on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Letting go of Truth

Creative expressionism

Len Metcalf

Leonard Metcalf is the director of Len’s School located in Sydney that specialises in innovative small group offerings for dedicated amateur photographers who wish to grow. Len exhibits his photography regularly and is widely published. His intimate portraits of people and nature show a unique and very personal vision of beauty of the world though his photographic art.


I have recently come to the conclusion that my past obsession with truth and reality in my photography was causing me headaches. The notion that a photograph doesn’t lie is such unfortunate fallacy. Even the notion of documenting I have had to throw out. Now, instead, I reframed my thinking and approach to photography as one of creative expressionism. I am an artist. For me, my photography is one of abstraction, something to be celebrated and not be condemned. There are so many layers to this notion of ‘Truth’ that I will explore in this article.

I think the first time this really came into my head, that I need to let go of truth was when I first started to wrestle with accurate colours. I learnt to print my colour work in the darkroom with negative films with RA4 process type C prints. Getting what I thought was accurate colour was helped along with viewing filters. I didn’t really stop to think about the colour palette I was using, nor about how accurate my colours were.  You tried as hard as I could to get each photograph resolved. I was just so excited to be printing in colour.  If I got them anywhere near nice I was happy.  Next, I started printing my transparencies onto Cibachrome.  There wasn’t many transparency films to choose from at that time particularly for those of us who loved greens. I don’t think at the time I even had an understanding of the different exposure latitudes of the different films I was using.  For me choosing a film has always revolved around what I perceived as the film having truthful colours in the green spectrum. Transparency film seemed to win every time. This eventually led me to settling on Provia transparency film as my preferred medium for colour photography.

Later, I do remember the angst I experienced in getting satisfactory prints when it comes to colour. This has extended over the years into my digital photography. It is one of the reasons I have avoided colour photography for the last few years. A few years ago I decided to let go of the notion that I had to have truthful colours in my work. 

Perfect colour accuracy as a truth is very difficult, neigh impossible for me. Therefore I should pursue the abstraction of colour as part of my photography as just part of the course.
I was at Kiama on the south coast of NSW. I started to intentionally abstract the colours in my work. So once I started playing with them, I  soon had satisfactory work.  Later that year in a workshop I was running with Mark Littlejohn and Tim Parkin in the Lake District, I was educated in Mark’s approach of actively abstracting his colours with split toning. Hmmmm, someone else, whom I admire, who actively abstracts their colours.

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