I visited a Web site based on what I read on John Paul Caponigro’s blog. The site is maintained by and features the works of Linde Waidhofer, Western Eye Photography. You will enjoy seeing her work as she seems to focus on a subject and explore that in detail. In her opening statement she says “I am less interested in literal landscape photography – photography that simply records the natural environment – than in the emotions and feelings that wilderness and wild places inspire. And one feeling above all, that of mystery.” While a photograph of bear tracks on mud peppered with pebbles may invite that kind of contemplation, you will also find the standard-fare landscapes that evoke similar works by other photographers. That may have something to do with the inescapable presence of some subject matters, like the Mitten Buttes of the Monument Valley. One great bonus for visiting her site is that she shares digital copies of all her books freely and they are all done very nicely. Look under “Books/Electronic Photo Books.” Although they are freely available, I encourage everyone to make a donation to provide a small reward for creating and sharing her art.
Her latest book focuses on Patagonia and you will find in her portfolio a very tightly grouped photographs of Patagonia among other places. You will see photographs where the mountain peaks are touched by the peaks of lupines, or other juxtapositions of delicate and robust elements in wonderful color. She also writes essays, and I would like to comment on one of her writings, On the Color Landscape, in a complementary way. She questions, and rightly so, the lack of respect given to color landscape photography as a form of art. In her essay, Linde makes very good points about the ability of B&W to add a layer of abstraction and color drawing the viewer to the “literal” rendering of the subject. It makes a good reading, take a look at that. I would like to add the following to her observations that may (or may not) help make a case for color landscape photograph as a serious form of art, when done right of course.
Flood of Photographs
As I read the essay on color landscapes not being appreciated, I remembered Paul Strand who claimed “color is vulgar.” Of course in his time it probably was, but still remains a seductive element that can blur the distinction between “pretty” and “beautiful.” With the advent of digital photography and the wonderful technology it provides, many landscape photographs flooded the consciousness of the public with technically proficient photographs in glowing color, sometimes over the top. Although a connoisseur can filter techno-junk from color-art, for the masses this distinction is far more difficult which contributes to under-appreciation of some color landscape art.
Difficulty of color
Color is also difficult to understand and appreciate at a “non-literal” level. Some photographers, well-known ones I mean, calling themselves “colorists” added to the confusion by chasing colorful elements to photograph rather than accepting color as an existential element of life. Now, if the work of the “colorist” is art, others are easier to bundle with techno-junk.
Photographers themselves are at some fault for accepting, even aspiring to, painting as the higher form of art, and being flattered when someone comments “your photographs look like paintings.” If painting is art, and photography a second-class artisanship, much of what it produced cannot be art, color landscape included. B&W landscape escapes this trap by virtue of the fact that most “painting” is in color.
Understanding, accepting, using the medium’s qualities
An elusive, slippery, deceiving, misunderstood, natural but yet not natural, concept color is, it defies to be pigeon-holed into narrow spaces. It is up to the photographer, photographic artist to stick to her/his guns when defining his/her art in terms of the medium used and within the qualities and limitations of it. I believe the simplicity of the photographic technology, allure of color, and admiration of nature creates much “art-noise” that makes it difficult for photographers to create a strong signal-to-noise ratio to rise above this techno-junk. With persistence, however, those photographers who understand, appreciate, and use wisely their medium to produce “photographs” that can stand on their own, without the crutches of second-class paintings will rise above the “art-noise” and be recognized.
Linde, thank you for sharing your work and stimulating my interest to respond to your photography as well as to your writing. I also appreciate the freely available PDF photo books, all seven of them. I have looked at a few quickly and will go back and study them in greater detail. Congratulations on your latest book and the message it carries.
This dialog makes me want to publish a seminar presentation I made several years ago on “Challenges of Color Photography” at Providence College. Let me find my notes and presentation material …