In the world of art theory and art criticism, photography often faces an uphill struggle. Relativism, the practice of discarding the intention of the artist in an effort to determine the "worth" of a piece of art independent of its maker, leads to the unfortunate idea that all photographs are essentially "found" images that hold a potentially equal value and that are divorced from the responsibility and control of the photographer. Color landscape photography faces an even more difficult challenge; far too often, its images are assumed to belong in the realm of calendars and postcards rather than deliberate, evocative work. Serious landscape photography, if it is considered at all, is grudgingly acceded to a small group of people working with large format cameras, pursuing a craft of absolute tonal ranges, following the precepts of the West Coast School. Even this approach is too often dismissed as "derivative". If art implies a transcendence of the everyday world, can color landscape photography be more than a simple representation of the world around us?

Yes. It can.

Although many people have resisted it, at the turn of the millennium we inhabit a world that is more and more disconnected from the natural world. Children growing up today frequently have a better idea of how to play with a Nintendo than a swingset. Some of my teenaged students have asked me, incredulously, whether what I photograph still exists. On an everyday basis, strip malls and freeways can dominate our interactions with the world. Land is valued for its development potential, and endangered species become either a liability or a cost to the economic community. My work is dedicated to the following radical ideas:


The natural world is beautiful, and deserves your respect. If you take the time to look at it for what it is and truly see it, it can amaze you. And the more deeply you look, the more you will find.


I would hope that those ideas aren't really radical, but they seem to be in some circles.

The traditional liability of color landscape work is that color is literal; it drags us back from our contemplation of the art to our day-to-day life. I choose to work in color in order to accentuate this connection to everyday living, to remind viewers of the potential beauty around them, and to avoid the nostalgic sentimentality that can accompany monochrome images.

Without the abstraction of monochrome images, how can an artist present a personal vision? Composition, exposure, ruthless editing of subject matter, and the traditional elements of two-dimensional visual art remain as possible tools. Line, shape, form, space, hue, and tonality can all be used by a photographer who is not merely looking for a snapshot to find, but rather composing and orchestrating an image to communicate an idea or emotion to the viewer.

Mediocre landscape photography can only reinforce the ideas about nature that we already hold. Good landscape photography can introduce us to new ways of seeing the world. Truly great landscape photography can change the way we perceive our place in the world and the way we interact with the world.


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Text and images at this site and the pages herein are © copyright 1997 to 2011 by Mark A. Hespenheide. Please; this site is intended to inspire your passion for and protection of the natural world, not to use and claim as your own. If you'd like to use one of my pictures, please contact me. If you'd like to use some of my text, please footnote me. Thanks.