More Than A Rock, A Book By Guy Tal- Response

7/6/2023

"If a life is not filled with beauty and wonder while it is still a life, still alive, still able to appreciate the great gift of consciousness, it will not be found later. Later is a rock."- Guy Tal


For a few years now I have known of Guy Tal and his works. In fact I probably have known of him and followed him on social media for close to 5 years at least. I tried to read his blogs and they were kind of dense, a bit sporadic and frankly I didn't get much out of them. Some were good, others were long. I would listen to his interviews he gave and they were good. But frankly I wasn't swayed by him as an artists. I thought his photos were fine with a few bangers along the way. But I didn't understand why other photographers would bring him up as being a photographer of note, someone of influence, someone to listen to, someone to look up to.

Don't get me wrong, he has excellent images. Some of the best images from the southwest are held in his portfolio. But there are plenty of images of brittle brush and sage brush of various shades, of canyon walls that I was not particularly enamored by. Even some nice stormy images that were... fine. So why did people care, and look up to him?

The problem wasn't him. It was me. I was looking in the wrong places to understand his work and I hadn't been listening properly when he spoke to understand his work. The fault was in me.

So what changed? "More Than A Rock" that's what changed.

I was recently gifted an opportunity to teach a college level course on photo editing. Due to some unfortunate circumstances I was not able to land the teaching position. But before that news came to fruition I decided I needed to up my art chops and get a few books. I had known of More Than A Rock for years at this point and always wanted to read it, but never had. Now I had an excuse and so I took advantage of the moment and ordered his book.

A week or two later I finally got my copy. I was excited to dive into the book! A book I had been wanting to read for years. So I took it inside, walked up stairs, put it on the floor of my bedroom and subsequently left it there for another week.

I'm good at reading sometimes.


But I had an art show coming up where I was going to have some extra time to kill (which turned out to be more true than I would have liked) so I brought the book. So I read. For four days I read that book. I consumed its words, its works. I pulled out a pen about half way through the book and began marking pages and taking notes. I read it at camp in the evening and the morning. In between guests and while I ate food. I consumed the book and when I was finished I feel like I changed as a photographer. And I also found a kindred spirit when it comes to canyon country.

Guy Tal grew up in Israel, served in the miliary, became a tech worker in California then moved to a town of a few hundred and became a photographer. He lives what many photographers would call the ideal life. He lives a life that fulfills him. And I admire him for that.

Over the course of the years as an artists he has also been writing. He has a blog which you can read here. But his blog is a mix of art, photography, life and so forth. Oddly enough, so it More Than A Rock. More Than A Rock is a book filled with short essays, and images similar to a blog. But unlike his blog, More Than A Rock is clearer, more thought out and does a better job at presenting the artist.

The book covers four topics: Art, Craft, Experience, and Meditations. Each is filled with philosophical ideas of photography, how to craft images in a sense, and his views of what photography is and its place in the world of art and man. I want to highlight a few bits of knowledge I feel like I gained along the way and then summarize my feelings about this book and about the artist.


Art


"While we cannot demand of anyone to attend art school or even to spend time looking at our work, we can at the very least educate others by example: by practicing what we preach and why we believe it is important.

There is lot to be said about this section, but I want to highlight one essay in particular that has changed me and that is The Educated Audience. Part of this section is a commentary on how photographers photograph and how they consume photography and how they think others should as well. Let me highlight one here.

First, photographers paying attention to other photographers. If you have been around long enough in the photograph community you will have heard of photographic celibacy. Its a practice of not looking at other photographers work so that you won't be influenced by them, particularly if you are about to go to a particula region. Guy clearly states that this is wrong. Not in the sense of morally wrong, maybe, but it shows how little we photographers don't act like artists. Artists go out and look at other artists work listen to their words and become inspired by them. Many photographers have somehow managed to miss the mark. I included and I will be better and do better because of this. I will got out and read more, discover more and learn more about art and photography.

Craft

"Good grammar can be used to create perfectly meaningless narratives, just as a good composition may yield a perfectly uninspired image."

Go read the essay titled Finding the Needle. It is an essay that if taken to heart should change any photographer particularly if you are new. When you are new, you chase after what others have done. While this can be satisfying at first, it is far from meaningful photography and can begin to feel rote and repetitive and frankly uninspiring (we are all looking at you mesa arch, but I do love my image). Though I still find myself chasing a few iconic views or ones that people say I should visit and photograph, I have been finding myself more often then not in places far from other photographers. I am not at Guy's level, but I feel like I am on the right path. Experience makes a difference and I need more for sure.

Experience

"I had been here many times and learned many of the canyon's secrets, but these are places that forever remain mysterious."


This section of the book won my heart. I finally understood Guy because I understand the emotions of visiting sacred places like the canyons of southern Utah. Though he likes the smell of sage and wet pinyons far more than I do, we both share a love for canyon country. It is my muse. It is my desert lover. And I finally understood his work and his emotions around them. His images are a reflection of his love for the region in which he lives. It is more than just pretty images, but an essay of his soul.


I am not going to talk about the final section of the book because that is a different flavor of writing all together and is best read by you dear reader. There are personal essays found here about loss and dealing with the demons of life. There are inspired words to be found here, but only you can find which ones they are. Go read and find out.

Final Thoughts

I was blown away by the quality of this book and I think every landscape photographer should read it. There is a level of arrogance, and lack of artistry currently abound in the photography community. You see it in how photographers share reels on Instagram where the images show lack of thought and mostly play for entertainment. You see it in our lack of ability to explain ourselves in our own words and describe why we do what we do. Overall we need to grow up as a photographic community and start acting as artists.

If you are photographer this is your text book, your artistic bible, and your artistic road map. If you do not own this book, buy it now. There is enough here that it will change you and make you a better photographer. I am changed.

I'll re-read this book in due time. I will even drag it around with me for a while. I feel like there is more for me to learn about myself through these pages. This was an amazing read and I hope to become a better photographer from it.

White primrose flowers blooming in the desert at Cathedral Gorge State Park
Castle Cathedral Bloom

I was awoken this morning by the calls of chattering western kingbirds above my tent. They were arguing away as couples who have lost interest in one another and were waking up my kids. So I sacrificed my warm spot next to my wife to my oldest daughter and I headed into the cool morning air to photograph a superbloom of evening primrose flowers covering the landscape of Cathedral Gorge.

The morning was relatively quiet away from the trees where the birds were singing. Not much lives out in the grassy and sandy flats that make up much of the park. There was one bird who sat along singing on the cathedral. His job was to be the organ for Gods long term creation project.

Posted in Education.