I have never really understood landscape photography. Although I love the landscape, and there is nothing better than going for a walk in the woods, I have not found it an interesting photography subject. Even when the place is stunning, magnificent and most enjoyable, I haven’t ever been able to capture an image that is anywhere close to the real thing. Nature on this scale is so vast and detailed, and yet most of my efforts at a photograph are just bland and green.
With this exercise I had to do a landscape photograph for my homework. I worked quite hard with thinking about what would make a nice image. My favourite picture is the first one, below, which I have called Killing Field.
We came to this area in the Lower Woods, Badminton, as we walked alongside a small river.
For an hour or so I had come across several dead trees – fallen across the path, uprooted alongside us – bearing their roots, or invaded by fungi. Some had fallen across the river and become encrusted with moss and lichen. And I felt a sense of sorrow, and contemplated what it means to die, to fall, to rot. Of course nature demands death as often as birth and you cannot have creativity without destruction. But I will still shocked when I came across this man-made area where trees had been cut down. Of course this is not wanton destruction; the English have used the wood here for thousands of years and the wood as a whole is stronger as a result of the husbandry. But at that moment, coming across it, there was something upsetting, menacing even, about this deserted, almost sacred area. It was tidy, but there were a number of elements that disturbed me. The bright orange, almost bloody stumps; the bare, upright, truncated (right foreground) tree; the way the bodies had been laid out; the deep fissure in the old trunk; the barren grass. And the deep green young trees, all so straight, surrounding the field, looking on as if in shock.
I found it profoundly affecting, and this is what I submitted for my homework. The second picture gives another view of the same scene.
The next three pictures come to life for me through the inclusion of Nick. The small, dark figure helps give perspective to the area. The dappled November sunlight in the first shot, the scale and spaciousness of the second two, help us get a sense of how our ancient woodlands feel, when you are in them.
The third set are just trees – nice shapes, textures and wonderful colours. Apparently there are more versions of green available to the human eye than any other colour. I find these a bit magical and mysterious.
The reason why I think these photographs are successful, compared to my usual “green and bland” images is that
- I went out with an intention
- I brought my feelings to bear
- I looked for the right light (it was mainly flat, but there were occasional moments of brightness in the gloom)
- I underexposed to get more detail
- I used Photoshop to edit – mainly I increased the saturation to bring out the different shades of green, and increased the clarity of the blacks to emphasise the structure.
Stunning successful photographs.
Your evocative images, and your reaction to the scene, remind me of a time I was hiking alone in an old growth forest. The mature trees were hundreds of years old and hundreds of feet tall. Unseen by me, a tree fell, hitting the earth with a tremendous resounding boom. The sound of sudden, violent–albeit natural–death was utterly horrifying. And yes, profoundly affecting, even decades later.
Thank you Elle for your recollections and I imagine your experience of tree fall will have been shocking. Yet also a huge privilege to experience something so elemental. To be honest even seeing trees being felled deliberately can shock – for me the sheer size of the tree when slain and grounded shocks as it is not so apparent when they are standing. Although I have always loved the woods and find them quite magical but on this occasion the feeling of death was very present.
Landscape photography does not inspire me as well, although I really enjoy other people’s captures! These are lovely, and your description was a lovely example of your talented writing skills. Good job, I expect you will both receive A’s. ??? ?
Joyce from Sudbury
Gorgeous pictures – I love the vivid, lush greens!
Your photos draw me in and I want to be there in that solitude. Logging takes place all around me in the forests but besides seeing a bald spot on the mountain, it is a joy to see new baby trees just starting out.
Thanks Mrs M. Autumn in the UK is sometimes quite wonderful with crisp weather, brilliant sunshine and gorgeous walks. At the moment the autumn colours are quite the best I have ever seen. Some really rich oranges, reds, yellows and rust – it was a great summer and now it is about to get really cold.
Now you mention it, I’ve noticed the leaves on the tree outside our house are yellow for the first time.
Nice images! Some of my favorite artists are photographers who focus on landscape: Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Richard Miscrach, and Edward Burtynski. All explicitly work against the western tradition of landscape imagery (Robert Adams was the first and most daring for the time; his work opened doors that the rest followed), each in a different way. Worth checking them out, maybe?
Thanks Ellen for the references. I had not heard of any of these – I have looked at Ansel Adams who is seen as rather unfashionable these days.
Yeah. There’s definitely tension between the Ansel Adams “manifest destiny” vein and a more clear-eyed view. Landscape imagery generally isn’t fashionable in any medium (photography generally fares better than painting), in large part because its history is so bombastic about making quasi-religious / quasi-spiritual / often sentimental claims, while typically ignoring the literal reality of the ground. But there are tons of interesting artists probing different aspects of that vein—let me know if you want to dive deeper, and I’ll gladly share!
I am often attracted, in terms of clothes and fashion, to the unfashionable and forgotten. I like to be somewhat anti-trend and examine what is ignored or considered passe, to reinvent or resuscitate. I used to love vintage clothing in the 1970s when there was a visceral reaction to wearing “dead people’s clothes”, then it became very fashionable, and now we have the horrible pastiche of modern vintage. Modern fashion really does have to start from where we are with amazing new fabrics, construction techniques, IT aided design and fitting rather than harking back to the supposed inherent virtue in the make do and mend ideas of the 1940s.
Turning to landscape photography, as I noted, and Joyce too who is a keen photographer, it didn’t immediately appeal. I was unaware of the religious/spiritual/sentimental aspects to be honest – probably more important in the US where you have such a huge landmass and the full range of landscapes. For me it was really about my inability to capture what I was seeing and experiencing, on one hand, and a fascination with people (portraits), social events, street photography and the opportunity to capture the reality of how we live.
Late reply as I have been travelling, but I wanted to compliment you on your photos, in particular, the first two. They certainly seem to capture a real point of view about the butchery of the trees. The second one has a great play of lines drawing your eye from left to right.
Living in North America, landscape, as you commented above, is a major theme as the settlement of the frontier by migrating peoples has always been defined by the harshness of the many faces of the environment. Nowadays, landscape in all art forms takes on so many expressions including the highly political and environmental. I remember studying Romanticism in Europe while in school and also seeing landscape used as a tool to evoke nationalistic pride and feelings of human smallness and as well as dominance over nature. Interestingly, I remember reading that landscape imagery was thought to be the highest form of accomplishment within the East Asian tradition as it required so much imagination from the artist to make a unique and meaningful image.
I share your original thoughts about landscape photography. I had never managed to capture an image that affected me the way seeing the real view did – and the image certainly didn’t convey the rawness of some of those feelings. Recently, at least until I broke a bone in my foot, I was going out to photograph in a more intentional way, but still in an extremely lazy way – I wasn’t willing to go back day after day or wait hour after hour to get the right lighting!
I like your photographs. I do think someone n the photo can help to bring them to life – depending of course what the image is.
Thank you Anne. I do think photography, like dressmaking, requires thought, planning and technique. The more you practice the better you get!