Photography is More Than Simple Observation

One of the oft-repeated arguments made against considering landscape photography as fine-art is that it’s merely a practice in observation, as opposed to a creative invention. In other words, landscape photography is a spectator sport, we can only watch, and we all see the same thing only from slightly differing angles.

Of course, those of us working as landscape photographers know the fallacy of such an argument. While it is true we have little, if any, control over the physical placement of our chosen subject matter, we a great deal of freedom with how those elements are presented. More than enough freedom, in fact, to allow individual photographers to create photographs of a specific subject which, despite being created at the same time and same place, are nearly unrecognizable from each other.

Consider the following two photographs of a small stretch of snow fence. The first, created by photographer and friend Aleks Miesak was taken within minutes of my version, below. Do they look similar? Do they look as though we were mere helpless spectators? The answer to both is a definitive NO. Each shows a differing view and style and vision which is reflective of us, as individual artists.

© Aleksandra Miesak

fence copy
© Chuck Kimmerle

The simple fact is that landscape photography is no more a simple spectator sport than either documentary or street photography or even painting, and leaves the photographer (the artist!) with an extremely wide range of creative possibilities. The innumerable decisions and valuations which must be made—viewpoint, exposure, light qualities, composition, justaposition, processing and presentation, etc—allow us, as individuals, to develop and maintain distinctly unique personal visions and styles and create significant and inventive work. Art.