Unlike many of the landscape photographers I know, and many I don’t, I don’t have a close relationship with nature . . . photographically, anyway. I love nature, mind you, and find being inside her ever-diminishing confines relaxing and rejuvenating, but when we meet with a camera between us, I get what I like to call confuddled. It is exactly what it sounds like.
It’s difficult to say why, but I can surmise. First, I spend my first 20 years as newspaper photojournalist. Telling stories and evoking emotion (FAKE NEWS!) were important aspects I came to appreciate. Then, I worked as a photographer at a university. Basically, it was commercial/advertising stuff, but still with the story/emotion bent. Lastly, I cut my landscape photography chops in the northern plains. Agricultural land. Worked. And those areas are just too fertile to left to rot as nature :(
So, when I began photographing the landscape it was with a story-telling mindset in a landscape without nature, and very few trees. I think that is why it took me more than half a dozen years to photograph the northern plains after I arrived. It took me that long to understand not only quiet and reticent rhythm of the land, but my place within it.
At first, I felt hobbled by the man-made elements, but that was replaced, in time, by a feeling of freedom. Freedom from the pitfalls and guarantees of grandeur, freedom from expectations, and freedom from my own biases. I stopped bitching about the power poles and power lines, and instead relished them. Those feelings of freedom, working in a man-inspired landscape, became a priority which in turn became a passion.
So, when I am faced with deep woods and meandering streams, I get confuddled. I desperately look for a fence post or sign. I dig in my pack for some bit of trash I can toss in the foreground (joke!), or a parking lot I can juxtapose with the trees. And in the word, “juxtapose,” lies a big part of my confuddlement. I depend, perhaps too much at times, on strong elements I can pull out and emphasize against the din of the background; things which can make us think and question. And those objects are, for me, often man-made.
So, when faced with a hoard of trees, I have to change gears and alter my perceptions. I have to embrace a different kind of quiet, and stop missing the forest for the trees.