In a recent Facebook post I wrote that, while in Glacier National Park, I tried to avoid photographing many of the waterfalls I came across. A friend and fellow photographer, Arthur Ransome, called me to task on that statement and asked why I would place such a restriction upon myself. It’s a good question.
Let’s be honest. Waterfalls are one of the most photographed elements of the landscape. As humans, we seem to have a fascination with fire and with water and, really, what water is more interesting, compelling and relaxing than water falling over a rock face? So, we love waterfalls and we love photographing waterfalls. So, why do I resist? Or, more accurately, why am I hesitant? Or, even MORE accurately, why I am so damned picky?
Why? Because they HAVE been photographed so often, and so often photographed so poorly. It’s not that the bulk of images are bad, technically or aesthetically, it’s that they are, to use a water-based metaphor, shallow. They are simply about the waterfall. The pretty waterfall. Short exposure, long exposure, day or night…they are all about the water and little else. It’s a sad, all-too-common malady of the bulk of photography these days, not just waterfalls.
So, when dealing with ubiquitous subjects of photographs (waterfalls, old buildings, clouds, etc) I tend to be wary and hesitant. I don’t want to repeat what has already been done (an easy trap in which to fall), but would rather add to the conversation, offering something new for both myself and for the viewer. In order to do that, I need to be careful and wary. Sometimes that wariness, though, ventures into the realm of subconscious avoidance, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. No photo subject should ever be entirely off the table. Arthur was right.
In looking back at the very few waterfall photos I did make in Glacier it’s evident, at least to me and to my pal, Arthur, that they are not just about the waterfalls, not just about being pretty, but are about the greater spaces in which the waterfalls exists. A much grander and more meaningful context for the viewer.