Ansel Adams, the largely undisputed master of the black-and-white landscape, also used colour film for forty of his 50-plus years as a photographer. Adams once wrote, “I believe that color photography, while astonishingly advanced technologically, is still in its infancy as a creative medium.”
During the early 1990s, photographers had the good fortune to observe and learn from the skills of the highly acclaimed Canadian photographer Daryl Benson, a pioneer in introducing filters and colour to landscape photography. I had (and continue to have) the blessing of knowing Daryl as a friend with whom I have both travelled and photographed, and lectured and presented in some of the biggest auditoriums in the country.
During those great years of travelling the continent in search of images, we would sleep on top of campground picnic tables if it wasn’t raining, and under them if it was. We would try many different combinations of filters to record the light on film—only as our mind perceived or imagined. Rarely was an image made that was not enhanced with the use of some filter or a combination of filters. As Adams alluded, we were still pushing the technology of what film was capable of recording as late as 2000, when we released our first book, A Guide to Photographing the Canadian Landscape.
We believed in what we were doing; many of us during this period were of the opinion there was no right or wrong. We took a lot of heat from the purest who felt we were bastardizing what nature was presenting. How dare we corrupt the natural environment by altering its form through manipulation by using (colour) graduated and polarizing filters—often times in tandem many times over?
Not surprisingly there is still much ado about HDR and manipulation by the purists when it comes to altering images using post-production software, such as Photoshop. Personally, I prefer to think of Adams once again: are we not still advancing the technology of image-making? My wish remains that we don’t stop this progress. The last decade of image-makers has opened the floodgates of creativity, and what a sin it would be if this creativity were hobbled.
Photography is a language of communication. Technology has permitted more verbs to enter that vocabulary in the last decade than in, arguably, the entire previous century. The Internet and web-based portfolios have become our dictionary. Never has the time been better to be bold and explore individual expression.
I am not so certain we are looking for the perfect photograph any more—that is a very dubious quest, at best, due to rapidly evolving styles, techniques and aesthetics. Is perfect even attainable?
What I do know is that I have been spending a lot of time lately producing a near-perfect library of background images. I have skies, storms, seascapes and landscapes, all waiting for some great divine intervention to provide me with the artistic talent to create epic material. In the meantime, I will plod along enjoying the journey, searching for new verbs that will allow me to communicate without rules, guidelines or inhibitions…restricted only by my imagination and talent.
Let’s be inspired by Ansel Adams, who most likely could never have imagined where we would be today. But then again, perhaps he did when he said, “Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.”
For inspiration, check out my favourite photographer (this week!): www.davehillphoto.com