If photography were difficult in the true sense – that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching – there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster. –Ansel Adams
It is not surprising in this day and age so many flock to places that have been glorified by various media sources. These places are known for being wild, historic, cultural, adventurous, sparsely populated, over populated, or simply have a great view of a wonderful landscape. Ease of travel has certainly opened up the World to us. It is not uncommon for many to travel thousands of miles each year to experience these unique areas. I have yet to be convinced this is a good thing when it comes to creativity, art, or personal expression. And as Ansel puts it, often leads to creative disaster. I have experienced this first hand, and seem to be constantly reminding myself, just because I can make a photograph does not mean that I should.
When it comes to travel photography I participate in the same manner I participate in wildlife photography, opportunistically. That is to say, if i am present and the opportunity presents itself I am more than happy to enjoy the moment and celebrate with a possible photograph. I do not actively seek the travel methodology or mindset. To venture to far off lands is exciting without question. For most these are short lived trips, possible done a few times in a lifetime. Total time spent learning about, understanding, and allowing a place to impact ones well being is short. Many times very short. I would much rather know a place well, very well. There is a connection that takes place between us and our surroundings. This connection requires at minimum, time and requires much more than opportunistic visits. Days, weeks, months, or possibly calling it home is when opportunity becomes reality allowing for personal connection. Photographs, to be of significance must live in this personal connection space.
I always find it somewhat odd to the point of narcissistic when I read articles, posts, or notifications, about the great “photography” trip that a person has planned. Highlighted with the locations, possibly an itinerary, planned sights, objects, or places that are on the “hit list” or in hopes of experiencing. A very social way of sharing ones daily life. Not inherently bad, just somewhat boisterous. What seems to accompany these planned ventures many times is the ubiquitous “gear list”. Photo gear listed like a grocery list of must haves, want to have, and can haves. Cameras, lenses, memory cards, memory card readers, tripods, filters, extra batteries, bags, more bags, cables, cleaning supplies, weather gear, and on and on and on…
I honestly do not understand the sharing of possible gear that one wishes to take on a trip. It is always a large number of items that they must somehow, through shear will power whittle down to a manageable amount to travel with. And ultimately will always end up wanting (think they need) a piece of gear they did not bring. If I wanted to make a trip as impersonal or as un-photographically successful as possible this seems to be what my approach would be. Yet many find this a necessary step in what they insist is a photographic travel plan.
We each have our own way of doing things without doubt. What works for one person may not come close to working for the next. But when we challenge our creative endeavors with unnecessary distraction this seems to be moving in the wrong direction regardless of how one approaches any adventure. It leaves me to wonder if the purpose of these gear conundrums is truly for the sake of photography or an attempt to place importance on things other than photography. Namely, motivations.
I would categories such examples of these gear conundrums as a simpletons approach. Not only to creativity, but life in general. Shallow observations of self satisfaction with little or no regard to personal significance, essence of spirit, or compassionate understanding, that should be foremost in meaningful work. Then again, it is always possible meaningful work is not the intent. Many simply want to get the most bang for their buck. There is nothing wrong with that approach. Unless photography is the bang you are looking for. Then the dilemma of the gear grocery list seems to be much more of a distraction than helpful approach.
Many approach photography as a gear first activity, hobby, even profession. For them it is about the right gear, the needed gear, the variety of gear, even the newest gear. Consumerism exists in every nook and cranny of society today. Even with the temptations all around we still have a choice in what we deem important when it comes to our creative work.
My hope is for photography to completely separated from gear. As other forms of creative art are separate from tools used in their creation. One does not wonder what brushed Michelangelo used when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or what chisel he used when sculpting Pietà. Why then do many feel the need to make clear the equipment they use when creating a photograph. My only thought would be, they have little intent on creating any photographs. They simply want to take lots of pictures, or use cool tools.
The world of full of pictures. To the point of extreme excess. These are for the most part personal memories of places experienced. A fine thing to have. Memories are important. They help to shape, mold, and form our thoughts, emotions, even our personalities. You may feel the need for many more pictures in your life. A sort of verification of a life experienced. But are the pictures the verification? Or, are they simply tokens that are used as a reminder of life experiences? Will you enjoy them for what they are or for the gear you used when creating them? One things seems apparent. Photographs are important, gear is not.
“Never forget that all the great photographs in history were made with more primitive camera equipment than you currently own.” – Brooks Jensen
Late Wiinters View | ©Brad Mangas
Art & Fear
What Photography Has Taught Me
Nature is not, of course, always benign and beautiful. It can be frightening and terrifying also.
Not too many generations ago, raw nature and wilderness tended to inspire fear and dread in “civilized” people.
They represented Otherness and the Unknown. That which is “wild” is also “bewildering”.
Today, wilderness is usually considered to be something good and in need of preservation.
The beauty and awesomeness of it dominate our attention.
We are attracted by wilderness, the Otherness of it, the sense it is something inevitably outside of us.
Always beyond us, it is what is ultimately real.
We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense.
It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other.
To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.
In Wildness is the preservation of the world.
-Henry David Thoreau
There is a constant conversation that takes place involving photography and more specifically, equipment. Tools, techniques, gadgets, gizmos, extras, and essentials. From cameras, lenses, bags, to software. It can be so overwhelming at times I am surprised newcomers continue to pursue it. But pursue they do, and in droves it seems.
I am consistently surprised at advice I hear and read that is given to those wishing to learn, “photography”. One of the most common suggestions I have heard is, read your camera manual. Possibly, more likely probably, the single worst piece of advice that can be give to anyone with a desire to learn photography.
The complexity of even simple cameras today can be overwhelming. Menus nested in menus, nested in menus, is the norm on the most basic dslr cameras. The amount of technical options in one manual is simply overwhelming, if not ridiculous.
There is always somewhat good advice mixed in such as, use a tripod, along with the standard suggestions of, understand exposure, and learn composition. Necessary and good for sure, but are they talking about learning photography or simply learning to use a tool? Last I knew, really good hammers, and knowing how to drive a nail straight does not build a lovely home.
As time goes by one will hopefully become adept at operating their equipment and the additional paraphernalia such as a new lens, a macro lens, (closeups are cool). Then comes the age old advice of, venture to popular places, explore a few iconic locations, stand where many photographers have stood before, possibly famous and well known photographers. Become popular on social media, build hundreds if not thousands of followers. Enter photography contests and possibly win. Sell some work and become known as; A Photographer. Many may long for the social interaction that photography can supply. Social bonding with others of similar beliefs, ideas, and yearnings. Photography outings are planned from sun up to sun down if not longer. Fun I am sure for its social interactions and comradery. At this point, hopefully, you will have become very proficient with your tools, learning to get the most out of them. You may have mastered them. You may now have many more friends, both physically and virtually. But the question seems to always remain; are you getting the most out of photography?
We all will undoubtedly need to learn how to use our tools. There is no great trick to this. It simply takes practice. The other side of this on going “how” is of course, why? Why does one want or need to master the tools of their craft. Be it musical, culinary, or visual such as photography. There is more to a great piece of music, a great home cooked meal, or a photograph, than simply mastery of tools used. There is always more. They play themselves out as options that afford a greater understanding of the process, the experience, the personal insight required to understand not only what to do, but why to do it. This is not about the photographs one makes but reasons they chose to make them.
A very common if not the most common experience surrounding photography is that based in chance. Or to put another way, blind luck. Explore the places, lands, and environments that are popular. These are easy to find. Magazines and online outdoor and nature articles are full of them. They give you everything you need from time of year, time of day, gps coordinates, even the equipment recommended to capture a scene exactly as they are showing you. This will undoubtedly lead to a higher chance of producing photographs that fall into a few of the categories previously mentioned. Most notably the category of popularity. Iconic scenes of blossoming wildflowers, the array of colors of Autumn foliage, reflections in the lakes of surrounding mountains, the ever popular sunrise and sunsets complete with long reaching sunbeams, and the growing popularity of the night skies filled with stars and the milky way. These are all popular for sure, and to adequately capture, one will need a good understanding of their equipment.
Over the years I too have given much time to this game of chance. This hit and miss approach. It is one that can produce great rewards. But more often than not produces disappointment. Disappointment is not what photography is about. Expectations are fine, but what one basis their expectations on seems to have strayed far from the beneficial attributes of why one pursued photography to begin with.
I am not one who seeks affirmation of my photographs. I have written about this previously and have stated without question, the work I pursue is for one person and one person only, me. This may very well come across as a selfish endeavor without any regard for the photograph or even for others. This is simply not an accurate assessment. It is a selfish endeavor yes. But only in the regard that it is based entirely on the experience of what may become a photograph. Put another way, the photograph is the end product of the experience, with the experience being the only essential part of the pursuit.
One can leave opportunity up to chance, or one can create opportunity by choice. The two have strikingly different outcomes. One has a high risk of ending in disappointment while the other creates personal experiences of deep, profound, and emotional moments based on unbounded respect. This may be what Buddhist Masters have refereed to as Zen, a personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. Or a phrase coined by Alcoholics Anonymous, a Higher Power. But it can be described simply as an understanding or acceptance of life that is greater than oneself. Possibly the antithesis of selfishness.
I belief these profound moments can have life changing consequences. They become personal insights, with the ability to provide a path that transcends all known emotions we may have previously experienced. These moments seem to have a prerequisite of solitude, are deep personal reflection, and meditative in nature. This is what I ultimately want to share with others. But are they even shareable? The experience, no. But a photograph, story, or sharing of such insights, yes. It seems to be the best we can do. But it does not happen without first making the choice.
So it begins with a selfish choice and ends with deep respect, humility, empathy, and awe for those places, times, and moments of my own making. From there, I cannot be naked enough.
While it is true opportunity shapes attitude, it is also true attitude shapes opportunity. As Henry David Thoreau so rightfully stated: We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.
Kansas Flint Hills, Konza Prairie | ©Brad Mangas
In The Beginning
Age Of Bling
Spirit Of The Moment
Not all those who wander are lost.
I have written about the why’s of my creative pursuits in photography over the years, but I am not sure I have specifically attempted to answer this question. I thought I should spend a few moments here and attempt just that.
Some may not have read other attempts I have made to answer this, plus I should not be so naive to think this can be answered once and that’s that. This should be given thought on a regular basis. Not just because motivations change but it should be a basis for keeping true to oneself. Never forget the reasons you love something. Same can be said towards others. Never forget why you love someone.
Moments can be fleeting, time can drag as syrup down the side of a winters Maple. Both seem to be at opposite ends of the same time spectrum. A well known fact to anyone who has ever attempted to express themselves in a creative manner.
The why of this at times seems very simple, it fills a void in my life. What void exactly I can not say with certainty. But a void all the same, this I am certain of. We all have voids of one form or another. I am in no way an expert in such an area but I know this to be one of the truths of life nonetheless. One of the great challenges of life, if not “the” greatest challenge is to live a life fulfilled. Fulfilled with happiness, joy, well being, contentment, to name just a few of what seems meaningful to me personally. How does one, or in this case, how do I go about that?
I am fortunate in one regard. I have found a way to instill these meaningful qualities into my everyday life. That is not to say my life is any different than others, but obviously each of our lives are acutely unique to each of us. There is a key to a life fulfilled I believe, a small magic potion if you will. This potion can be, but does not have to be complicated and is best if it is as simple as possible but approached with the utmost seriousness.
To describe it in one word seems overly simplistic, even naive possibly, but I will try nonetheless. Belief. Belief in something that is greater than ourselves. An understanding that I am not the center of the universe. Not the focus of attention. Not the one that has all of, or possibly any of the answers. A simple yet strong understanding that I am what I believe.
I may be simply trying to say, find what you love and live your life according to that witch you love. Make it part of you every day, a priority, one of the reasons you get up in the morning, and the reason you smile throughout the day. Last and certainly no least, make it the reason you stay curious about life.
You must now be thinking that photography does these things for me. That is not the case. Photography is not the reason I feel these things. It is the reason I need that allows me to go out into the world in search of these things. I could roam around aimlessly and possibly stubble accidentally on these feelings of contentment. But that would be like driving with no destination. Which in itself is somewhat ironic for me to say since many may think that is exactly what I do. But simply is not the case. I may travel to places with no set destination but that does not mean I am without a purpose. It can summed up well with the quote previously mentioned from J.R.R. Tolkien: “Not all those who wander are lost”. A line from the poem All that is gold does not glitter.
I have no doubt that I could write on this subject ten times and word it ten different ways. I think that is the point when I say, make it the reason you stay curious about life. The key, the potion, I mention is not a one size fits all. To make it even more desirable yet difficult to achieve, the key, the potion does not stay the same. Life changes, our motivations change and thus the purposes behind our contentment must change.
No need for me to keep rambling on with this subject. The need I have now is to wander. Wander with excitement, knowing I am not lost.
Winters colorful sunset from the shore of Lake Perry. | ©Brad Mangas
Each year Pantone releases their “Color of the Year”. I usually come across an article or two about this, but until know didn’t pay much attention other than a casual peek. This years color grabbed much more of my attention. My image collection is overflowing with this years color which is, Greenery. Or for most of us just good ol’ green.
Living in and among one of the worlds great grasslands green is dominant for much of the year. It is not just the spring and summer grasses but most all other flora that goes with it. This goes for trees of course, but the plethora of wildflowers, forbs, and just good old weeds all have a good amount of green in them. This may not be much different than many places in the world. As a planet the colors of our oceans and lands are our primary colors all the time. I believe I would be quite right to think much of the lands have some type of greenery on it somewhere at some time of the year.
This green theme may not be more dominant than the grasslands. There is not just a good deal of green among the grasslands from early Spring to late Summer, you can literally get lost in the sea of green.
I had a hard time deciding which image to go along with this post. I finally just said the heck with it. Along with the image here I thought I would post a link to all the images I have accumulated over the years that show up when you search for green on the gallery site.
May green be plentiful through out 2017! Pantone’s color of the year, Greenery
Spring In The Kansas Flint Hills | ©Brad Mangas