Good stuff from The Luminous Landscape:
It’s Been Done Before
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Been there, done that“. It is often pronounced by the world-weary and self-proclaimed sophisticates who feel that there’s nothing new under the sun.
For some photographers there’s a corollary to this — “It’s all been done before by someone else.” They ask themselves (or are asked rhetorically by others) — does the world need another photograph of Antelope Canyon, Yosemite, a Bald Eagle in a Tree? — or name your own photographic cliché.
Some find it hard to answer such a loaded question, and in fact many turn away from pursuing their hobby or their art because when faced with this question the following answer usually comes up. No, the world probably doesn’t need another image of The Grand Canyon or a frost-covered Elk in the snowy fog of Yellowstone in winter.
In fact there is quite a vocal movement that says that there is now such a surfeit of wildlife photographs of almost every species and every locale that there should be a photographic moratorium declared.
This reminds me of the true story of the British commissioner of patents in the late 19th century who advised the government that the Patent Office should be soon closed because just about everything that could be invented already had been.
With this in mind here is my response to either the moderates who express dismay that “Everything has already been done“, or to the extremist who ask that wildlife photography be put on hold.
But not by me!
Yes, this type of photograph may have been done countless times before, but not by me!
I want to do it for the pleasure that the act of doing so provides. I want to experience the challenge. I want to see if I can do it better than it’s been done before. Even if my effort doesn’t produce an image worthy of anything more than a smile as I view it on the lightbox and then relegate it to a filing cabinet, it’s worthwhile because I did it, and I was there.
The tonic that I prescribe to someone feeling the weltschmertz of photography — the over-familiarity of the all-too-famous locations and overly-familiar images — is, break the mold. Go to places that are off the beaten path. Try techniques that are off-beat. Force yourself to use lenses or methods that make you see things in novel ways. Shoot locations that call for a long-lens with a wide angle, and vice-versa.
Driving through a heavily forested area of upstate New York in 1995 I came across this deserted crane and sign. It didn’t appear as if anyone had paid attention to it in years. The question has always haunted me — and what?
Was I influenced by Walker Evan’s famous photograph from 1930? I certainly knew the image. But, was I thinking of it when I shot “And“? I don’t remember it being so, but it doesn’t matter. Evans’ photograph is and always will be superior to and better known than mine. Does it matter to me? Not a bit! I still love the whimsy of my “And”.
The Art of Doing
The final image that you produce is only one part of the reason for doing photography. Make the act of creation — the doing of it — an end unto itself. By doing this you will free yourself not only from the shackles of conformity, but you’ll also possibly create something that no one else has ever seen before.