on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

The Three-Dimensioned Life

Consideration in our creative choices

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Guy Tal

Professional photographic artist, author and speaker working primarily in the Western US. Website Flickr

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
~Wendell Berry

I set up my camp at a favourite spot on the edge of a grove of old aspens, where the trees give way to a large expanse of rolling hills covered in fragrant sagebrush and bordered on the horizon by red sandstone cliffs and lofty volcanic plateaus. I am only about twenty miles from my house, but no evidence of human presence is detectable. The only sounds are the wind in the trees, the calls of birds and squirrels, and the rattle of flying grasshoppers. I watch my dog playfully rolling on her back in a sunny patch in the grasses as the afternoon clouds gather for the almost-daily spate of monsoon rains. A beautiful orange flicker feather rests by a cluster of mushrooms sprouting from below a fallen log. As the day progresses, I watch storm cells moving about the landscape, culminating in veils of rain. Filled with a sense of peace, I photograph, working slowly and quietly as to not disrupt the natural rhythm, within and without.

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  • I am reminded of the closing lines of ‘Lore’ by the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas.
    What to do? Stay green.
    Never mind the machine,
    Whose fuel is human souls
    Live large, man, and dream small.

    • Thank you very much, Chris! I had to look up the poem. I especially liked this line:

      “What’s living but courage?”

  • Geoff Kell

    Guy, I read your article having spent a day or so completely on my own for the first time in a long time. Usually surrounded by the din of people at work (which I don’t miss at all) and by a loving family (that I couldn’t do without) I found it a strange and unsettling experience. Out with my camera in the rain & a new environment it was very liberating, however, and I completely get that connection, that feeling of living that it brought. Thank you for your wise words as always, it certainly makes me think of things in a different way.

    • Thank you, Geoff!

      I think it is quite normal for novel experiences, especially ones that challenge a person’s innate (by nature or nurture) way of relating to the world and to others, to be unsettling. This is why the line about courage in the poem that Chris mentions below, spoke to me. I applaud you for finding the courage to not only do it but also to allow yourself to be moved by it.

      “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.” ~Rollo May

  • Mike Chisholm

    Guy, I am very sympathetic to your position here, and share both your concern about a devaluing of direct, intense experience, and what appears to be an increasing disconnect between appearance and reality. Not just fake news, but fake lives. These are genuine, urgent contemporary concerns.

    But I do wonder about the leap you make from life to art: “Seeing a picture of food is not the equivalent of eating”… Well, truer words were never written, but this is and always will be the case, no matter how authentic the experience behind the creation of any picture of anything. In fact, the most convincing pictures of food (or dare I say of landscape) are almost certainly the result of the greatest artifice. Art is surely all about finding equivalents for our experiences: sadly, the camera has not yet been invented that can take a direct input from our sensory system!

    At least with landscape photography we can be reasonably sure the photographer has really been “out there”, and the scene portrayed really existed before their eyes. But even as I write that, my skeptical mind adds: Or can we? And why does this matter to us?


    • Thank you, Mike!

      I agree that art is, in part, about finding equivalents (however inadequate at times) for experiences. However, I think that art can also be a means to inner and outer experiences that one (whether a creator or a viewer) would not have without it—new experiences made possible for, and by, the artist. And that the creative experience, to the artist, can be one of the most elevating and rewarding, regardless of how “successful” the outcome is by any other measure.

      I try to emphasize that the experience of the artist and the experience of the viewer are two very different things. Indeed, a picture may be convincing (to use your term) to the viewer even if it was not so for the artist. More important, the experience of making the image may be rewarding to the artist in ways that the viewer may never be able to know or understand.

      Having seen throngs of photographers line up for identical versions of easily acquired “stunning” images, I disagree that landscape photography can lead one to be sure that the photographer has been “out there.” Because you can’t really know how “out there” a scene really is by seeing a photograph, nor the qualities of the inner experience the photographer had, unless he or she is deliberate (and successful) in communicating these qualities.

      Indeed, if all you are after is to convince your audience of the wildness of a scene (or any other goal you may choose for your images), regardless of your own experience, there are many ways to acquire great landscape images with no investment of emotion or creativity at all. Certainly some enjoy the technical or social aspects of making images and if these are sufficient to pursue photography, that is perfectly valid. To me, however, photography would be a (literally) meaningless and uninteresting pursuit if my only rewards and measures for success were derived from how others perceive my work.


  • Lori Ryerson

    You’ve made some of these references before (you are nothing if not consistent in your repeated positions LOL) about the fact that seeing a photograph cannot replace living the experience, that people need to get out and live in real time. I do not disagree, but I have had a different experience on how my photography can affect people. I speak to what I’ve encountered since I started sharing my own photography, sometimes through selling it, often through that double-edged sword of social media.

    I like to think my photos act like the still version of a movie trailer, making people curious for more. I try to use IG or FB photos to educate about some of the same things you advocate. No, a picture of one of the arches in Moab does not mean “now you know all there is to know about Moab”. But it can be an enticement for someone to want to learn more about a place they’ve never heard of or seen before. A picture of food is often the impetus to learn more about a new culture, because so much of other cultures are learned best by breaking bread together.

    You often reference the book you read about Utah, the one that made you seek it out when you arrived in the US. You talk about how when you landed there, you realized Utah was your bashert, your destiny of place; you were finally *home*. I don’t know if there were photographs in that book, but the words certainly compelled you to seek it out. The book didn’t replace the experience, but it did lead you to it for yourself.

    Ultimately, that led you to write your own words, supplemented by your own photographs. A Canadian woman saw that, she searched you out on the internet after reading someone else’s comment on one of your posts. It took a little while, but she ended up travelling to Death Valley to learn from you, and Michael Gordon. Based on the people I met, and the things I saw and learned there, I have now become an advocate for things such as ethical photography, and for protection of some of sensitive areas in the US, even though I am Canadian. That social media thing gives me a wider reach to promote these concepts. No, I don’t camp, I don’t sleep out under the stars, and I live in a wickedly large urban centre…but that doesn’t make my concern for protection less valid.

    As someone who is always curious to learn about other cultures and places, for me, it often starts with a photograph. I don’t denigrate someone for asking, “where is that”, as if they missed the point of my emotional content, or their entire intent is to duplicate my shot. My experience has been more like, “Oh, that area fascinates me, can you tell me more about it?”, which gives me another opportunity to educate them about the place. I can say that one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a photographer was after someone purchased a piece of mine. A year later, the buyers came back and told me that in the intervening time, they had been so inspired by that picture that they finally took their dream trip out to our Canadian Rockies.

    If my photos make someone dream…I’m okay with that. If that dreaming leads to some kind of personal transformation (whatever that may entail), I’m okay with that, too.

    It took the world a little time to get used to moving pictures. Then along came television, and people freaked out again, until that settled down. TV got interrupted by the Internet, which has been a tad more pervasive, but…I think people are starting to realize that Instagram Influencers are a bit like the Wizard of Oz…”Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

    In the meantime…perhaps just kick your heels together and repeat…”There’s no place like home.” It’s autumn – you should be outside, non?

    • Very consistent, yourself, Lori. Right back to “because I am involved in mankind.”

      Of course I don’t disagree. Art and writing, really any means of sharing one’s ideas and thoughts, may have profound and far-reaching effects on individuals and societies—effects beyond the control of the creator of the work. And certainly I agree that this is an important aspect of art.

      I think that the difference in our approach is that you place greater priority and importance on such social benefits than I do. I am, still, an island.

      I create my work for two reasons. The primary reason is that creative work arising out of raw in-person experience, elevates my life. The secondary reason may somewhat overlap with yours: I remember well the isolation and alienation I felt in my formative years being introverted, prone to episodes of depression, feeling like there was something wrong with me because the things that were important to others never satisfied me, and those whose acceptance and friendship I did want failing to relate to the things that were most moving to me. The reason I am consistent in my message is that it is a message I wish I received in my youth and that would have given me hope. And I hope that those who feel as I used to may find solace and hope in my experience. Whether others—even a majority of others—fail in that regard, or disagree with me that is ok. I was always different from the majority. It used to bother me a lot as a younger person, until I learned how important it is to be who you are, irrespective of norms or what others think “it” (whatever “it” you choose) is about.

      • Lori Ryerson

        LOL, sigh. Ah, Island Boy…funny how we often view each other. As always, I started, I erased, and then I hurled a few invectives at the screen. I decided to answer you with: Oh, hello 50. See you soon, and then you can disagree with me loud and often, live and in colour.

    • Lori, my original response seems to have disappeared. I asked the editors to see if they can restore it. I hope you saw it before it was gone.

      • Not sure what happened there Guy – the comment was in the spam folder even though the email confirmation said it was OK. Very sorry!

  • harpon66

    I thought I was unique in finding satisfaction in enjoying the images I have created without necessarily having to share them. People tell me I should join a camera club, but somehow I don’t want to be chivvied along in any particular direction, but rather to find my own direction and enjoy following it. I do enjoy going on photography trips with a small bunch of enthusiasts, with the support of a professional photographer that I admire. I am helped to see things that before I only looked at.

    I enjoyed your article. Good to find another self professed introvert who also enjoys company!

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