Shouldn’t we expect more from nature photography?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by alexandre_vaz, Jul 1, 2000.

  1. When ever I visit a photography section in a modern art museum, I
    don’t expect to much to see any nature or wildlife photography. On
    the opposite, portraits, or nudes for example tend to be very well
    accepted as a formal artistic expression. I realize that even on the
    arts department, instead of an open mind, sometimes the prejudices
    prevail. One of the most common prejudices on photography as a fine
    art expression is that artistic photography must be in black and
    white, I couldn’t disagree more.
    On the other end, the real question can be: What is in fact - ART?

    I like do believe that art is a really original, honest, sincere and
    true expression of an individual, or a group of individuals, that has
    the ability to touch and move others.

    When I see the work of some of my favorite nature and wildlife
    photographers, I don’t think twice before I consider their work some
    of the best pieces of fine art ever made. If they consider them
    selves fine artists I don’t know, and probably that is not important
    at all.
    For me, the real difference between an artist and a craftsman, is
    that this last one, that can be as gifted as the first, is in fact
    far more worried with propose of their work, either if its to suit
    any practical objective, or only to make money.

    My point is: If nature photographers stick by having technical
    perfect work, and preaty pictures that suites the market demands, but
    keep following the same rules and receipts over and over, soon their
    will be no more different and interesting pictures to make.

    If we want to push nature photography forward, then probably we will
    have to break the establishment, shouldn’t all art be about that?

    Shouldn’t we expect more from nature and wildlife photography?
  2. Alexandere writes:
    "...soon their will be no more different and interesting pictures to make".

    In 1899, U.S. Patent Commissioner, Charles H. Duell said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

    I wouldn't get too worried.
  3. You can see a lot of nature photos that are all technically perfect and also, to my eye, all technically the same. Trend setters found in magazines like Outdoor Photographer encourage the acquisition of expensive equipment and a general uniformity in film selection. Some of the regular contributors to Outdoor Photographer like Dewitt Jones and William Neill are outside the pack, running alone, and there are others. In the Speed museum in Louisville last month I saw superb shots by Kevin Carter, black and white, yes but filled with magic. If you are going to push the envelope, you will travel without retinue. When art is valued in monetary terms it is no longer art but commerce.
  4. Alexandre,

    I agree with you. Technically perfect photos seem to be similar any way you shake it. While I can be totally wow'd by a tack sharp, properly exposed portrait of a Great Egret, once you've seen a couple they all start looking the same. I'd like to see more envelope stretching of the medium in publication.

    Like a previous poster noted, it's a matter of commerce. There are alot of starving artists out there. As awesome as art may be, most of it just doesn't sell. Oh well...

  5. Olá Alexandre!

    You touched several questions, but I will only try to anser to your "point":
    "....soon their will be no more different and interesting pictures to make."

    Many nature and particularly wildlife photographers, you and me included, started as naturalists. The photography came as an extension of this activity. Therefore seeing by themselves or taking the photograph themselves is much more relevant than expressing yourself in a extremely original way. It is the personal experience that counts.

    But do YOU feel the urge to express yourself in a very original way? Then YOU should put your efforts to it and if people show a great appreciation for your work you might be making Art!

    What you should not try to do is to impose on everybody else to do it.

    One final word on why we don't see wildlife images in Art Galleries. I think that is because such images are extremely difficult to make. It is hard enough to approach wild and uncooperative animals in an harsh environment away from the studio, let alone creating exquisite images.
    That is one of the reasons why we started the captives project, remember?
  6. I don't have a problem with technically perfect photos, but photos that follow the same compositional "rules" and are made with the same techniques get old IMHO after a while. Just how many perfect photos of Great Blue Herons do we need to see before they start to look the same? Individually they're nice photos but having been made with the same tools, techniques and "rules" as dozens or even hundreds of other similar photos makes them examples of good craftmanship, not original artwork.

    There are photographers who are making unique and original images, but the vast majority of nature and wildlife photos exhibit only good craftmanship. I suspect art critics see enough of the "good craftmanship" nature photos that their eyes glaze over and their minds shut down when they are presented with yet another set of nature photos. I sure get bored with a lot of my own work.

    Even the well-known nature and wildlife photographers have a "formula" they use to make their marketable images. In the development of the formula I see originality and artwork but in the application of the formula to the majority of their published images I see only good craftmanship.

    I've heard in other artistic fields that a true artist has a good day job and it may be true of photography as well (even Ansel Adams expressed this).

    All IMHO of course.
  7. Hi again everybody

    Maybe I haven’t been very clear.
    I don’t thing that all nature photographers should be artists, I’m only saying, that for me its kind of strange that only very few seem tempted to try it.

    I do agree that originality shouldn’t be an objective in itself, but I find very hard to believe that so many photographers experience so similar feelings when they face similar landscapes, animals or plants.
  8. >>>
    Maybe I haven’t been very clear. I don’t thing that all nature photographers should be artists, I’m only saying,
    that for me its kind of strange that only very few seem tempted to try it.

    I don't think that few are tempted to try it, I think that there are very few people who are able to think beyond the cliches we're accustomed to. Also, for the commercial nature photographer there's a risk in doing something original because people are more likely to buy what they're comfortable with: the images that follow the accepted rules nessesary to be a "good" picture. If people don't buy the photographer doesn't eat.

    OTOH someone with a steady job who makes photographs entirely for the joy of it is free to try new ideas. Among these photographers you may or may not see original work, and if original, it may or may not be something an art critic is willing to accept. The irony is that an art critic often starts to understand the ideas behind an original type of work only after the concept has been presented in a number of ways, i.e., the artist has developed and refined his/her "formula".

    I'm certainly trying to get away from the typical wildlife photo. Most of the work I've seen (my own included) is better suited to textbooks or field guides than to art museums. Most of the time the technical and logistical challenges are such that I'm satisfied getting any photo at all, better yet one suitable for a field guide.

    Getting sufficienly beyond the technical and logistical problems such that I can present the subject in a new and interesting way in a weekend's time is usually more than I have the energy to do. Meanwhile I won't quit my day job.
  9. O.K. another possible explanation for wy do we make similar photos is that we, European and American, with a so called occidental culture, may have similar cultural backgrounds, and nature photography is already a quite narrow subject.

    Would a Oriental that have so different esthetic canons do similar pictures to?
  10. How 'bout this angle. In many art mediums the final result comes about from the reverse angle of nature photography. Now what does that mean? What it means is that most art starts with a blank canvass and the artist fill it in with their individualistic impression. We as nature photogrphers are dealt an existing situation that we crop with our toys (and fun toys they are) to illiminate the extraneous. The canvass started full!!! The greater implication is that our creativity is limited because we didn't start with nothing (empty canvass). Now add on top of this those photographers that get all caught up in the technical (I've been there...the toys become and end into themself).

    Because we don't start out with an empty canvass we are forced to seek the art within current existence...a limitation to any artist.

    Now that I've pooped all over the limitations....This is why I really, really, really appreciate it when someone is able to pierce through the limitations and capture something in an original fashion. When its an expression of nature, a moment that shows us something all the rest of us walked by, a new look at the "common", a glimpse into the God created art(NOT MAN MADE CANVASS) thats capturing something. Or are we to assume that only man can create art. Maybe that's the key difference. Our art already exists for all to see. The few photographers who can pierce through the "been there done that", formula driven, comercially motivated world...and then be noticed for there capture of expression are few.

    I hold them up and support as artists. Yes Alexandre, lets hold up these few non-documentors and break the established thinking.
  11. I agree totally with Mark that photography is a deconstructive method.
    It isolates time, space, colour, etc. But I don't see it as a limitation, even in nature photography where you normally don't start with a empty studio to place your subjects in.

    A painter is also limited to what he has seen before. His imagination is populated with images of the outside world (although Descartes wouldn't say so). I believe that the reality is so rich that one is able to *find* the sought after image in the field.
  12. Well - one way of looking at the "canvas" aspect is that a photographer does start with a blank piece of film. Not always are you stuck with trying to make an image of what's placed in front of you. Some would agree that that they formed an image in their mind long before they found the actual subject to put on film. I imagine many nature photographers never get a chance to form an image close to what they had mentally pictured, because they never find the appropriate subject or conditions that would enable them to do so.
  13. Sorry, but I definitely do not agree with the blank canvas theory. As Mark Graf said, for me the right comparison is between The camera, the lens and film, and the canvas, the brushes and inks.
    Many painters have in fact a quit similar way of work as some nature photographers, they go out in the field searching for the appropriate landscape animal or plant, and the only difference is that between them and the scene is a canvas instead of a camera.

    I also disagree, with the idea that a good nature image is in general more difficult to obtain than a, lets say, a good nude photography. For me it’s easier to go out and find a nice landscape, than finding someone welling to pose for me. It my be true doe, for wildlife photography.

    I don’t want to take over the discussion, but I’m afraid, I have still a few more things to ad.

    When we look to the history of painting, we realize that several centuries were needed to operate such a esthetic revolution such as the impressionism.
    Will we have to wait centuries before nature photography start rolling in more creative ways?

    On the other hand, if we consider nature photography quite a narrow theme among photography in general, (my guess would be that a parallel in music is for instance feminine Nashville country music) perhaps its expectable to find a lot of things in common between different authors work.

    Any way, I still wander why do we take for granted, for example, the thirds rule or that sunrise and sunset lights are nicer than a crude harsh noon light?
  14. So Michael, if impressionism is compared to that which came before it, then what was it that came before it? ... Realism? Now what artist created that? H'mmm???

    The point is that we as nature photographers didn't create that which is displayed on our unexposed celluloid canvasses. Rather we are privileged to observe that which is divinely created...and already in existence. This is why a novice can "get lucky" and produce a great image.

    If however, the art is defined as the visual interpretation that we sculpture and express through developed technique, and therefore "capture" that which exists already but has rarely been seen as such expression (say that backwards three times) ...and are able to move someone/oneself in such a way that is unique, then yes those photographers have graduated from technical field guide documentors to artists. <<<now that's a run-on sentence>>>

    You see, I have been struggling to BREAK OUT of the documentors...and am just starting to see some I gotta' guard against the backslide. Its too easy for me to document
  15. Mark,
    If anything breaks any of us out as documentors, its all this philosophical discussion! ;-)

    Going back to the canvas again (and I am not arguing against your point, just exploring more) - what about wildlife painters? Are they different than painters that methodically splash colors (that resemble only obscure shapes) onto an empty white space? They are mimicking reality how they see it, possibly no more or no less than the artists doing abstract paintings.
    Aren't we all just trying to make a little order out of chaos? Is it a matter of individual expression?

    Or do we find that photography is a more limiting medium because we want to associate a photograph with a defined, particular subject?Whereas an abstract painting can take various forms and meanings to different people. Lots of questions, not one right answer.

    If I were to go to some common place like, say, the Venice Rookery, and make some photographs of herons and egrets that everyone recognizes... but only throw everything out of focus so the birds were barely recognizeable. Would this still be considered an "artistic" image - or simply poor technique in communication through this medium?

    Hmmmmm....I wonder, are there any limits to expression through any medium?
  16. When I said that soon there would be no more different things to capture on film, obviously I was talking about the composition clichés, if we keep following the same rules and tricks even a frog picture can resemble a mouse one. I didn’t meant literally that the natural world was so limited that we had done everything possible. You can make many different pictures in the same place, with the same elements, or you can make always the same image in many different places…

    About the Impressionism, I didn’t said that was better than what existed before, nor that was a step forward. I same occasions a revolution can be a step back. In this case that judgment probably depends on your taste.
    With the example of the impressionists, I wanted to point out that if painters stick by first artistic canons then they would still be painting animals in caves’ walls. In the history of art there were some gigantic leaps, like the "invention" of perspective in the renascence, or the Impressionists, that were almost always bad accepted during their times, because they were breaking the established rules. For me, art is about authenticity and creativity, and someone can be authentic even if narrow minded, but he will never be creative.
  17. This is may be what seperates an artist from a craftsman; it comes from early 19th c. Romantic philosophy. All art creation does relate to the created world (i.e., it relates to "reality" in that it shows a bird, a square, a color). In creating his object, the artist takes his experience of the created world and descends into the darkness, or indeed, the lightness, of his soul; there this experience of the created world is transformed. Through the disciplined skills of his medium, he creates the object which expresses this transformed experience.

    This process can happen in an instant or over a decade. It may happen consciously or unconsciously; in fact, it probably is best if it happens unconsciously. It can be painful or pleasurable, easy or difficult. In our society we tend to see it as difficult, so most people shy away from it.

    But it is this process that will cause the photographer to tweek the angle just a bit, to change the depth of field, etc. The artist is always asking-- does what I see through my lense-- does it reflect my experience?

    If you want to open this up, I suggest you try the Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

    A photography mentor of mine took a class with Lisette Modell. During a critique, Modell said of one student's proferred image: this is a picture of a boring person, taken by a boring person. I guess that's a particularly harsh way of saying there was no depth of feeling. Without depth of feeling, the object may show excellent facility, but it may be simply facile.
  18. Interesting discussion, indeed. I have not read all answers because there are some things I have to say first.
    I think there will always be beautiful, breah-taking pictures to take if the photographer keeps an open mind and is ready to walk on new paths and creates an own stile. Nature is always the way YOU see it. That does not mean to put a picture into the computer to make it better - that has nothing to do with nature-photography.
    Art? Yes, because nature itself is art - we, the nature-photographers, are only the medium to show this art to other people.
    And here is the final point: Nature-photography is not that popular than other photography because nature is something you have to think about, which means to think about yourself, what most people nowadays do not want. This is getting very philosophic, doesnt it ?
    So much for now,
  19. I guess that considering or not Nature it self as art depends on believing or not in God… for me Nature is the supreme random succession of events.
  20. I started as a naturalist myself. Now that I have tried to market myself as a business and as an artist, I have encountered the social obstacles of being more on the "fringe" of what many would consider the fine-art circles. I too, have experienced this feeling of resentment toward cliche' photographic art such as nudes and black and white imagery. One of my most often asked questions is whether or not I do black and white. I get pretty tired of it. But I have a lifetime ahead of me to educate people about what it is I DO do.

    Nature photography developed for me out of a love for nature, and a desire to communicate that love with others. Marketing it as art is an entirely different game. Either people get it, or they don't. We just hope the ones that get it happen to own galleries.


    Brunswick, ME

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