So I accidentally fell into a conversation on twitter with this guy Philip Leyland Hyde, which turned out to be an error. Nice enough fellow, won't stop banging on about how important and influential his father Philip Hyde (who studied with Ansel Adams, dontcha know) was in photography and photo books. You can look Philip Hyde up, he's just barely important enough. I had never heard of him, and in a year, I will be back to blessedly not having ever heard of him. You can see some of his photographs here, for instance. It may occur to you that they look contemporary.
From there, for reasons I cannot fathom except apparently I need to suffer, I stumbled across Photo Cascadia, a collective of mainly Oregon photographers who produce interchangeable eye-searing landscapes in, actually, pretty much the same style as Philip Hyde. They identify with group f.64, though, and have probably never heard of Philip Hyde either.
Of course there's endless hordes of these people, some doing pretty well, some just banging out photos and prints on their own dime and trying to persuade their shrinking circle of increasingly haunted friends and relatives to take them and hang them up.
I stamped around my house ranting incoherently like schizophrenic for a while until the dog, out of concern for the children, called the police.
Having calmed down, something occurred to me.
What all these people are doing is driving off into the wilderness with a bunch of camera gear, going to particularly fortuitous vantage points at particularly fortuitous times of day, and waiting patiently for a particularly fortuitous combination of light, cloud, and fog to appear. They pride themselves on the difficulty of hobby, and the rareness of their photographs.
Now, the hobby is not difficult, merely expensive and labor-intensive, and the photographs are not rare. Witness, um, the internet. Or any small town in the Pacific Northwest, which will contain at least one "art gallery" infested with candy-colored pictures of mountains and trees "in the great tradition of Ansel Adams."
Still, these photos do take a bit of work. You don't just step into the woods and see these sights. Go out camping for a week in a good area, and there will be one or two mornings when, for 20 minutes, the fog and the light will drift through the trees just so. There will be an evening when the clouds over the mountains will look very nice, and also be pinklit by the setting sun for half an hour. You'll see this stuff, and you could certainly photograph it. Most days, these sights won't be quite perfect examples. It takes several days, some planning, and some hiking to grind out even one or two things of the sort Photo Cascadia prides itself on.
My realization is that if you spend 24 hours in a particularly good place, you're gonna get maybe 30 minutes of these sorts of thing. More with luck and planning, less without. Maybe it just rains all day.
It turns out that the wilderness, in the other 23 and one half hours, does not turn in to a mall parking lot. It's still pretty sublime. It is still filled with wonders. It is still painfully beautiful.
Even taking away the absurd distortions of wide lenses, candy colors, long exposure flowing water (ugh), and all the other ugly tropes of the genre, the wilderness simply does not look that way most of the time.
It is certainly true that the pinklit clouds and drifting fog through the awe inspiring vista do indeed take the breath away. On that one morning, wow, that was something. But these photographers are trading away every other moment for that one.
Sure, the wow moments sell prints. Well, some prints. Not as many as the photographers pretend, naturally, but enough to keep an apparently endless string of small town gallery shops open, at least as a part of the business.
They are not photographing the forests and valleys that I know. They are not re-creating my experience of these things, in any meaningful way.
My experience, to be honest, is more wondrous by far.