I’m not sure what, precisely, it is about unfettered and unbothered solo walking that is so inspiring but I find myself repeatedly lit on fire when I wander.
Two things. First, it appears that the act of wandering is fulfilling because, in one way or another, that’s what we’re all doing. We’re wandering. Searching, looking, absorbing, seeking something. The wandering itself isn’t entirely fulfilling. It is what one gets from the wandering that is important. It could be anything. A clearer thought. A moment of peace. A connection to a greater something. A little bit of all of the above.
Second, a friend pushed me to something the other day that I found enlightening. He more or less demanded that I tell him a bit of what I felt as I wandered around. No one really presses me to tell them what I’m feeling, but it made me think about why I do feel such a draw to just wander around the forest making photographs.
Here it is: I wander because every time I go into the wilds, whether it’s the perfect little footprints of a squirrel in the snow, a ray of light that pierces the undergrowth and sets a single tree apart from the forest, the way a certain stand of trees blows in the wind or the way the tundra falls, for a split second I feel like I can see Narnia. Like the animals will start talking and the trees will start dancing and adventures will be had. If only for a split second, I see another world. A pure world. A world of everlasting glory.
Here in this world, we see only brief glimpses of that world. For the most part, the forest and the mountains and the weather and the winds are groaning in tribute to the fact that they are not a pure world. But here and there, snatches of a separate, perfect, purity can be found. The more you connect with what is around you the more you see them.
My wanderings with a camera are merely reflections of this feeling.
What do I feel when I’m out there doing photography and seeing the wilds? I feel like I want to record those split seconds so that I don’t ever forget them and, in the end, after thousands of photographs, perhaps I will have a faint image, a vague imprint, a portrait of what that other pure, mysterious world looks like. And then, when I’m longing for that pure Otherworld, I can come back to the images and look at them and for a little bit feel like I live there now.
Peace and Love in the Pursuit of the Otherworld,
I wandered through the forest today. Winter hit us hard and the stoke is high. I was relieved that I could go out there to shoot for commercial purposes and still…feel. It is really hard to shoot commercial and retain your person. It ended up being a stellar morning for both art and commercial purposes.
It’s snowing pretty hard today. Besides the fact that this means I will soon be floating through wide expanses of powdery goodness and flying through glades of beautiful pines strapped to two pieces of wood, it also makes for very surreal forests. Winter makes the earth look like a different planet. So I took a walk. It was stunning.
I also decided to spend some time reading the opening to John Fielder’s book, “Photographing the Landscape.” The book was more or less my photography Bible when I was in high school. I did notice a few things I don’t think I would have picked up before while meditating on the images. I think that Fielder and another of my heros, Robert Werling, were the last true heirs of Photo-Secessionists. With some shining exceptions, like Tim Cooper and my friend and mentor Craig Tanner, digital and HDR have more or less turned landscape photography into a desolate wasteland of technological unreality. (Bear in mind, I know there are a slew of good landscape photographers out there, just none that I think really convey a classic “Straight Photography” style).
I’ve actually met Fielder and interacted with him at length. I was 16. He wrote a very kind note to me and encouraged me to seriously pursue photography as well as riffed with me for about an hour on the topic of landscapes for business when I met with him in his gallery in Denver.
Fielder wisely says,
“Always get to know a place first before you photograph it. Don’t be anxious to make images of it immediately. Leave the camera in the car, hike around for a day or a week observing, absorbing. Only then set out to put it on film. And don’t assume you’ve seen it all. From year to year, season to season, day to day, and morning to evening, a place is never the same. If you grow to love a place, your perceptivity will grow, too.”
He goes on,
“Finally, never assume that a photographer cannot create just like a painter. A painter can either paint from reality or from his or her imagination, in which case the artist fathers and composes subject matter in the mind. Photographers can paint within the mind too, even though they are forced to work with reality. Creative photographers often make images by allowing certain features in the landscape to appear more conspicuous in the photograph than they might be to the eye. A skillful photographer controls the outcome of the image — the art.”
I find that this quote correlates excellently with my investigation of O’Keefe. I think I’m starting to realize that the camera can be used quite as effectively as paints. As a result, I’m going to continue these occasional tributes to her. I can’t get her work out of my mind. It’s there every time I take photos now.
I used to be appalled at the very idea of an intentionally blurry photo. I’m changing my mind now. I think with an appropriate nod to the Impressionism that influences them and a reminder that unsharp photos can convey a sense of universal form over and against an insistence on particular forms they carry a very real beauty. I feel like the photos above are open to visual interpretation by the Viewer. The Viewer can make his or her own story when there are nothing but universal forms present and no stress on particulars.
I’m thinking that may just be one of the reasons I like O’Keefe so much. The Viewer is free to discover himself or herself in the work, rather than having the meaning of the work bluntly dictated to them. It’s an experience I’ve come to enjoy.
Peace and Love,
Drew Rouse on the best (and only) blower day of the Colorado season that was over as soon as it began. Photos © Ryan Day Thompson, 2012