Beyond Plein Air, The Land-Escape
A landscape can be either entered into or appreciated from a distance. Sometimes you become part of the landscape, but often you don’t know it. You might see your shadow, but you might not. It’s still there, though . . . A landscape sculpts you in a way, and you are altered by it . . .
I generally do not try to impose any ideas or preconceptions when I photograph a landscape but let it talk to me instead. Maybe it’s just a process of acceptance, of something far bigger than I am. I like to stare at clouds, something nebulous about them . . . They are wild and untameable . . . You know you can catch one in a photograph or a painting, but you can’t hold on to it. Nature has a way of putting us in our place, and it often shows us just how insignificant we humans are. And that’s healthy. I’m not here to do anything other than the witness. But a landscape can be overpowering . . . You are there, and you must remember not to step off the cliff when taking a photo of a canyon.
I prefer a landscape without the sign of any human alteration in it. They are getting scarcer, although sometimes you can’t avoid it. It’s part of the modern landscape. That’s why I generally concentrate more on viewing natural processes, whether those are moving streams, breaking waves, windswept land, or floating clouds. No two moments are exactly the same or replicable. There is something that’s unique and vital going on. And it’s an experience that I seem to get transported and lost in. It is probably what I really wanted, more than just a photograph. Somehow, it makes it real.
Added note: I saw the shifting sands and how they created this landscape of hills that looked almost Chinese . . . It was low light, and I aimed my camera on a slow shutter speed right into these 30 mph blasts of wind that obscured everything and when I saw the “negative,” the little bits of seaweed poking out looked like foliage and even a monk standing on a hilltop. Or maybe it really was! Nothing is too defined in this moving tableau, and somehow your imagination takes over and fills in the blanks . . . which is how I kind of like it . . . A sharp picture with all the details is far less intriguing . . .
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to the ground.” —Rumi
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” —John Muir
“A little too abstract, a little too wise,
It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again . . .”
I photograph natural and human-made landscapes and define “landscape” in the broadest possible terms. Beauty without sentimentality is what I’m after.
Implicit when I make pictures in the natural world is grief for the corrupted yet still beautiful world I was lucky to be born into. My human landscapes are usually in some measure about the effects of economic violence. Making pictures is my preferred method for skirting despair, which I have learned is not a tenable option.
Between you and me, though, I photograph mostly for the satisfaction making a good picture affords.
Photographs—whether analog or digital—operate in the interspace between realism and imagination. This conception calls attention to how creativity is important in making sense of the photographic event itself.
Though the camera records the surface of the world like no other instrument, the truth of what is shown can be realized only through an act of imagination. All photographs present a truth: their makers’. A lucky, candid shot can reveal more about a person’s inner self than they realize themselves.
My journey has been making analog photographs with a hand-held Canon AE-1 camera and printing from negatives in the wet darkroom. Currently, I am using a digital phone camera for the first time. The process is both similar and different from my analog experience. What remains consistent over time is my nature, my point of view.
Though photographs do not, cannot represent a reality independent of the viewer who sees them, they are a starting point for thought. My memories, pieces of time where different sources of meaning may intersect, become conversations of ideas and storytelling. What I’ve chosen to capture and present from the many renderings made of my inner world, I offer to the viewer to interpret: to feel, to understand, or dismiss.
Image at top: David Wade, Sandstorm, archival pigment print from photograph, 10 x 17 in., 2022.