The process of searching for something that you want to photograph, of looking for landscapes you want to depict, can be a mysterious process. What makes you want to make a photograph? Searching for meaning in a landscape could seem a foreign or futile process if you are uninitiated and unexperienced, but the process of looking for subjects in the environment to photograph is exciting and inherently valuable.
One of the interesting things about landscape photography is that it is very accessible. Access is not the greater challenge. Cameras exist in great abundance, and there are lots of parks with forests, mountains, streams, beaches, and other interesting things to discover. What makes it difficult is the not knowing.
To want to make a landscape photograph, you have to become accustomed to the process of exploring. Exploration already implies a lack of knowledge. It means you are looking for something hitherto unconscious. It requires going out into the world with the goal of bringing back something different.
Studying the Landscape
Through searching for subject to photograph, an artist gradually grows to know a place intimately. Hiking becomes a form of reading when you enter into this mode of searching. Any landscape is constantly changing with the seasons, and even a small park is infinitely full of potential subject matter. This means that it is virtually impossible to fully know any landscape. By paying careful attention to it, however, you can become very familiar with a space.
Only through putting in the time can an artist know a space. It is a relationship that requires work and patience. Similar to studying English Literature, or the history of Chinese Painting, this is a process that could never be complete. There is always more to learn.
Humans express a range of emotions in response to natural or cultural disasters. Some people mobilize and get busy figuring out how to help. Other people withdraw and pull up the drawbridge, hoping to escape harm through sheltering. When it comes to what we pay attention to, there is a widespread interest in witnessing the destruction. Like a car accident or a trainwreck, people have been glued to the worst parts of these storms.
It’s understandable, certainly. This is not something that you see every day and one way you can surely appreciate the power of the natural world is by viewing the flimsiness of manmade objects in the path of a storm. However, this is only part of the story, and it is bad business. Serving up disaster and destruction is why our national media outlets are losing their credibility every single day.
Always an Alternative
Instead of fueling the bad habit of doomscrolling, people in media always have the option of focusing on the solution. If there is no way to stop what is coming, then we can also search for the beautiful, we can focus on the good, we can adhere to the true. So much of our reality is determined by our perspective.
If we want to achieve a positive outcome, we must assume a comic disposition, even in the darkest of times. Remember the movie Life is Beautiful starring Roberto Benigni? Set in WWII as prisoners of the German concentration camps, the character attempts to shelter his son from the sheer malevolence of the world surrounding them. He knows that despite the horrors of the Nazi regime, their only hope to survive physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is to search for the beautiful.
The Power of Choice
Even in a world that seems overdetermined, where a rational sense of the future seems foreclosed, we still can choose. That is one of the most powerful words in the English language: choice. We can decide what we choose to share. We are responsible for our expressions.
If we truly want a better future for our children, then it starts with the little choices we make each day. Instead of flocking to the damage, rather than showcasing the destruction, we also have the option of focusing on the beautiful and attempting to inspire hope in the future, to rekindle a faith in the basic goodness of existence.
Have you ever asked yourself if you love yourself, or if not why not? Self love is a mystery. It sounds simple, but in practice it can be more challenging than you might think. In order to love yourself, to love your life, you have to know yourself. My last blog was about using the art practice of photography as self discovery. Practicing photography can just as easily lead you astray. The key is honesty, and that is a hard thing. Being honest about who you are and what you really like is the starting point to all true love.
Reading the Signs Correctly
Loving yourself is as simple and challenging as being yourself. The first step is to set out with the intention of being honest. An art practice helps, because it gives you a kind of reflection that exists in the world. This could be achieved through writing, dance, painting or any of the other arts. In order to reach the point of self awareness, which leads to self knowledge, which leads to self mastery, which leads to self love, you have to decipher a set of abstract signs. Why are you attracted to certain forms? What do these things mean to you?
Seeing the Unseen
In landscape photography, there is often a desire to share something beautiful with the world. In an area like Santa Cruz, there is no shortage of beautiful subject matter. The fact is, however, that we are also surrounded by things that we take for granted and some of these things are essential to our lives and livelihood. I have always been interested in power lines because they make up the infrastructure of our digital lives. Those lines carry power and culture into the privacy of our homes.
Theory and Chaos
Being honest means embracing the unpleasant at times. Nobody can live on this wild evolving planet without going through some chaotic times. We need some kind of handle to manipulate the moments of extreme discomfort that accompany events that throw our lives into tumult. Understanding the larger picture of our becoming can help to make sense of a pattern that in the moment feels all too disorganized and wild. Life is a force that drives us and it is not always neatly organized or clean. Embracing the chaos when you feel chaotic is one of the ways you can learn more about yourself.
Courage and Exposure
One of the scariest feelings many people can experience is exposure. Whether that is being on the edge of a cliff surrounded by vast abysmal space, or posting something true and vulnerable on the Internet, the feeling of exposure keeps many people from venturing out. Without adventure, there is no growth. It requires courage to put yourself in a position where you are exposed. These are important ingredients in the recipe of self love.
Discipline and Disciplines
Every artistic discipline requires effort to achieve fluency. Even for those naturally gifted in a certain art practice, the levels you are able to achieve depend upon the work that you put into it. Discipline is a force in art and life that helps us to achieve our goals. Exposing yourself to the world is risky, and you need to temper this danger with discipline. Anthony “Tazy” Tashnick is one of the bravest surfers I have ever known and he achieves this fearlessness through an incredible amount of repetitions. He would probably never call it discipline, but that is exactly what it is. Through putting in the work, he overcomes the fear that many people experience in big wave situations. The same is true with Alex Honnald, who says that even when he is performing a death defying free solo his effort and anxiety level are always between a four and a six on a scale of one to ten. Through practice, you can make difficult things easy, and thus less dangerous or scary.
Luck and Love
When it comes to success in life, luck plays a major factor. When it comes to loving yourself, this is much less true. You don’t need some amazing fortune to come to know who you are and what is best for you. Love is not a product of luck, and success is no guarantee of love. Work is much more important in this process. Of course, the ability to live and to do work depends upon a degree of luck, but what I am talking about has nothing to do with gambling. It is a safe and dependable route. You will need courage and discipline, but you shouldn’t depend upon luck.
The Long Walk Home
Our world is full of complicated distractions. We can easily succumb to bad marketing or fall victim to someone’s malevolent plans. That’s just a part of the picture. Through doing the work of self discovery and making a trail of images that others can follow you can build a solid path that you can rely on for your practice. In my experience, it is better to go slow in this process. When you are younger it can be hard to have patience, but there is no shortcut to finding the keys to self love.