I received a gift of an engagement calendar for Christmas, a collection of Eliot Porter’s photography. My good friend knows that he was an inspiration to me many many years ago. As I snuck advance peeks at his pictures in future months, I started thinking about how a person that we’ve never met can be such a strong influence. Yet he was. I remember seeing an original print of his back in 1972, from the Smokies in Autumn, and it spoke to me. I think I have been photographing the trees and the forest ever since, maybe even before that. His work continued to inspire me as I was developing my own vision, and I’m sure many others, such as Robert Glenn Ketchum in this article in Outdoor Photographer.
I have always loved trees, and forests, for the solitude they provide me, for the shelter they provide animals and birds. (I grew up with ‘woods’ (as they’re called back east) surrounding part of our house, and many a day was spent playing in them, or sitting, writing poetry on a big rock at the edge of them.) And as far back as I can remember, I have been drawn to the shapes of trees, the textures, etc. I love entering into a grove of trees or a forest/woods, to try to capture the feeling of it.
Porter often photographed ‘for the thing itself’ – just simply recording what he felt about what he saw, without a purpose in mind for how the picture might be used. I think that’s a great way to approach a photograph. The only true goal should be to express what you see/feel about the subject as best as you can. After all, the real subject is your feelings and vision of what’s in front of you at any given moment.
I made this picture last year at Point Reyes National Seashore after a workshop was finished. It was during a slight drizzle. I remember thinking only about the texture that I saw, and the soft light that brought it out. There wasn’t any thought of making this a fine art print, or a stock photo, or using it for teaching; I was simply photographing it because it was there, speaking to me. While it does need to be viewed larger to really feel the texture, hopefully it shows enough here to get the point across.
What a wonderful subject. Eliot, and his vision, has become a personal passion of mine also. I’ve been buying up used copies of his wonderful books and learning more from his color vision than most of his ‘era’.
In fact this past weekend, while shooting some snowy woodland scenes, I was thinking of Eliot and got a lot of inspiration from his vision.
Thanks for the reminder and your wonderful shot from Point Reyes. I need to get back there, but time is against me. My favorite foggy tree shot that I have captured was taken along Mount Vision Rd. One of my favorite ‘secret’ spots in Point Reyes.
thank you! for the inspiration. youve certainly kept me inspired and countless others im sure 🙂
in todays society were trained to think in an antihumanistic capacity. its all there in childhood but it slips away as we’re forced to cope in this insane world of today starting with kindergarten. winner takes all competition, fear of everything, wage slavery, tasks for the master, rich get richer, buy buy buy. its hard to discuss how we react emotionally to things because we hardly remember what it means to feel things like a human should once we’re adults. what i get from your photography brenda is love. unconditional, never ending, infectious love.
Thank you so much, kalani. When a simple leaf on dried mud, or a pattern of gondolas reflected in water can take my breath away, I call that being in LOVE with the world around me. And I choose to celebrate what’s right and wonderfule with the world, as my way of balancing against the negative issues that we are presented with in terms of war, poverty, economic crisis, etc. Not to ignore those, but to present a counterpoint to them. Many years ago, Ralph and Caroline Steiner assembled a collection of affirmative photographs in a book titled “In Spite of Everything, YES!” It’s this idea that I carry on, hoping to inspire others to see the world with fascination in the hopes that we might move towards preserving it and ourselves within it!
Really interesting topic!
For me the challenge when doing the type of photography you describe is how to convey in the photograph the feelings or vision I have about what I’m photographing. Sometimes we fall into the trap that, since we know what we’re feeling when we take the picture, that somehow this feeling will be obvious to those who see the final photograph. I think often this doesn’t happen – they see what we photographed but not what we felt.
This is especially true for me of “straight” photography where we do just see “the thing itself”. I wonder how often we could ask someone looking at our photographs, “what do you think I was feeling?” and have them give a good answer. They can tells us what the thing itself is, they may even be able to identify some interesting visual quality that might have inspired us to take the shot, but getting to our vision or feeling is a whole other dimension that I struggle all the time to identify for myself and somehow infuse in the work.
Yes I would agree, Bob; I struggle with this, too. I’m almost afraid at times to ask someone if they can tell what I was feeling about the scene/subject – for fear that all my hard work didn’t translate! I’m sure it doesn’t all the time, but it’s what we aim for in making pictures that we ultimately share. Another thing that is interesting is that even if someone ‘gets’ what I was feeling, or my vision, they still might not resonate with it the way I hoped. But therein lies the rub: we must make pictures that resonate with us, while still holding out the hope that our feelings/vision will be expressed and felt by a few, if not all, that view it. We can’t hope that everyone will feel what we felt, I guess.