Musings on creativity for photographers and artists by Rob Hudson

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Why golden hour photography isn't enough

I was going to write a separate piece here, but my thoughts were hijacked by a discussion in Flickr's Art of Landscape group

So here is my response to the question of orange and purple landscapes.

What do we all want out of photography? Whoever we are budding amateur, professional landscape photographer, artist? It is quite simply a form of self-satisfaction. Now that is inevitably a different thing for different people and different times or stages of their development. But in some people that may eventually turn into a desire to produce something that is (at least in relative terms) unique to themselves. For that to happen requires a degree of introspection to examine what about the landscape is important to them. 

Every photographer should be turned on by light; “photography” is after all Greek for writing with light. But, speaking from personal experience, this can lead to a limited response to the landscape. Just try a personal brain storming session about what the landscape really means to you, also remember that meanings haven’t always been static, I find it useful to think back to childhood responses. Throw some keywords onto the page. Here are some examples -

Exposed, intimate, polluted, clean, hot, cold, windy, still, fear, contentment, lost, dark, bright, joy, freedom, escape, ethereal, delicate, huge, private, enclosed, open. 

I could go on and on, but this is about you not me. 

Now just ask yourself if the Golden Hour alone is the right way to express many of those thoughts, ideas or emotions? I would argue that it’s unsuitable for many of them. It is a question of depth; art requires more than surface beauty, as we are both intellectual and emotional beings, satisfying only half our brains is a frustrating experience. The first step to getting deeper is to get away from the beach and sunsets. Landscape is about so much more than that. 

In the world of artistic expression technique becomes subordinate to ideas, it is something that can and should be harnessed to address the concept or theme. That doesn’t necessarily mean throwing out the rulebook, but giving consideration to how technique can be melded to purpose. The problem for me with many golden hour image-makers is that there is no room for manoeuvre; technique becomes a fixed method, a method that can only produce a certain type of image. 

Art isn’t so much nebulous, as an answer without a question. To paraphrase Douglas Adams “if that is the answer what is the question?” You’ll have to find your own answers to your own questions. To think in purely visual terms probably wont answer many questions, for that you’ll need to think more like a poet and then turn those thoughts into imagery. 

1 comment:

  1. Insightful thoughts Rob and I followed that Flickr post with interest at the time.

    I have wondered on a number of occasions about the Golden Hour question - it certainly is capable of producing some beautiful conditions often transforming the landscape. I really enjoy being out at those times as the experience can be quite magical. Interestingly though, by choosing to photograph the landscape in such conditions, you are representing it as something that, for most of the time, it is not. But then maybe that is part of the attraction - it's a form of escape from the norm. Until the escape starts to become the norm as every image becomes a repeat of the last.

    I know what you mean about there being a certain type of image associated with the Golden Hour - the fixed technique is perhaps borne out of a preconception as to what an image taken at that time should look like. In other words, perhaps it reveals a failure to connect with the landscape and respond to it; instead, the photographer is imposing their will on the landscape. Anyway, this is something I'm trying to work on and have noticed in my photography the temptation to arrive with preconceived ideas and essentially repeat earlier images.

    Naturally, all these methods have their place and like most things it's a question of balance.

    It's interesting that you start from the premise of using the landscape to express your thoughts, ideas or emotions. That sounds like an active process - finding the right landscape for the right emotion. A marriage of landscape and photographer. I suppose there is also an alternative approach which I touched upon above of reacting to the landscape and trying to make your photograph really convey the reaction engendered by the landscape at that time.


    Paul Sidle.


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