“How we see is a very personal thing.” Marc Adamus.
It is a funny thing to truly enjoy something, just enough to be slightly above average at it, just knowledgeable enough about it to speak bravely, and perhaps just enough to create a drive to do it on a regular basis. Certainly I have seen music be this ‘something’ for a great many people, which is wonderful (and horrible). But a side effect of this is people begin to develop a healthy dose of over confidence, sometimes comical, often irrational.
For me, that special ‘something’ is nature photography. I love doing it, think I have an eye (which is up for debate), and think I know what I am doing…probably enough to be annoying to people who truly have experience and the technological knowledge. Never all that serious or dangerous, this over confidence prevails as long as you never come in contact with someone masterful so that you have no choice but to chuckle at yourself, your naivete, your misguided notion of expertise. I think this ‘dose of reality’ chuckle is a wonderful and healthy thing. I personally have Marc Adamus to thank for a proverbial punch to my photo-ego.
This isn’t a completely new experience for me. During my stint in Seattle I had the honor of hanging out with a few fantastic photographers, perhaps most notably Jim Garner, owner of J. Garner Photography and ranked as one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world. http://www.jgarnerphoto.com/
Besides being freakishly talented at the craft of photography (especially light), he is one of the kindest and most visionary men I’ve ever been around. I consider myself insanely lucky to have met him and spent some quality time. If you are interested (and you should be) check out this short interview with Mark Lutz where he talks inspiration and experience: http://www.digitalweddingforum.com/blog/an-intimate-interview-with-jim-garner
So Jim’s emphasis and expertise is photographing people and their experience, although I’ve seen some nature work from him and have been astounded. That being said, I have always thought myself poor to below poor at photographing people (maybe even awful), which is fine. So instead, my nature photo-ego continued, especially with the help of practicing in the northwest where you could have a toy camera and get beauty. I remember walking markets (i.e. Portland Saturday Market) and seeing vendors selling large-print nature photography and never being too impressed either. The photos were never all that subtle and they reeked of Photoshop. Some were good, sure, but…my nature photo-ego continued further. I have ended up a few good ones here and there along the way though, for instance:
I can’t remember how I came across Marc Adamus’ photography, but if you were in the room when I did, you’d probably have thought you were watching a bad firework show with a bunch of 5 year olds with all the “ooo”s and “ahhh”s you would have heard. Please visit his beautiful site here:
I thought to myself, as I think most would almost immediately… “Aha! The pungent odor of Photoshop fills the air,” followed by a wave of skepticism. I dug in to his bio to find out if he mentioned it. Not only does he mention it, he talks very succinctly:
Today, the most frequent question I am asked as a photographer is not whether I use Photoshop (obvious), but how I use Photoshop. There is a great misconception among the public that photography like mine is somehow “created” in Photoshop, quite possibly because of exposure to too many Hollywood graphic effects, videogames, etc. I point out that throughout the entire history of the photographic medium one’s technique in the field must be perfect. This has not changed today. The abilities that define great photographers are first and foremost how to seize the moment and make it theirs, reacting quickly and precisely to often rapidly changing situations. No amount of processing in today’s digital darkroom can ever fix a bad composition, an out of focus image, create great light or change a mid-day sky into a sunset. No matter how much processing I apply post-capture, I have to be in the field 250 days per year on average doing everything possible, everything all generations of photographers have done, honing my skills and collecting days and weeks of failures before that rare moment shows itself and the successful initial capture is made.
He continues to develop a stance over several paragraphs of Photoshop philosophy that details the complexities of the entire process of photography, from before you click, to post-processing. He concludes solidly:
Anyone who thinks of digital photography as a ‘crutch’ of sorts, simply does not understand these processes and the precision with which they must be executed in-camera as well as in processing.
As we’re now into the second decade of the new millenium, the debate that started 20 years ago with the introduction of Photoshop – whether or not to use it to ‘manipulate’ the initial capture is disappearing. The public perception always lags behind the state of the art, but finally most people have come to tolerate and even respect the digital art, realizing that the relationship between reality and photography does not have to die with it. Still, it’s very unfortunate if completely predictable that there are a few who still cling to the belief that the image that comes strait from the camera is the only ‘real’ photograph, and everything else is chalked up to manipulation. Those people may not have any comprehension as to the roots of photography – those who knew Ansel well would tell you he would undoubtedly be a Photoshop guru were he alive today. At the very least though, these people have yet to come to grips with one of the fundamentals of history itself that teaches us the inevitable – those who refuse to evolve and embrace new ways become themselves obsolete. No one is ever going to come along and do away with digital post-processing. It’s here to stay, so we may as well learn the facts and learn to embrace it as part of the art.
Ok ok, so I was in the group of naive photography consumers who is skeptical of major post-processing techniques. BUT! I think it isn’t a sin to be turned off by what I’ll call “noticeable” perhaps “egregious” Photoshoping similar to ones we’ve all seen at markets and craft fairs. In Marc’s case, it is obvious he is a master of the process – the whole process – and I think, as an art connoisseur not only wasn’t I distracted, I was drawn in to his “journey into wilderness.” I couldn’t stop being amazed by one after another.
One special thing for me is that I have been to many of the places he has pictures of on his website. It became comical for me to compare his photos of beautiful places to ones I had taken …photos that until I saw his, I was fairly proud of. I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in myself, I just laughed at my amateurism. Now give me grace everyone as I show not my best, but just two examples that show you what I saw:
1. The Oregon Coast, head to head.
Ok, a normal “captured the day and location” sort of shot. Not bad.
Uh…hmmm. Ok, that is toooooo close to call. We’re gonna need a tie-breaker:
2. A random stream, head to head.
Classic “slightly out of focus, but believe me, I was trying to get the moving water, so it was hard” shot. Nice.
I think the best way to say it is thusly: I found myself remembering the places, their magic, their intimacy, their brilliance, the smells and sounds in the air… remembering everything… better when looking at Marc’s photos than looking at ones that I had taken. Astounding.
Several times on this blog I have highlighted what it means to be a “real” artist. Perhaps even highlighting the difference between a “real” artist and and “ridiculous” artist. It is truly a gift to share the air on this planet with some special people who have the innate talent, the drive, the means, and the spirit to become great, fantastic artists. People like Jim Garner. People like Marc Adamus. Whether it is photography, music, theater, painting, etc…it seems to me we should not only enjoy their work but seek them out. Find them. Enjoy them. See the joy of what it means to be a master and applaud the sweat and sacrifice it took for them to get there. And secondly, we should use their work as examples for our own as we learn and stand on their shoulders. I look forward to try and capture better photos, to see beauty clearer, to capture it and enjoy it.
postscript: All photos remain the copyright of the photographers. Please visit their websites.