As a landscape photographer, I believe that part of my nature is that of ‘restless searcher’.
I know many people who have turned to photography, as a response to the routine in their lives. I will often hear clients tell me that they feel more alive, and in touch with nature through photography.
I think this is because routine tends to dull our senses. We stop noticing things because anything that does not change in our environment does not tend to stand out after a while. Routine seems to contain a lot of background noise – information that we do not need to process again and again, because we already know it.
Consider the commute to work, where you felt you were on auto-pilot. All you know if you got to your desk on time, but you can’t specifically remember details of the journey any more, because, just like how you know which key to type on your keyboard, everything has become second nature. You have stopped looking.
I think that most people thrive on new stimulation. For example, one way to become stimulated is to go on holiday. Being in a new environment, with different sights and sounds can seem to awaken part of us that has been lying dormant while we go about the routines in our everyday lives. This awakening is something I think most of us find attractive about photography, because the very act of making a picture forces us to engage in our surroundings in a way that we normally wouldn’t. I think this is why I often hear participants on my workshops tell me it takes them a day or two to get their ‘vision’ working – they’re out of practice, because the routine of their lives does not require such intense processing of their visual surroundings anymore.
In this way, making images with a camera isn’t really about making images at all. I think it’s more a vehicle that encourages us to engage with our environment. Give someone a camera and they will go looking. Or more specifically, they will go searching. A camera is a baton, a symbol that says ‘now I must open I eyes and go see, look, find, enquire, engage’.
I had a client a year or so ago, who expressed his view that we should try to avoid routine in our lives – even in the smallest of ways. He would for instance, take different routes home in his car each day from work, so that he was able to think more. Or if he was walking, he would deliberately leave his office and make up his journey home. He wouldn’t look at a map or plan his trip. He would simply go, and see what he would come across as he made his way from one side of Philadelphia to the other. During the workshop, he was keen to encourage the group to choose different seats each day. As much as this seems perhaps a bit eccentric, I can fully appreciate what he was doing. He was trying to reduce the level of routine in his life because it allowed him to engage more.
I’ve been looking at these three images the past few weeks since I worked on them. Essentially the same location, same volcano in the background – Licancabur – just on the border between Chile and Bolivia. I could have shot this scene once and decided that there was little point in making another image of it . But as you know, we don’t tend to do that as photographers. We will often shoot the same subject again and again. Sometimes it’s because we don’t think we quite ‘got it’, and other times, it’s because we’re still noticing things about the landscape and recomposing to take into account the new information we have at hand.
In my own case, these three images came about because of two things: firstly, my awareness of the colour temperature, and secondly, my awareness of foreground subject matter.
With regards to colour temperature, I had started my shoot at this location in twilight (the blue hour) and as the morning progressed I watched the hues change the landscape dramatically from blue to golden yellow / orange towards daylight temperature. There is this inquisitiveness we have as photographers to go study the changes in the light. To take pleasure in noticing the small changes in our environment. We have the luxury to stop and watch, to notice and to enjoy.
My second point, about being aware of foreground subject matter meant that I kept searching for a better composition. I like to think of this as re-interpreting the landscape.
I believe that doing landscape photography is about having a conversation with our surroundings. When we alter composition, we are effectively asking a new question. How we feel about this new composition is our answer. Making landscape images is a dialog between ourselves and how we feel about our environment. As I said earlier on in this post, I feel that photography is really a vehicle, one that allows us to enquire, to engage and go ask questions. We are ultimately searchers.