Views from Dark Places
Moving to Washington state has not been easy for me. After living in the beauty of Deep Springs Valley, almost any change would have been difficult, but nevertheless it feels like we have faced constant headwinds and disappointments since the day we chose to come here. This has been true for my photography as well. Washington was the last state in the west in which I had not lived, worked or spent significant time, but I felt that my experience in neighboring states and my decade-plus of serious photography would ease the transition. But honestly, I have been stunned by just how foreign Washington feels, even here east of the Cascades, and by how difficult it has been to feel any real connection to this landscape. I have felt voiceless up here and it has a times been intensely frustrating and depressing.
During last winter and spring, I made a conscious decision to tackle my disconnection by attempting to make images with darker sides. Nature photography has a reputation, sometimes deserved, for offering only saccharine feel-good images of flowers and sunsets. I’ve always tried to look deeper in my work, but this year I’ve really leaned into expressing harsher emotions. I’ve been quite jealous of musicians’ ability to evoke frustration or sadness with just a few bars, as well as of painters’ option to assault a canvas with pigment in a physically expressive way. I can’t find a direct equivalent in photography, handling a camera angrily achieves nothing (if your experience is different I’d be interested in hearing about it!). Instead I’ve been doing lots of experimentation and searching for subject matter and compositions with harsher or more austere aesthetics and darker symbolism.
(I should probably add before going further: I’m alright. Frustrations certainly continue, but none of my personal friends reading this should feel any need to be alarmed or to intervene, though emails, phone calls and blog comments are always welcome and appreciated. And any artists who find that this resonates with them should be sure not to neglect getting any support and help they may need!)
Minimalism is always a promising approach to this sort of work.
Seeing how minimal I could go:
A more traditional landscape, but in a very minor key:
Winter is a natural season to work the dark side, but I found spring surprisingly productive in this regard too. Coming to the Northwest, even the to the rain shadow, was a huge change from the clean beauty of the desert, and the riotous growth certainly lends itself to tense, chaotic visuals and symbolism.
These two images in many ways epitomize my experience of the last eight months. Tangled, thwarted, patternless obstruction, nothing worthwhile visible on the other side. I tried these in black and white, but felt that treatment gave them an elegance I did not want, so I left them in muted, unattractive color.
I’m know this kind of work is not to everyone’s taste, but I appreciate your looking: regularly scheduled programing of flowers and mountains will resume shortly. Have any of my readers attempted to wrestle with negative emotion through nature and landscape photography, either as creator or viewer? I’d be very curious to hear other people’s observations on the subject.