All Dressed Up

Recently I’ve started looking at the works of some of the classic landscape photographers. Photographers who workedbefore digital using large format film cameras. I came across a really interesting blog post from David Leland Hyde, the son of classic and pro photographer Philip Hyde, who was a student of Ansel Adams. He says this.

At the same time, Dad never waited for special lighting, weather, rainbows, sunsets, moonrises or other special effects of nature all dressed up on her best day. His goal was to capture the subtle beauty of nature as is, in her everyday wardrobe. Some of his work is dramatic, but much of it is more refined and delicately subdued. He studied geology, archaeology and the natural and human history of an area before photographing it. His photographs were invocations honoring place, rather than art for art’s sake. Dad’s goal was similar to that of his mentor and friend Edward Weston, the father of modern photography: to take himself out of the picture as much as possible, limiting the always present imposition of the photographer’s own interpretation.

I thought that was a really interesting thought. These days photographers have gone to the other extreme. Constantly seeking out those special conditions, not even bothering to take their cameras out unless it is an epic light show. I kind of touched on this subject earlier when I talked about good light vs incredible light. These days we want to show nature in those extremely rare situations where she is “all dressed up”. It seems earlier photographers had a very different goal, to portray nature in her everyday wardrobe, to find the beauty in a simple scene, in normal every day conditions. I think this is why some of these older photographers appeal to me so much, I look at their work, and I can believe that if I were to visit those places I would have a very good chance of seeing it just as it looks in their images. Their images don’t catch a special effects moment, they catch the reality of the landscape.

I’m not sure I am ready to go all the way towards that extreme, for I don’t believe one is necessarily right or wrong. I find it a refreshing change though. Part of me wonders if they simply didn’t catch those moments because the technology of the day didn’t allow for it, whereas these days it does. I think it is worth thinking about our goals though. Are we trying to capture nature in her fleeting moments of glory, or are we trying to capture the glory in her everyday moments. An interesting question that I think every photographer should ask themselves.

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