Saturday, August 17, 2013


I’ve had a tough time in Yellowstone and Grand Teton and fallen into a bit of a slump. I stayed in bed late with a sore side that may be a pulled muscle from climbing Inyan Kara or may just be the bed. I feel too tired to hike any big trails so I explore the hydrothermal features in the west side of the park. All of these are mere feet from the parking areas and I’m frustrated by the fact that any interesting angle from which to photograph these features will inevitably include the parking lot full of cars in the background or the boardwalk trail that was built to lead to the spring. This encourages me to try some different compositions to avoid the clutter but I’m just not excited about the results.
I think that my frustration is not Yellowstone’s fault; this is a gorgeous landscape; but my own for not figuring out a way to depict it in photographs. This may be a good time to describe the visual style that I strive for. I’m inspired by photographers that look for patterns and organization in a chaotic scene. As such I’m a fan of architectural photographers; JuliusSchulman in particular. Schulman popularized modernism by making the houses he photographed look to be better designed than they often were. He did this by using single point perspective and by drawing the viewer’s attention to interesting features using light and dark. I also really like the work of Andreas Gursky. Gursky finds organization in chaotic scenes like a factory floor, a racetrack or a supermarket aisle
I try to discover the geometry of a scene in photographs and paintings. When I first started photographing the southwest landscape I kept the photographs exclusively in black and white. This accentuated the shape and contrast inherent in a landscape where edges are hard and light isn’t filtered through trees. I remember sitting up at Delicate Arch in arches national park for the first time, a famous place to photograph a sunset, and talking with another photographer. He was telling me how he planned his days entirely around sunrises and sunsets. Everything in between was just washed out by the desert sun. I kept trying to take photographs at noon though and found that by letting the shadows be completely submerged in blackness I could preserve the details in the sunlit areas and the shadows became these interesting shapes and patterns traced around the highlights. This concept influenced my painting and I was no longer afraid of having large areas of darkness in paintings. Up to this point I had felt that those areas were wasted space but viewing the paintings as a single composition they were accents that drew attention to the important parts of the subject.
As this idea progressed I started to simplify the shapes and colors more and more in my paintings until I was doing paintings with only three colors where each color was deposited in one contiguous region. To try to develop this further I did line drawings where I never lifted my pen, trying to suggest the scene with as few details as possible. This elimination of detail crept back into photos and I used old lenses that left a dark vignette around the edges of the image, drawing attention to the few important details in the image. I finally started making photos in color, adjusting the white balance to accent the hues of the objects on which I wanted the viewer to focus; the red seats in the theater or the yellow lines on the pavement.
So now I still try to make sense of a scene through its geometry suggested not just through the contrast between dark and light but through separating the blocks of color with these dark and light areas. This is what I struggled with in Yellowstone. For one, the smoky air had eliminated the contrast in the landscape. Second, my unwillingness to go on a long hike kept me at street level and I couldn’t get enough distance from the features on the landscape to see the geometry. So I kept trying for a few frustrating days but never felt like I was getting anything interesting. But like I said, this is a failure on my part to discover a way to depict the landscape and not a deficiency in the landscape itself.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post. I am really bad at remembering to pin articles I liked or were helpful but I do have a board started...
    Wildlife Photography For Sale