion most cherished by the same crowd is that of "WOW!!!!"

From that reasoning, it is also assumed that photographers who make such 'non-conforming' photographs are doing so "objectively" - that is to say, uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices. The way this notion is most often articulated by the pictorialist excesses crowd is, "... looks like the shutter was tripped by accident ...".

Now, I don't know about you, but the only way that I can conceive of a photograph being created, uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices, by a person (as opposed to, say, a surveillance camera) is for that person to be in a coma and hooked up to some sort of devise that trips a camera shutter every time that he/she twitches involuntarily- leaving aside the fact that a non-comatose co-creator who is influenced by emotions or personal prejudices (how ever weird) would have had to set the whole thing up.

Of course, I, as do many others, make pictures that give the appearance of being 'cool', 'detached', or 'unaffected' observation, but, as we all know (or should), that appearance is an illusion. And, it's worth stating that 'cool', 'detached', and 'unaffected' are all actual emotional states - the opposite of 'impassioned', perhaps, but emotional states, nevertheless.

Why adopt such a so-called 'emotionless' appearance for my photographs? It's very simple, really. While my personal prejudices come to the fore in my act of referent selection, that is to say, in choosing that to which I am attracted and to which I wish to direct the viewer's attention, initially, I want the viewer to react to my pictures influenced by their emotions or personal prejudices. However, ultimately, I hope that my pictures will also cause the viewer to question their emotions or personal prejudices regarding the referent(s) presented in my pictures.

In my experience, and especially when viewed by those who are not hopelessly enthralled with pictorialist excesses, my pictures do just that. They often cause those who view them with an open mind to say things such as, "I never noticed that before" or, "I never thought of that in that way before", or even "I'm not sure about this, but I'll have to think about it."

It is my belief that they have this reaction because I give the viewer room to move, both emotionally and intellectually. I do not put them in an emotional / intellectual stupor by bludgeoning them with first-glance, nearly overwhelming 'shock and awe'. I treat the viewers of my pictures with intellectual and emotional respect - a sort of 'freedom of (thinking) choice', if you will. I assume they have a brain and that they know how to use it without me telling them how to use it.

And, on the subject of 'passion', I am very passionate, no matter how emotionally and intellectually dis-passionate my pictures appear to be, in the pursuit of making those pictures.

I don't know how well all of this goes towards defining "Contemporary Landscape Photography" but it's does define (in part) the how and why I make my contemporary landscape pictures.

PS: if you're listening, Chantal - thanks for the compliment.

Reader Comments (4)

Not sure if is/was intentional, but the play with shadow and light dividing these "roofscapes" into multiple scenes within the scenes is what I like most. That as well as the overwhelmingly "beige-ness" of colors is appealing and really pulls them all together rather well. Oh, and the fact that each scene looks like it was taken post-apocalypse (or post-kodak/bausch&lomb/xerox)...the streets and buildings all seem completely vacant. Which makes the scenes seem tranquil, but not peaceful in my mind for some reason.

So far (so far = from 5 years old and on), these are my favoritist I've never seen from your collection over the years. I'd like to see what that ole' 8x10 that is growing dust in your closet could do in the ADK's. Or, if you don't want to, show me how that thing works!

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteraaron

Reading this post has helped me understand what your point is much better regarding the desire to appear Objective. And is actually in better alignment with my "I'm just Looking" (Wo Zhi Kankan) series.

I've probably have it explained better in my post this evening:

Without the sarcasm (I hope);- )

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Stockdale

you're welcome!

March 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChantal

Very well said as always Mark. This has been a very enlightening discussion both here and on Doug Stockdale's blog. I feel like reading your thoughts here has been a window into my own philosophy toward my photography.

March 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDarrell Klein

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