Posted by: kerryl29 | March 8, 2012

An Integral Piece of the Puzzle

I had an epiphany of sorts, two years ago.  For a variety of reasons, I seriously pondered the notion of selling all my gear and giving up photography entirely.  I descended into a deep photographic funk for roughly six months before finally extracting myself from it in April of 2010.  So what was the epiphany?  Read on.

You may have come across the term “shutterbug.”  It’s commonly defined, in essence, as someone who is enthusiastic about photography.  My own twist to the connotation is that the word refers to someone who is an enthusiastic photographic generalist; a person who is captivated by photography and carries a camera around at all times.  While there’s nothing at all wrong with someone who fits this description, that’s not me.  When I first dipped my toe into the photographic waters, many, many years ago, I thought I’d be interested in all kinds of photography.  I thought, for instance, that due to my enthusiasm for sports both as a participant and a spectator, I’d enjoy sports photography.  It turned out not to be the case.  I should have known.

Pastoral Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

When I was a kid, I used to draw a lot.  My mother took note of this and sent me to a class at a local arts center when I was something like nine years old.  It became clear, in short order, that I was easily the least talented person in the class.  I wasn’t horribly bad, but I wasn’t particularly good either.  I knew what I was trying to accomplish but I couldn’t, for the life of me, seem to follow through and actually render the image that was present in my mind’s eye on a piece of paper.  The course instructor realized this right away, but neither one of us knew what to do about it.

The class experience having been a failure, I returned to my doodling which–most of the time–was represented in the form of landscapes.  For reasons of which I’m unsure, I’ve always been drawn to the landscape and images of landscapes.  But I remained unable to render the images in the manner I sought; I simply didn’t have the talent necessary to accomplish what I wanted to do.

As I grew older, I left drawing aside.  I wasn’t particularly good at it, after all, and the exigencies of daily life took over.  I continued to dabble with photography, but virtually the only times that I used my camera was for snapshooting when on vacation.  I really didn’t know what I was doing, from a technical standpoint, but I adapted my interest in the landscape irregularly from drawing to photography.  I made no effort, however, to learn the craft aspects of the discipline.

Forest Moon, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

This is how things remained until I was well into young adulthood.  My (now) wife and I took a two-week long trip to southern Utah about 15 years ago during which I shot plenty of (print) film.  After having the film developed upon returning home, I went through the shots and selected a dozen or so that I wanted to enlarge to 8×10″ prints, so I took the relevant negatives to a local camera store that produced enlargements.  One nice part of the service was that they would custom crop the shots (which were developed at 8×12″).  The shop was staffed by professional photographers, who worked at the store part-time as an income supplement.  The gentleman who was helping me decide on the crops said, “I hope you don’t mind me commenting, but I have to tell you, these are much better than typical holiday snaps.”

By my current standards, the shots are uniformly atrocious.  The light is terrible and the images suffer from a lack of care on my part as they were all handheld.  Even today, however, through my jaundiced eye, I can see a hint of compositional competence.  (But just a hint.)

That’s what I see now; back then, I thought these were pretty good images and the comment by the professional at the camera shop only reinforced my initial assessment.  It was in the aftermath of all of this that I decided to pursue photography more seriously, which led to my embracing the technical fundamentals and spending copious time studying composition.  From that point I reawakened my slumbering interest in the landscape and applied it directly to the camera.  For the first time in my life, I found myself able to translate my landscape vision to an art form through which I could satisfactorily express myself.  It was a remarkably pleasing experience.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fast forward many years to the point where this entry began, when I was considering giving it all up, for reasons that had little if anything to do with photography specifically.  During this time I found myself struggling to understand why I was so drawn to the landscape.  To this day, I’m not entirely certain of the answer.  But in the process, I learned something that I am sure of, and that’s the epiphany that I mentioned at the top of this essay.

What I discovered, through this lengthy introspective process, was that there were many things about which I am interested and/or enjoy doing.  (There are also many things that I feel obligated to do.)  But expressing my vision of the landscape through photography is more than that.  Yes, I am interested in doing this and I enjoy doing it as well.  But landscape photography far exceeds fascination and pleasure for me.  It’s not just something I like to do; it’s part of who I am.  This is why, I found, I ultimately couldn’t abandon my gear a couple of years ago; doing so would be akin to dissecting and removing an integral part of me.  Once I committed myself to getting back out in the field and sticking with it, a lot of things in my life ostensibly unrelated to photography seemed to repair themselves.  In retrospect, this all seems incredibly obvious, though it did not at the time.  I suppose that’s what self-discovery is all about: learning how difficult it can be to understand yourself.

*                    *                    *

After preparing a rough draft of this essay, I stumbled across a blog entry by Guy Tal, which coincidentally touches upon some of the same matters as I have here.  (I’ve mentioned Guy in prior blog installments; he is a highly gifted photographer and writer, as you’ll discover for yourself if you peruse his blog and Web site.)  I heartily recommend the entry to you.  In his writing, Guy draws a distinction between “projects” and “explorations” that transcends mere semantic differences between the terms.

Humbly borrowing Guy’s terminology, landscape photography is firmly established as part of my life’s exploration.

Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine

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Responses

  1. Gorgeous! Especially that last picture!

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Beautiful photos – thanks for sharing:) If you enjoy doing something just do it and have fun with it and do it for yourself too!

    • Thank you…and good advice.

  3. Would have been horrifying if you’d given it up ! It’s certainly good to hear that you’ve found something in you and expressed it so well through your photography (landscape is definitely not a “part” of me, even though I enjoy viewing the work of talented landscape photographers)

    • Thanks very much, Lauren.

  4. It is interesting to hear how someone ends up doing what they are doing. I had a similar history, maybe I will talk about it on my blog. Is it OK if I refer to you. I gave up photography for quite a number of years and went on to do something else, but ultimately have come back to it and am very happy here. Glad you didn’t give up.

    • Thanks, Leanne. Feel free to mention me.

  5. Hi Kerry,

    So glad that you went back to your photography; but as you say, you were only being yourself. It is who you are; artistically gifted to demonstrate the beauty of nature. Your shots are a gift for many of us and they enhance my day when viewing them. Gives me a moment to stop, just take it in, exhale and enjoyed that minute of peace. Thanks!

    Kathy

    • Thanks very much, Kathy; that’s extremely kind of you to say.

  6. You’re a very good writer, as well as photographer!

    • Thanks very much, Vladimir.

  7. Kerry, these are lovely and I’m glad you stayed the course and continued with your “explorations.” ~ Lynda

    • Thank you, Lynda.

  8. Thanks for sharing this. I find it fascinating how people get to a point where they realize that their passion, or talent, or skill — whatever you want to name it — is an integral part of them. I think that this realization is what propels us forward in creating. Not all of us can express it as lovely as you did in this post.

  9. I like the first 3 a lot…but i like the first one by far the best

    • Thank you, Brian.

  10. An unexamined life is not worth living.~Socrates

    Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. ~Frederick Buechner

  11. The images illustrate your words well Kerry. The last image leaves me breathless as do your words. I’m awake now Kerry — you woke me up, helping me remember that life is a delicious, creative journey and not a destination. Thank you.

    John

    • Thanks very much, John. And you interpreted the “greater lesson” (such as it is) exactly correctly.

  12. Absolutely fascinating post and beautiful pictures.

    • Thanks so much.

  13. Great stuff, Kerry. The sky looks a little…weird on the last photo, but maybe that’s just me. 🙂

    • Thanks, Frank…and regarding the sky in the Acadia shot, no, it’s not just you. Elsewhere, I wrote the following about this image: “The marine layer had an interesting effect on the light this day, substantially diffusing the late afternoon sun (which was to the right, given the orientation of this shooting position) despite the clear blue sky to the south.” So there’s a kind of light hazy/foggy layer that you’re looking through at water level, despite the presence of a blue sky in the background. And the marine layer was much thicker to the west (or right, in this image), which blocked most of the effect of the sun (though you can see its impact on the spit of land in the background). The marine layer can do some very, very odd things to sunlight.

  14. That last photo is absolutely stunning, Kerry. I like it very much.

    I think you’re a very talented landscape photographer and I very much enjoyed your article.

    I started out 2 years ago buying a little camera and walking (to relieve and distract me from chronic and often severe pain). Flowers were my initial choice and then I found how hard it was to photograph a flower in a windy location (where I live).

    Today, I photograph whatever takes my fancy, in whatever location I can get to quickly via public transport and with minimal pain.

    Photography is my ‘drug of choice’ from debilitating and sometimes crippling pain, but I really love getting up close with Nature the most.

    • Thanks, Vicki. The way you have chosen to respond to your situation is extraordinary and highly inspirational.

  15. Great story and pictures!
    Really enjoyed both!

    • Thank you, Joe.

  16. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos again, Kerry…and part of your soul, too. It looks like a beautiful place, as well.

    • Thanks very much, Scott. That’s very kind of you.

  17. You’re most welcome. 🙂

  18. I gave up photography for about 12 years, it had become more important than being in, or being part, of the moment. Now I TRY to use photography to facilitate seeing, being part of the moment. It appears you have found your way through landscape photography, creating photos that resonate, create an emotional (serenity) response.

    • Thanks, Robert. Your experience–photography’s importance exceeding that of the moment–is definitely something to watch out for.

  19. Glad you haven’t given up Kerry. We all have the inner critic sitting on our shoulder from time to time…just tell him/her to shut up and leave you alone. Like you, I am drawn to the “landscape” as you call it for reasons I am not sure of either. Ever since junior high school I wanted to be a forrest ranger. Guidance councilors just couldn’t understand why. Glad I didn’t listen to them and stayed the course. Didn’t become a ranger but instead, an outdoor photographer! Super photos also!!!

    • Thanks, David. Sounds like we have a lot in common (though I don’t ever recall specifically wanting to be a forest ranger :)).

  20. What incredible introspection, and so happy to know that with the beautiful captures of the world around you that you didn’t give it up.

    • Thanks very much; that’s extremely kind of you.

  21. Beautiful photos…so glad you shared! Thanks!

  22. Ohh I really love the first picture and the second one…that moon looks amazing!

    • Thanks very much.

  23. I love horses and the land so the first one is a grabber.I used to paint and occasionally do some sketches with paint. I sometimes wonder if my observances in photography would trickle into my painting. Think that it would, in the way that I see things and compose a picture.I admire the mood that you express in your photos.

    • Thanks very much, Jane.

  24. Such an insightful post, Kerry. I’m still trying to figure out my own photography niche. I know I’m drawn to nature and to macro views of flowers but I also don’t really know why other than that I find it fascinating. I, like you, and going to allow it to lead me wherever it wants to.

    • Thanks, Naomi. It sounds to me as though you’re definitely heading down the right path. Find your passion, regardless of what lies behind it, and press your advantage.

  25. Isn’t it interesting how random comments can end up taking you in a completely different direction? That kind of encouragement got me to take a slightly more serious (but still hobbyish) look at plunging into the photo world.
    I think these are very good shots

    • Thanks! And, yes, it’s interesting how a seemingly offhand remark can have a major impact.

  26. Wonderful post, Kerry. The moonrise image – ah, utterly compelling and lovely. I love the distinction that you draw between projects and explorations. Projects by their nature are finite, but explorations – well, they never end, do they? And they become the trail that we follow and track and explore throughout our lives. Here’s to a life of exploring 🙂

    • Thanks, Lynn. I’ll have to give credit to Guy Tal for the projects/exploration distinction, but I like the characterization too.

      Personal exploration would appear to have no sunset date. It doesn’t end until you end it…or, hopefully, until you yourself end. That would truly be the “life of exploring.” And I wish you the very same. 🙂

  27. Your photos are stunning. I feel they are more of a window I could walk through and be there than a photograph. Really beautiful

    • Thanks so much!

  28. beauty. thank you.

    • Thank you very much!

  29. These are lovely photos. Wish i had gone along with you!

    • Thanks, that’s very kind of you.

  30. Kerry, I love this. I’ve gone through the same struggles and can totally relate to your journey as well as photography being a part of who you are. Great piece.

    • Thanks very much, Kari.

  31. […] assessment, particularly given that I’ve written about this very thing before…right here, on this blog.  But for some reason, it seems that I periodically do require this smack in the […]


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