Here's a question to ponder for just a bit. Would you make photographs, or other art, if you couldn't share the art? It's an interesting question to think about. My first thought, specific to photographing the landscape, is of course I would. I love the adventure, the challenge, the reconnection with self and nature that we discussed in the first two parts of the essay. So, I think the first reaction is that yes, the experience is the point. If no images are made or if images aren't ultimately shared with anyone, then there is still the experience. And if we're fortunate enough to experience nature, or even true wilderness then we don't really need to photograph the moment and share it, in order to experience the moment as it is. In the age of selfies and social media, it's easy to see that the sharing and comparing has taken precedence over the experience itself.
But what then, if we need to make art to reconnect with self and maybe as a way to slow down and reconnect with nature? Need is a strong word, but accurate for many that choose to photograph. I think, if we choose to make a photograph, then that changes the dynamics a fair bit. As we mentioned in an earlier part of the essay, if we're making photographs as a form of art, by the simplest of definitions, there must be some type of personal expression through the medium. If not, then it's hard to define it as art. Could be something else of value, but not art in the most basic and fundamental way. And if we're making something as a means of personal expression, it would seem at least somewhat incomplete (in my mind at least) without some type of audience to receive the expression. Similar to preparing a compelling speech without an audience or giving a musical performance for no one. Seems somehow incomplete.
I'm a longtime fan of the Lenswork publication and podcast by Brooks Jensen. Brooks has been around photography for decades and always seems to have some genuine insight to share in Lenswork and the podcast. Lenswork is a beautifully printed publication that showcases the work of well known or lesser known photographers through a short biography and group of images. It's inspiring on the creative front to see such beautiful work and creative minds on display. And this brings me to my final point which is that landscape photography can connect us to each other and that there is some greater good served by that. Not only are we better connected as individuals but we are better connected to each other, potentially, through photographing the landscape.
Humans are tribal animals. And yes, most creative people (and academics for that matter) tend to be introverts. Creating, in the moment at least, is an internal pursuit that really isn't very easy to accomplish in groups. But that's another topic for another essay. For now, let's accept the reality that even though we may be introverted in personality, we're still tribal in our nature and have some sort of innate, hardwired need to connect with other humans, in multiple ways. As a life long, card carrying introvert, and as someone who's helped other people consider personality for their career choices, I totally understand the tension that exists around introversion and connection with others. In spite of our need to create in a solitary way, we still have a need to express something through our art, and that involves connecting with others. I would argue that the more meaningful connections with others that we have, the more likely it is that we have wellness. The research, at least that I have read, seems to support that argument.
So we need connection to others for wellness, but what then of inspiration? How do we draw inspiration to photograph the landscape, over the long term especially? In part at least, I think we're inspired by the work of other photographers. This is true for me and I've heard countless other photographers describe the work of others as inspiration. There are important considerations and conversations to be had around developing your own voice and maybe being intentional about not doing work that is only derivative of what's already been done. But, I do think there is a collective conversation and inspiration that artists can have, by connection to one another. This is certainly not a new idea but an important reason to connect.
Here's a fairly recent quote from Brooks Jensen in his Lenswork magazine that I think sums up his ideas around photography as a tool for connection to others.
“The best teachers always remind us that photography is about connecting, about sharing experiences, a means to self-exploration and global discovery, a way to get outside our own lives and expand beyond our own limitations. Early in my career I recognized that in my value system, the measurement that defined successful dissemination for my artwork was not going to be income, but rather distribution. I don’t photograph to pay the rent; I photograph to connect with other people. I exhibit to connect with other people. I publish to connect with other people…as it is, I’d much rather do my own work with the goal of simply connecting with others who can relate to the content I produce. The connection is not based on commerce, investment or the vagaries of the collectibles market. " --Brooks Jensen