One evening last week, my photo roadie (read: husband) and I took a drive north on Hwy 139 deep into The Bookcliffs. Highway 139 runs north and south about 13 miles east of the Colorado border with Utah.
We set out a little earlier than we have been able to for recent sunset shoots in order to hopefully be present during the golden hour, before actual sunset. We were partially successful with this and leaving a little earlier gave us more time to dawdle, which is important to me. I’m a dawdler, you know. When I see something I really like, I like to be able to take all the time I need to just be present with it, rather than take a quick snap and move on to other, more important subjects. When I head out on a photo shoot, I know the general location where I’m headed, but I never know what exactly will present itself and sometimes I’m surprised.
My goal, as I’m sure it is with most landscape and nature photographers, is not only to document what is there, but to do it creatively and in a way that is unique to me. Although I often have visited places that lots of other photographers have visited, I also like to visit places that aren’t necessarily super iconic photography locations, yet are beautiful and scenic in their own way. For many reasons, these are my preferred locations and The Bookcliffs are one of my favorites.
While I do believe that my photography is more documentary in nature, I do like to think that I have accomplished something other than simply recording what is present when I arrive at a place. Of course, the most important accomplishment for me is to get in touch with myself and how I’m responding to the natural environment. I’ve noticed when I’ve been in the presence of other photographers during a shoot, that every person’s image comes out just a little bit different. I may be standing shoulder to shoulder with another photographer and looking at the same scene, but our images will only slightly resemble each other. I think this only becomes more true as the photographer becomes more accomplished in their craft and begins to gravitate towards certain techniques or positions, both in the field and during processing. We all have things that we like and things that don’t appeal as much. All that to say, I can usually distinguish my own photographs from someone else’s even if the subject matter and location is nearly identical. I believe this has more to do with personal energy than technology.
It’s not so much that I’m trying to create a certain signature look, as much as that just simply develops on it’s own over time. As Margaret Meade once famously said, “Just remember, you’re absolutely unique, just like everyone else.” I mention this as a reminder, that whatever our creative expression, we shouldn’t feel compelled to do it in the same way that anyone else does, but simply to do what we like, and let the chips fall where they may.
One solid example of this, is the story of Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger. He bought the guitar in 1969 for $750 after a drunk stepped on his old guitar, ruining it completely. He took the old guitar to a luthier who confirmed it was broken beyond repair, and suggested the Martin classical N-20, which is a classical nylon string guitar. He liked it, and said he’d take it, but he wanted the pickup from his old guitar put into the new Martin. He’s been playing it ever since, on all recordings and all concerts. This story makes me feel pretty good, because I too, have been playing the same guitar since 1970; a Yamaha classical nylon string guitar, which I’ve had electrified as well. I would love to play and sound like Willie Nelson too, but alas, I play and sound like myself. Most of my stuff, accumulated throughout my lifetime, I’ve learned is of little value to either of my children, but my younger daughter says she has an interest in one thing – my old guitar. Why? It’s full of my life energy.
That’s what we bring and what we share with our creativity, whatever form it takes.