The Path Less Travelled?
Think of a landscape photographer and you may see Ansel Adams trekking up the side of a mountain in the pre dawn blackness, heavy wooden tripod and camera over his shoulder. Perhaps setting up as the sun makes its way over the mountain peaks. Light metre in hand, he calculates the ideal exposure, waiting for the light, for that moment of perfection to kiss the negative.
Sometimes I still kid myself that this is what it is like. Calm and in control, master of technique and art, surveying all before me, planned and expected, slow and serene.
Perhaps I should lie and perpetuate this myth? Such romantic imagery, along with that other well worn myth, the tortured, insecure artist, should be encouraged.
Well….in the spirit of full disclosure and honesty, yes, there is an element of the ‘Ansel Adams’ in my working practice, as well as (of course), an element of torture within my soul.
A handful of my landscapes have come about after hours of walking and may even have required – whisper it – some technical know how to make happen…and with that all important element of suffering included – both physical and psychological – I must be considered a true artist, right?
More often than not my images have come about by happy accident, a rushed moment, an instinctive click, mere metres from the road or path, car engine running in the background with no immediate torture whatsoever experienced within my soul.
All too easy.
So does this ease of creating a new piece, a new landscape, reduce it’s artistic value? Make me less of an artist?
The million dollar question.
Well, the irony is of course, that when discovering a perfect photograph is that easy, so accessible, it creates guilt…that feeling that I should be suffering in order to create my art, that I should trek for miles to find it, creates within me a sensation of fraudulence that is hard to shake.
That lack of torture required to create an image creates, in itself, torture and suffering.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the release of the shutter, it is imperative for my sanity and belief in my work that I remember the hours, days and years that have led up to that moment. The decisions made, the instincts followed, the maps poured over, the sudden forks in the physical and metaphorical road, all lead up to that one magical moment in which the light kisses the negative.
At some point on the road to creating a photograph, there is inevitably suffering involved. Perhaps not during the immediate build up to the releasing of the shutter, but in the months and years preceding it.
More often than not the work comes together on the crest of a high, whilst on location. Everything feels good, easy and positive. But this doesn’t mean you should forget the trough you had to live through in order to reach the summit.
The highs and lows are both, after all, integral to the journey that leads to the creation of a new piece of work.
The truth is, of course, that there is no right or wrong way to create the perfect image.
If by chance those immediate moments before the release of the shutter were devoid of physical or emotional suffering, if all I had to do is walk three steps from a car on a smooth tarmac road, lift the camera to my eyes and click, then so be it.
And equally, if the magic happens after hours of trekking up a mountain, steeped in a dogged cloud of self doubt and torture, then so be it.
There is the cliche that an artist should suffer in order to make art, that it is always better to take the path less travelled. This may well be the case, but the path less travelled can also be a 3 lane motorway.
A piece of art is not born in the isolation of the moment. It is the sum of all it’s parts, and that includes the growth of the artist as a person in the days, months and years leading up to its creation.
An artist should learn to not spoil the ease of the highs by relying on the lows, fearing their return or feeling that they are necessary. The highs are a product of the lows, just as the lows are a product of the highs.
However I create my images (whatever my state of mind), I should learn to accept them into my life. Unconditionally.
Wherever I am on my path (whatever the state of the path), I should learn to embrace my artistic journey. Unconditionally.
In the mean time…
…feel free to think of me, trekking up the side of a mountain in the pre dawn blackness, heavy wooden tripod and camera over my shoulder. Perhaps setting up as the sun makes its way over the mountain peaks. Light metre in hand, calculating the ideal exposure, waiting for the light, for that moment of perfection to kiss the negative…
Go on…it is, of course, the truth…honest.