My Perceptions of Art and Landscape Photography


I do a lot of art shows. I get to look at a lot of art that people do. I get to see paintings, photographs, sculptures, rock art, pen and paper, pencil and so forth. At the nicer shows I get to see those who have been doing art for a long time, who have honed their craft and have become quite exceptional. At smaller Saturday markets I get to see those beginning their journey, who dabble or who are unfortunately in-between competent and incompetent and don't know it yet. I get to see it all.

Recently I have been diving more into art in general and have been trying to form my own opinions on it all. I picked up a book that covers the entire history of art, but it left out photography. Part of this is because photographic art is new, but it is also deemed "lower" art. One TED talk pointed out these discrepancies and how similar compositions done by paintings and photographers sold for dramatically different price points (sorry I can't find the talk anymore, its been a few years). But I guess that's the field in which I live.

In general I don't know how I feel about contemporary photography when it comes to anthropocentric view of photography. It seems like it wants to shun color in general, and have a reminiscent look of the past. Like it can't look forward. But I know the least about this area of photography so lets move onto landscape photography.

Landscape photography, I believe, is in an astounding rebellion against the grand scenic views that has generally been the main staple for the past 20 years. The influence of Ansel Adams seems to be waning a bit as some of the biggest and most influential names in photograph these days are spending most of the photographic time around 300mm plus. Competitions have recently awarded some of the top merits to images that are a far cry from the grand landscape winners of years past. I don't think its good or bad. It is just different.

Self Reflection

As for where I sit on this new spectrum, I find myself about 70:30 split between grand landscapes and intimate landscapes being the smaller portion. I love photographing the grand landscape still and as for right now I don't see myself changing. I like dramatic skies and I love big views... I just don't like sharing them. As for my smaller more intimate scenes, those are developing out of my desire to fiddle and try different things. But currently I somewhat ascribe to Marc Adamus's philosophy of having every image feel like it has depth, even those of small scenes.

Mud islands in the desert at sunset

These spires of the desert reminded me of some sort of series of volcanic islands.

But the real question of why do I photograph what I photograph comes down to a few specific things. First, I am color blind. Second, I like solitude. Third, I like what I like.

Color Blind

Yes I am color blind. Well sort of. I am color deficient. I can see pretty much all the colors up to a point. Some are harder for me like red, pink and purple. While others are just fine. I am surprisingly good and picking out variations in shades of color. But in the end I see a more drab version of the world than most of my viewers do.

Now sit back and think how that might affect you?

For me, it means I don't notice subtle colors. I don't notice the soft purple at the end of the day. I have a hard time finding the pink (or even seeing pink) in the sky and it also means I actually don't know exactly what my red rock images look like most of the time.

Want to know when I see the best colors though? When they are most intense. Sunrise and sunset, dramatic cloud conditions and so forth. I photograph what I photograph because I can see it. My photographic contemporaries see the variation in colors in the plant communities better than I can, so they photograph it. They can spot the purple in the rocks and they photograph it. They can describe the subtle detail on how the color pallet varies across the landscape. I can't. I was with Joshua Cripps once in Canyonlands and he was blown away by the contrast between a few of the plants and the red rock dust that surrounded them. For me, they just looked green and the dust was mostly brown, not very red. He experienced something totally different than me and we were standing next to each other.

I live in a dull world and there are only friends at dusk, dawn and the dramatic moments in between! So I photograph what I can see.


My favorite images are taken with few people around and even less photographers. I have walked away from scenes in Zion National Park, Yosemite, Canyonlands, Arches, and just about every national park in the past three years where there were lots of people. People didn't use to bother me, but now, its like ants on the skin. I just can't. I think this is the natural progression of most photographers. They go from not minding other photographers around to wanting to avoid them.

Horseshoe bend at sunset with a large sun star at the top of the image and the colorado river flowing through the canyon.

I didn't want to photograph Horseshoe bend the same way everyone else did. So I wandered and wandered and wandered for a while until I found this scene I liked.

I don't mind a few people with me, but I would rather have some solitude while doing image making. This has resulted in some of my favorite images. Horseshoe bend below was taken where it was because there were too many people around. I found solitude and I was rewarded with this.

In the end I don't mind photographing iconic images. They sell well, but they have to be my own twist on the image. I no longer feel inclined to photograph the same scene others have. Let them have that glory, I'll go find my own.

How this has affected my images over the years is subtle, but beginning to be obvious. I have switched to photographing my local haunts like my backyard Joshua Tree forests. I have spend much of my time in Zion in the past two years away from iconic view points and have focused on other trails, other views and have found rewarding images along the way. When I visit National Parks across the country I haven't bothered looking up iconic views and have not tried to recreate too many.

I Like What I Like

Finally, I photograph what I like. I don't often photograph what others point out to me anymore unless I am not looking the right way. I leave other photographers to their selected views. I don't need their views. I want my own. I photograph what I have a connection with and if I don't, the image usually sits on the hard drive or I don't even bother to push the shutter button. This has resulted in many photo shoots with few "keepers" it has resulted in some big trips with little to show.

Waterfalls cascading over red rock at sunrise with a distant snow capped mountain in the distance.

In 2020 we had a combination of rain and snow melt that resulted in these waterfalls cascading over the spillway and across these wonderful red rocks creating a beautiful scene. I did not photograph it. Now in 2023 we have been blessed with the largest snow pack on record and with all the rain and snow we have been getting, Gunlock falls have started back up and I was able to snag myself a sunrise with the large curtain falls of the cascade in view.

I recently went and photographed a local phenomenon here in southern Utah, the Gunlock Waterfalls. They only run every few years when water is high enough. Every morning and evening there were new images coming out from these falls. I was told multiple times to photograph the falls. So I gave in and spent a while fiddling with a composition that I felt was my own. In the end I came out with a decent photo, but I didn't love the situation thus I don't love the image as much as others. I love my Delicate Arch shot below because I got lost in the dark trying to get here in time for sunrise. I had the arch to myself at sunrise and it made for a memorable moment. This wasn't a forced photo shoot, it was something I really wanted to do. Because of that I did it the way I wanted and it is an image entirely of my own doing.

Delicate Arch at Sunrise

I got lost this morning trying to get this shot. Though the trail is fairly easy to navigate in the day time, when trying to do it two hours before dawn is a bit more difficult. I knew a few general principles, keep going north and hug to the right while I do so and I will either hit the bottom of a cliff or the trail. I eventually found the trail, so all was well. I did end up having the arch all to my self which was a nice experience.

Making art can be selfish and in some ways it should when you are trying to make it meaningful. I really enjoy that aspect of what I do. I get to do something that is entirely my own and in the end, if the image is loved by others I get to sell it. If not I get to enjoy it when I flip through my galleries or when it hangs on my wall.

Posted in Education.