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This blog is intended to showcase my pictures or those of other photographers who have moved beyond the pretty picture and for whom photography is more than entertainment - photography that aims at being true, not at being beautiful because what is true is most often beautiful..

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« man & nature # 99 ~ 112 years and counting | Main | civilized ku # 157 ~ mission accomplished »

ku # 553 ~ truth or consequences

Late afternoon light ~ Bloomingdale, NYclick to embiggen
After an afternoon spent tubing, participating in the Winter Carnival children's parade, and visit to the ice castle in and around the village of Saranac Lake, I decided to take the back way home.

The reason for this decision was based upon the light - it was a sunny day and it did not take a genius to realize that there would be some nice late day light dancing upon the landscape. The back-way-home choice was a good one. The light was indeed quite nice.

It should that even though I disparage those who have made a fetish of chasing the light I have absolutely no qualms about picturing the landscape while it is in the throes of a nice-light event. My feelings on the subject are remarkably similar to those expressed by this statement:

The word beauty is unavoidable … it accounts for my decision to photograph … There appeared a quality, beauty seemed the only appropriate word for it, in certain photographs, and I am compelled to live with the vocabulary of this new sight … through over many years [I] still find it embarrassing to use the word beauty, I fear I will be attacked for it, but I still believe in it. ~ Robert Adams

Although, to be accurate, I have never really had much of a problem with the word "beauty". It's the word "pretty" that bugs me - actually not the word itself but rather pictures which can be summed up almost in their entirety with that descriptor.

For me, the difference between "beauty" and "pretty" is all about depth. "Pretty" is all about surface. "Beauty" is about what lies beneath the surface. "Pretty" stays on the surface of things. "Beauty" dives/delves into the deep. "Pretty" is simple. "Beauty" is complex. "Pretty" embraces the straight and narrow. "Beauty" embraces contradictions. "Pretty" is contrived and self-absorbed. "Beauty" comes naturally and is outgoing.

And, IMO, 'pretty' is a lie and "beauty" is the truth. Therein lies my agita re: pretty landscape pictures.

At their core such pictures are intended by their makers to be "picture perfect" - not a "hair out of place", so to speak. But, unfortunately for the truth, the "natural world" is a complex and messy thing. So, in the name of "celebrating the beauty of the natural world", these picture makers create lies that mask an inconvenient truth.

Now wait just a minute, you might say - don't these photographers make pictures of the actual real world, in fact, the same one that I picture? Yep, they do. And the fact that they strive mightily to picture said natural world from the "perfect" angle, under "perfect"light, and with "perfect" composition really doesn't diminish the idea that they are picturing the real world. It may be an "idealized" and fleeting version of the real thing, but there is no denying it can be a picture of the real deal.

That said, it was those same "idealists" who embraced Velvia as the landscape picture making film of choice and suffice it to say that that choice was not based upon the film's relative color accuracy. Far from it. Velvia was embraced for its pump-it-up color rendition and those same folks who loved that characteristic are positively enthralled by Photoshop's Hue & Saturation slider and its luminosity masking capabilities - both of which are put to use in the cause of faking up the "beauty" of the natural world.

I mean, why leave it to god/mother nature when you can create your very own natural world "beauty"?

Of course, when confronted with the idea that their pictures are little more than eco-porn that actually does harm to the notion of conservation, the "idealists" usually counter with the rationalization that their pictures are "artistic interpretations" that are meant to spread an appreciation of the natural world in the cause of conservation. Artist interpretations they might be but the idea that you can increase appreciation for something by offering something for consideration that it is not is, at best, absurd, at worst, counterproductive.

Want proof? Riddle me this Batman - why is it that all almost all of our national parks, and by far the most popular/visited ones, are places that "preserve" the natural world's grandeur? Think about it. I mean really think about. Why is that we only strive to set aside and visit the "magnificent"? Where are the national parks that preserve "the ordinary" which, of course, no one wants to visit?

Here's the deal folks - we better start doing something about appreciating and preserving the beauty of the ordinary of the nature world because, when it comes right down to it, that is even more important than the extraordinary simply because there is so much more it.

Simply put, we need to get real.

Reader Comments (10)

Someone somewhere said something to the effect of: beauty is not inherent in the thing, beauty is what we call the reaction or feeling we have. So beauty isn't out there, it's in here. I would say that what creates beauty is the meanings we associate and create with the thing we call beautiful.

February 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBill Gotz

I wonder how many acres of "ordinary" exist in the form of local city, town and county parks in the U.S.?

I know of six wooded parks and/or nature preserves in the county I live in. All of them I would say was preserving the "ordinary."

February 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEarl Moore

Your piece speaks directly to the current vogue for using HDR in landscapes. Why is it really necessary to pump up the pictorial volume to appreciate a landscape ? The Hudson River School of painters basically did more with less.The beauty of natural world as it is should be more than enough.

February 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Fine

I think that beauty is a category that applies to artifacts. In this case your picture (a real beauty for me). It is the output, so to say, being under scrutiny or subject to an aesthetic judgment. Beauty (as a category) applied to anything different to an artifact is still applied to an idea of the thing (and not the thing itself) e so to an artifact as much. That a sunset is beautiful has more to do with the idea of sunset being a symbol for this or that, and not to the sunset itself. The same applies to natural parks. In the exact moment that are found beautiful they become gardens or if you prefer artifacts.

February 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMauro Thon Giudici

ops I forgot the main reason for the comment.

I totally agree upon the need to get real.

February 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMauro Thon Giudici

I seek and find beauty in a former sewage lagoon on a near daily basis. It's been re-christened as a nature center but it still has a very unkempt and wild air about it. (NO PUN INTENDED!)

There is one national park that I have visited that I can truly say was beautiful in the deepest sense of the word. It's Isle Royale National Park in late September/early October as explored by canoe. It's getting a bit more popular, unfortunately, these days but in the late 1970's and 80's--what a wild and beautiful and quiet place.

February 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMary Dennis

This is pretty inclusive, and has a reading list at the end:

There is also a fair bit of info related to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites now that cultural landscapes are included in the list of things worth preserving.

There are dilemmas of course, particularly the Amish conundrum of which technology to embrace and which to reject. 'Preservation' privileges a particular epoch, and there is no a priori way of deciding whether a C12th landscape is better or worse in an absolute sense then a C18th or C20th one.

February 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStruan Gray

To begin 'getting real' you need to stop perpetuating this artificial duality between pretty and beautiful: they are independent. The fact that something is pretty does not preclude the possibility of beauty. I can offer countless examples such from Mozart to Rembrandt. It is a common mistake, especially in academy to disdain the pretty for the same reason that non-academics confuse the pretty with the beautiful, namely that pretty is easier. It is easy to notice something is pretty and never consider whether it is also beautiful. Someone with your eye and mind must understand this, yet tour railing against the pretty is a little like the guy who thinks all attractive women are stupid.

As for the National Parks, you are off there as well. There are plenty of places in the park system that do not fall under what would traditionally be called magnificent. Consider Death Valley. If it is now considered magnificent it is because of the efforts of photographers, artists, writers, and the park service who have challenged the original definition of magnificent to include a place that was once thought of as a waste land by most people. A better indication of our national conservation policy might be to look at wilderness areas instead of National Parks. These include BLM, F&W, Forest Service as well as Park Service land and include almost the complete gamut of ecosystems from swamps to deserts.

February 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark M

Couldn't have said it better myself. But I didn't.

February 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark M (use)

I think the very first post (Bill Gotz) gets at the the true source of beauty. We bring it with us. Or not.

The other Mark M's comment about wilderness is one I was going to make. It derives it beauty from our value of untrammeled, the knowledge of the wholeness of the ecosystem, an awareness of the intricacies and astounding diversity and richness of life.

Magnificent, though, can be beside the point if it connotes grandeur, often a matter of scale, and the opposite of ordinary. Wilderness is not necessarily magnificent.

February 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark M (use)

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