For many years I worked very hard to become a good landscape photographer. Eventually with a lot of practice and help, I achieved proficiency in producing work of good quality.
Everyone would nod, seemingly knowingly, what it meant to be a landscape photographer. I took pictures of landscapes. I was comfortable in the herd on known entities.
However, after 10 years of work in that genre, I became frustrated that my images looked so much like everyone else’s. Indeed, I produced good images and prints of many places in the southwest US.
I avoided the common and iconic places most photographers wished to photograph. If I did go to “those places”, I produced work that was not the norm. I presented work that was off-the-beaten path as a means of showing that I was doing something different. Yet I struggled to see in my work something unique. I knew there was something of me in the image, yet everyone else who viewed them said, “Oh, what a lovely image of the Grand Canyon…or Antelope Canyon…or the Southwest…”.
I came to realize that I really yearned for the acknowledgement that that image was a “Gipson image”.
As would be expected, I did not achieve the distinction of producing images that were easily recognized as mine. My hopes were therefore dashed on the shores of reality.
Yet because of that experience, I came to realize that I really wanted to produce something with my camera that was unique. Following the path of producing images like all other landscape photographers would clearly not get me to my goal.
Thankfully, yet in a rather unannounced and unpredictable manner, I received an epiphany.
Several years ago, in the dark of night (when I typically do my processing) I had the thought, “I am tired of all these straight lines.”
From that moment on, I left the reservation…albeit slowly but steadily.
No longer would a “typical landscape image” suffice. No longer would I follow the rule that said “only modification of the contrast and colors was acceptable”. No longer would I adhere to the necessity to “be at the right place at the right time with the right filters and right gear”. I had gone rogue!
I had gone rogue, because I had suddenly realized the power of the software at my fingertips to make my images into something else. I also realized that something else was only limited by what I imagined I could do. With each project my imagination inched farther away from the tried-and-true path of producing “landscape photography”.
Since that moment of departure from the fold of landscape photographers, I have progressively moved from
When I am not caught off guard, I simply say, “I am a photographic artist.” Then I let them fill in the blanks until they ask me for the long answer. Commonly that comes in the form of the question, “What does that (I am a photographic artist) mean?”.
Being uncertain about one’s artistic identity can be endearing to the few who appreciate the uniqueness of the work in front of them. To most others, it just speaks of uncertainty, and most of us do not like uncertainty.
Yet I wish I had something more to say rather than, “I am an artist.”, which is the simplest description of what I now do. However that seems so diversely nonspecific as to be blasé.
The thoughtful ones who see my work reply, “Yes but you said these were originally photographs. Doesn’t that make you a photographer?” Then they get the long answer, “The reality is that I start with a digital image from a digital camera, then I process it in magically unspeakable ways in the software, and finally print it on a professional-grade printer with museum-quality paper. So really, this print is the photograph, which bears little resemblance to the landscape from which it was captured.”
There is just not enough time in people’s agenda for the real, and unfortunately, long answer.
All of this is what happens when you pick up the camera and years later find out you also want to be an artist. My advice is, “don’t go there…” Fortunately and unfortunately, I crossed that line and cannot go back.
There is so much stigma about being a photographer and so little understanding of producing work from the camera that is more art than “photograph”. There is so much new territory that has yet to be defined if I use all the tools at my disposal for capturing and working with the images from the camera.
If you see me at a show and ask me, “What are you doing?”, most likely I will now respond, “I am a photographic artist.” Hopefully you will want the long explanation.