Good new arrived Saturday with notification that two of my photos have been accepted into the Maryland Federation of Art Sixth Annual American Landscapes exhibit, which will be running at the MFA Circle Gallery, in Annapolis from September 8 through October 14, 2006. I had a piece in the fourth exhibit (did not get in last year) and had a great time visiting Annapolis.
I consider my landscape work to be the most serious stuff I shoot. I don’t shoot that much of it, and prsent even less mostly because the opportunity isn’t there and it's hard to do. It’s not that I’m not out working, or that I forget my cameras or something – it’s rare that the land speaks to me coherently, showing me the shot to be taken. It get incoherent messages all the time, and unlike the “Outer Limits” the problem is definitely with the receiver….
Doing landscapes in the Midwest is not an easy task – you don’t have grand panoramic scenes, fabulous mountains, or other natural wonders that are slam dunks for landscape shooters. During my recent trip to North Carolina I felt like Gomer Pile, saying “Golly – look at those mountains.” Mountains, valleys, canyons, gorges, heck – even lighthouses – all offer some degree of pizzazz to an image. The subject is possibly the most basic aspect of any photo, and Mount Rushmore will usually have more impact than, say, Michigan’s Bald Mountain, no matter what.
Let’s face it – shooting landscapes in the Midwest means a lot of flat plains, loads of trees, and a sun that sometimes shines, but often hides behind a thick layer of clouds.
If a task is worth doing, it’s worth doing because it is difficult. Granted, “difficult” is a relative measure. In the Midwest you generally don’t need to engage in heroics to reach a spot, and you are generally not threatened by the elements as you try to shoot (nautical photography being a notable exception.)
But then, all around the world rare and inaccessible places are becoming less rare and more accessible every day. A couple generations ago the Everglades were a true wilderness, now they are a tourist attraction. Denali was once a remote frontier, now it is an air fare and hotel ticket away. I’d suspect that here in the modern world it’s all pretty easy to get to where you want to go whenever you want to get there. Which is no doubt why some of the prime photographic locations in the great national parks out west have photographers lined up dozens deep, all shooting the same old shot.
That’s why the Midwestern landscape beckons to me. They are seldom high impact, rarely superficial, and really break your back as a photographer. You have to find the place with a bit of something, take a lot of shots, go back to the same place over and over and over to work the nuance – and what you get is something that most people will look at and say “huh…”
Well, Nietzsche once wrote:
“Slack and sleeping senses must be addressed with thunder and heavenly fireworks. But the voice of beauty speaks gently; it creeps only into the most awakened souls. Gently trembled and laughed my shield today; that is the holy laughter and tremor of beauty.” (Walter Kaufmann Translation, Penguin Books.)
Well, Nietzsche tended to get overly dramatic, but his point is well taken. To see the beauty in a brownfield - or a little spit of midwestern woods or prairie - is an attribute of the awakened consciousness.
And so I’m proud and honored to have Weedy Sassafras and Use and Lose represented in the Maryland show. I have been a stranger to the old farmstead in the latter shot, but frequently visit the bit of oak savanna where Weedy Sassafras was shot, and it’s one of the few areas of the maze like woods where I don’t need the GPS, because I recognize each tree individually.
Comment from: kim Visitor
first thing, congratulations. somehow, as long as i’ve been admiring your work, i’m pretty sure i’d never seen those two superfine images. (yeah, i’m reluctant to call them great, that word seems to come so easily on the web, but the weedy sassafras,…well, you know.
prolly hadn’t seen them before because i got so caught up in yer bugs and birds.
i’ve been back in michigan for nearly 20 years and landscape still seems to be a concept for elsewhere. might just be a matter of having to adapt whatever remaining skills i have to the different scale you describe. so yeah, the problem is with the receiver.
have fun with saturday’s workshop. that’s one more place i didn’t know about that will hopefully fit into the summer’s outings. this saturday it’s the kellogg bird sanctuary. if something good doesn’t come from that…
i’ve been practicing sketching trees. scary, and nothing near worth posting yet, but thanks for the push, i needed that.