All Landscape Photography is Local

51Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil, Jr., member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years is credited with the line “All politics is local”. And Like politics, all landscape photography is local.

Sometimes photographers give a universal feeling to a shot so that the viewer will never know where it was taken. Sunset shots can be like that. After all, the sun is setting somewhere every second of every day.

People can drive by the same scenery every day without really noticing it. It takes a photographer to let us see the mundane everyday world around us for the first time. To turn a phrase around, rather than losing sight of the forest for the trees, people really do let the trees go by in a blur and see only the forest. The photographer sees the tree, the whole tree, branches, trunk, bark, leaves, birds, insects, nicks, scratches, roots, everything, every second and every change of light. Like the sunset, the tree too is constantly changing every second.

Sometimes one feels the need to go off and photograph something far away, something different, and something famous, such as the Grand Canyon. But unless we actually live extended periods of time in a place so as to come to really know it, we are only given little pieces of those famous venues, beginner’s luck, an off chance of a heretofore unseen angle of a familiar object, or a new view of the Eifel Tower, or the Empire State Building revealed, or perhaps the blessing of unique cloud and light formations on the very day we are there.

There is sometimes the danger of thinking that, well, one has seen a tree so many times that there is nothing new to see in it, nothing new to photograph. To think, perhaps, that the tree has already been “done”, the picture has been taken, and everyone in the viewing public has already seen it.

What is going on is that everyone else has just captured a random second’s worth of an object, of a tree, or of the Eifel Tower. Yet there remains a truly infinite number of seconds stretching out into the future waiting to be photographed.

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

That is landscape photography in your own village, like the poet, watching the woods fill up with snow on the darkest evening of the year. Like the artist’s, the photographer’s eye helps those who also see, yet are blind to the world around them.

There is a little bit of the photographer in each one of us. Ever see a kid with a new digital camera, or one of those plastic disposable cameras, just walking around and shooting pictures like crazy? Everyone has done that. It is as if they are seeing the world around them for the first time. The moment passes, the camera is put down, and the lights go out. Maybe they feel embarrassed to be seen taking so many pictures in front of other people.

There are those who only bring their cameras out on “special” occasions. It is as if our lives were nothing more than the summation of birthdays, weddings and holidays.

Then there are some of us who never put the camera down (to the annoyance of everyone else around us). There are those of us who, even without a camera in our hands, constantly “see” images and photographs in our mind’s eye. It is for us photographers that every landscape is local; every blade of grass; every tree; every curve and hill and dale in the road. We could spend a lifetime photographing our own back yard. Spending time such as the years Claude Monet spent focused on observing and painting the Water-Lily Pond where he lived at Giverny.

Sometimes, with our fast digital equipment and computers, we need to do the opposite of what our technology would push us to do We need to slow down. We need to get to know a woods as only can be done on a dark evening, watching the woods slowly fill up with snow. We need to take the time Monet took, to really study and learn how light reflects off water and lilies.

How can we be bored when there is so much to see, to photograph, and so little time?