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COLUMN: Intimate Lanscapes are strong subjects even in flat light

Intimate Lanscapes
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John Enman suggests ‘intimate landscapes’ as the subject during dark days in winter can be strong subjects while taking photographs in flat light as in this spot in Whatcom Park in Bellingham, Washington taken in the first part of February 2024. (Photo by: John Enman)

“In visual terms – there has been nothing like photography, it’s the death of the moment” - Richard Avedon.

I found this quote I had tucked away between the pages of a book of photography by Eliot Porter entitled, ‘Intimate Landscapes.’

Photography is powerful that way. There has been nothing like photography that has captured the interest of so many people. When it became popular in the 1800s, no one could have envisioned how important to the world and to our personal lives photography would become.

For those of us in Canada the first known photograph was by an Englishman named Pattinson, here on a business trip in 1840. He was a student of an early form of photography perfected by Frenchman Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre and had stopped at Niagara Falls to produce the now cherished historical Daguerreotype photograph.

The Daguerreotype would have taken more than 20 minutes for the scene to expose on a silver-coated plate inside his camera. Later he would surround the plate with warm mercury fumes that would slowly make the image visible. I think Canadian landscape photographers are part of a long history of photographing this country since that moment and I have to say if I were ever heading to Niagara Falls I would want to take my DSLR camera to the same spot Pattinson stood 184 years ago.

This time of year there is usually lots of snow, but where I live the snow is melting and today the light is flat and the skies are full of rain…so to keep myself in the mood I decided Eliot Porter’s book on landscapes would be perfect with a cup of coffee.

Porter’s ‘Intimate Landscapes’ had me thinking about taking time to visit some of the many picturesque locations around British Columbia and even though the book by Porter features photographs in New Mexico and Utah it is filled with photographs that inspires me to consider driving to Wells Gray Park in the next few weeks. The environment of Wells Gray Park, although very different from the locations in Porter’s book, has many of the features that would have appealed to him. The following is a quote from this book.

“The natural world has always attracted my eye: associations of living and inanimate phenomena, from the tropics to the poles and from rain forests to deserts, have been favourite photographic subjects for almost half a century. Grasses and sedges, especially, appeal to me – an appeal like disordered hair across a face, or a windblown field of hay before the mowing. When associated with water, as sedges so often are, the magic of restlessness is enhanced by reflections not foreseen. In mixed woods of pine and maple, the needles of pines drop throughout the year, building jackstraw mats of thin brown bundles on which, at the time of the fall of the leaf, the bright maple leaves settle at random, arranging themselves in harmonious patterns that defy improvement as though placed there intentionally.”

Porter says, “I do not photograph for ulterior purposes. I photograph for the thing itself - for the photograph - without consideration of how it may be used. Some critics suggest that I make photographs primarily to promote conservation, but this allegation is far from the truth. Although my photographs may be used in this way, it is incidental to my original motive for making them, which is first of all for personal aesthetic satisfaction.”

I like that. Sometimes just the process of making a photograph for no other reason than doing it is enough. Photography has become so very easy, but good photography is as time consuming as it ever has been, requiring practice and education.

If you have a moment check out landscape photographer Eliot Porter in your local library or on-line, and hopefully his photographs will inspire you as he does me.

Stay safe and be creative. These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at www.enmanscamera.com or emcam@telus.net.