Landscapes are easy

May 17, 2019


I don’t know if I ever considered myself a landscape photographer. Perhaps, because it is the subject I’m most interested in (or feel the most love for, which isn’t the same). I have this feeling though that being a landscape photographer is not just about a choice of subject. It’s also about a way of working.

Two things recently made me think about that. In the Flak Facebook group someone argued that landscape photography was the easiest of disciplines within photography. (Oh oh, turmoil ! : ) I think two aspects of photography got mixed up and made the discussion a bit confusing. The difficulty in the effort of taking a picture vs the difficulty of getting something truly remarkable and meaningful (I try not to think of what 'meaningful' actually means). Obviously, to me, how easy or difficult it is to produce an image doesn’t tell you anything about its artistic value. The latter is equally difficult in all genres of photography. 

In any case, one of the debaters offered a list of what is on the landscapist’s plate, in order to do his 'easy' job:

“Pre-determining the right camera perspective, then
Pre-determining the right focal length lens and image ratio, then, 
Taking compass readings to determine Sun, Moon and star trajectories and times
Checking the type of trees and plant life related to possibly coming back for fall foliage, spring bloom etc
Checking the topography to see if the surrounding geography (mountains) will cause dramatic early or late shadows
Checking historical weather patterns for that area to see if early morning mist or fog can be predicted or if snow will improve the scene or if there are times where wind is too big a factor or extreme hot/cold needs to be compensated for.
Checking to see what sort of animals might be around at certain times of the year, both as elements in a scene or as a possible hazard.”

Etc.
That definitely isn’t me.

I guess for me the production of a landscape picture is indeed fairly easy. My preparation is close to zero, my equipment is simple (a full frame dslr with a zoom lens) and the time I spend taking the picture is best expressed in minutes. I guess the challenge for me lies in something completely different.

The second thing is: I was asked to write a few words about the Newfoundland series. First of all: besides these not being a series, they are not landscapes either. Well, some are, but it’s not a series of landscapes. I found a better word for them: travelogues. And this is what I wrote:

“I've been working on a series of travelogues since 2013. I don't intend to document or research the landscape, it's rather an attempt to establish a personal connection with a place that I don't know much about, that I'm not part of and never will be. I'm only passing by.

Spring entered late that year in Newfoundland. More ice was floating along the shores than normally around mid June. The greens were still young and fresh. I overheard a conversation in a diner,  one saying to the other: "The trees are far behind. About a week or three". Something about the precision of that timeframe struck me - three weeks. I felt like the visitor that I am, unable to read the landscape, unable to relate it to itself. I can only relate it to me.

These pictures are snapshots really, not in terms of aesthetics, but for the lack of preparation. Inherently, for me at least, to the nature of traveling, of always being on the move. There is no waiting for the right light, the right sky or for quieter moments. There is no turning back after a missed opportunity. It's a way of working that requires an intensive awareness of my surroundings, a high level of focus that I find both exhausing and exhilarating.”

Picture taken along the highway while P. was filling up the gas tank. Newfoundland, 2017.