Humility

Some time in the future, if mankind hasn’t destroyed itself by then, I imagine that we’ll have complete control of the weather. We’ll be able to program in beautiful sunrises and sunsets, have it rain or snow and be sunny at will.

I’m very glad that I’ll be dead by then. One thing that I absolutely love about nature is that we have no control of it. It does what it pleases. When we go out into the wilderness we have to prepare for any eventuality because as hard as we try, nature is pretty un-predictable. As I write this, it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 50s. It’s currently snowing and in the 20s. I’m not making this up just to make a point. It’s the truth.

Nature is so much greater than us, that all we can do is be floored at its power and its amazing intelligence. And that makes us humble.

When we go out we have to play by her rules. We have to bow to Mother Nature and ask, How do you want me to dress? Where will you permit me to go today? We have so much control in our lives, it’s nice for a change to have something else be in control. I think that’s why we like being out so much.

I often hear photographers talk about “nailing a shot”. Or how they don’t rely on luck, they make their own luck. How arrogant. It’s this kind of arrogance of mankind that’s gotten us into the absurd mess that the planet is in today. But that’s another rant. This is about humility, nature and photography.

I get up most mornings at 5:30. I first look outside at the thermometer to see how to dress. Then I look at the sky to see what I can expect when I go out. In spite of my planning, the sky is often different when I arrive at my planned location. So I just make the best of things. Sometimes when I leave the house, the temps are in the 40s and there’s no wind, but 20 minutes later when I get out of my car and onto the trail, the wind is howling, so my 40 degree clothing is not warm enough. Sometimes I leave with clear skies and then miss an awesome sunrise. And of course sometimes I plan on a sunrise location to have the imagined color not materialize.

I’m so happy to live here and see all of it, I never get too frustrated if I miss something because there will always be other times. Sometimes I do get lucky and I’m in the right place at the right time. And, sometimes I’m even luckier and my photos turn out as good or better than I expect them to turn out.

In general we can be masters of our equipment and not make technical mistakes. It’s the creative intangibles that are impossible to predict. But in general I’m lucky enough to occasionally get something worth showing other people.

I don’t want to “nail a shot”. I don’t want to make my luck. I just want to know how to operate my camera equipment well enough to take advantage of the times that Mother Nature smiles on me.

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~ by danbaumbach on February 6, 2011.

5 Responses to “Humility”

  1. I have enjoyed this well-written post. This is much the attitude that my father landscape photographer Philip Hyde had and his teacher and mentor Edward Weston had as well. Both were not overly impressed with themselves, though they were tireless workers. I hope I am not too forward to say that you might enjoy my popular post called “Edward Weston’s Landscape Philosophy,” which starts off with this quote from Weston,

    “I am not trying to express myself through photography, impose my personality upon nature (any manifestation of life) but without prejudice nor falsification to become identified with nature, to know things in their very essence, so that what I record is not an interpretation—my idea of what nature should be—but a revelation or a piercing of the smoke-screen artificially cast over life by irrelevant, humanly limited exigencies, into an absolute, impersonal recognition.”

  2. David, Thanks for your reply to my post. I am a huge fan of Edward Weston but I can’t say I agree with this quote. If I understand it correctly, he’s saying that he’s not interpreting nature but photographing and displaying nature from a more aware place than what most of us experience. I can see some of Weston’s work like that, but his Peppers? To me they are a wonderful, romantic interpretation and I love them for that.

    I tend to agree with Guy Tal’s view. This is my interpretation. This is what nature means to me. This is why I love being out in nature.

    – Dan.

  3. Edward Weston was trying to eliminate himself from the process as much as possible, which in the absolute sense is certainly impossible, or is it? Nonetheless, in a practical sense, it is a very good exercise in humility and in allowing nature to be what it or she is, without trying to improve on her. The reason a lot of landscape photography seems false today is that it tries too hard to improve on nature. The idea that nature cannot be improved on was one of my father’s core feelings and you can see it in the style of his work. Obviously everything varies according to interpretation and perspective, but Dad’s main objective was to get people to see something that was already there, that they had not seen before. He saw himself as the messenger, not the message.

    I also respect and admire Guy Tal’s work. He is up front about his work being art as derived from nature, not a representation of nature itself. As you can see it is a matter of two ways of approaching photography and the creative process. Dad spent time in the classroom and field with people like Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston and other definers of the medium. At the time, these pioneers of straight photography were much more interested in “realism” and claiming that realism itself could be art. As you may know, the pictorialists had spent the previous decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s, “falsifying” photographs, using a lot of special effects and trying to make them look like paintings just so that they would be allowed into galleries and accepted by the art establishment. Today the trend is in the opposite direction. We have had 70 years of straight photography and with the advent of Photoshop and other creative alteration of the images, we are creating what in many cases is an entirely new medium, or mixed media. Edward Weston, my father and Guy Tal are and were each a product of their time, perhaps a bit ahead of and leading their time.

    • David,

      I don’t feel that nature can be improved upon. But nature is a 360 degree visual, tactile and auditory experience. A two dimensional photograph is not nature. It is a photograph. In most cases the framing of the image, the perspective as a result of the focal length of the lens, and even how the photograph is printed, is determined by a person or persons. And each person adds their interpretation to it, even if the interpretation is one of trying to be “straight” and “natural”. Straight photography may have been sharper than the pictorialists and maybe their subject matter was less romantic, but someone focused the camera, framed the image, clicked the shutter and added their interpretation to what they were experiencing. If I am correct, I believe that’s the point that Guy Tal is trying to make. I make no claim to not interpreting my subject matter and at the same time, I believe that the creative experience takes us out of our normal physical selves so I can say with no apparent paradox, I took this photograph and I’m very grateful that this art sometimes comes through me.

      – Dan.

  4. I find your musings refreshing. I love the unpredictability of nature, and weather. When you’re out there, outside, somewhere wonderful, and everything is just beautiful, it feels that much more rewarding and special. I love the warm light it the top photo. It makes the scene feel so warm, while being chilly at the same time.

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