Just some stuff about photography

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If I could see the sky above…

...and my mind could be set free

in Photography , Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sometimes, it takes a while for things to sink in. I’ve been vaguely aware of the “other kind” of landscape photography for a while, and of the whole “New Topographics” thing. I didn’t get it. On superficial browsing, all I could see where apparently involving photos of bland subjects, often totally violating the Rules I read about in glossy magazines and on self-proclaimed Fine Art websites. They were a million miles away from the sweet, sugary hit of Velvia-fuelled landscape photography, but little did I realise they were a million miles in the right direction.

A turning point was my discovery of the work of Stuart Klipper, a photographer who is perhaps not quite within the same school, but who has a lot of intersection points.  I recognised in his work something which I was trying to get to myself, albeit mainly unconsciously. Another key moment was reading the collected essays of Frank Gohlke, and finding not the dry academic I expected, but an erudite, entertaining, inspiring and very human voice. It seemed a bit absurd to read about photography I wasn’t looking at, so I went ahead and ordered the anthology of his work, “Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke” . And for good measure, I also bought Stephen Shore‘s “Uncommon Places”, which I’ve been scared to approach for ages, although I greatly enjoyed his book, “The Nature of Photographs”.

Gohlke

Shore uncommon

It doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to write about either book. Endless essays and theses have been written about both photographers. I have neither the art education nor the breadth of expression necessary to add to these. But I will say that I am enormously impressed by both sets of work. They are quite distinct, although roughly ploughing the same furrows. I think it would help anybody who fails to understand what a photographic style is to study these books. If you allow it to, the photography reaches very deeply. Precisely because the subjects generally lack any kind of “wow” effect, the only thing going on is the photographer’s expression of an exploration of visual space. I think it is as pointless to try to connect to some other form of expression: another case of dancing about architecture. A photograph can communicate without any support or form of explanation, much as music, or poetry, or other art forms can in their own domain. And both of these photographers communicate beautifully.

Of course there is a lingering suspicion that this is academic, University Professor stuff, with a pinch of Emperor’s clothing, and quite possibly really actually is just dull photos of boring places. Well, perhaps generically there is some truth in that, bit in these two books I’m finding a great deal more honesty and genuine inspiration than in the gobbledygook of the weekend warrior self-nominated Fine Art Landscape Photographers with their Mystic Visions, Golden Light and Artist’s Statements, their Buy my Prints, Take My Workshops and all the rest of the Canikon-fuelled bollocks. And I haven’t got the faintest idea what camera Stephen Shore or Frank Gohlke use.

Personally this is helping me to get a grasp on the look that I aspire to, futile as it may be, somewhere on the knife edge between the “topographics feel” and mainstream landscape. The emotionally detached, neutral, challengingly bland tone of the Dusseldorf school is a step too far for me. I can understand or even appreciate it intellectually, but I’m not an intellectual photographer. Then again, maybe it’s just another step I need to take. But apart from all that, these two books are an absolute must for anybody really wanting to take off the water wings and explore the wider world of photography. Oh, and they’re both absolute bargains.