Why Not from the Parking Lot?
I'm writing this while I'm here in Capitol Reef in southern Utah, waiting for my photo partner to return from the Visitor's Center with news about the road conditions. It's been raining here in classic late summer thunder shower form — and the flash floods are evidence of it. As a result, we've been restricted to the paved roads. Damn.
Really? Why do I find this is so disappointing? Is there nothing worth photographing from the paved road? Nothing? How silly.
So, I've been thinking about this and here is my random thought of the day: Why do we landscape photographers lust after the remote location with such fervor? It seems like everyone does. The secret, unknown place that is inaccessible to everyone but the hardiest and bravest souls — with the best 4-wheel drive vehicles or strongest hiking legs. What is it about exclusivity that is so seductive?
I remember Ted Orland's advice, "If you can't make a spectacular photograph of a mundane subject, then at least make a mundane photograph of a spectacular subject." Perhaps there is a corollary to this: If you can't make a spectacular photograph of an easily accessible subject, then at least make a competent one of a remote subject. This has the virtue of being both different than the tourist shots plus you have the bragging rights about how difficult it was to get there. You are also insulated from comparison to the tourist's results — which just might be pretty good, luck being what it is.
As I sit here in the car, I'm watching hundreds of tourists pour out of giant buses and point their digital cameras, iPhones, tablets, and even an occasional DSLR up to the canyon walls to make their tourist snapshots. I could do the same, but we "serious" photographers take ourselves more, well, seriously. We are supposed to be making Art rather than just a vacation snapshot. So, what is stopping me from making an artistic image from right here in the parking lot? Is it possible I am afraid that my serious art image would be no better than the snapshooter's? That can't possibly be … could it? Do we chase the remote location as a defensive mechanism so we can feel smugly differentiated (and superior) from the tourist snapshooter? Shouldn't the differences between our photograph and theirs be something about our vision, our craft, and our artistic sensibilities — rather than our ability to seek out the remote and obscure location? If our vision and craft are the foundations of our artmaking, then why do we need the remote location?
Excuse me for interrupting this train of thought while I jump out of the car and grab my camera.
Addendum: Just for fun, here is my result. Does it change your thoughts about the image knowing that I made it from the parking lot of the Visitor's Center rather than at the end of some remote and difficult jeep-only access road where the "real photographers" go?
As Jay Dusard said so poignantly, "If you can't drive to it, forget it." I don't want to put words in his mouth, but perhaps he meant, "If you can't drive to it on the paved road, forget it." Not sure, I'll have to ask him next time I talk with him. Knowing Jay, I am sure he would make allowances for getting there on horseback.
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