Inside this issue
Living a Visual Life
An interview with Guy Tal
Professional photographic artist, author and speaker working primarily in the Western US.
Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.
A while back, Guy Tal and I spent a while on the phone chatting about landscape photography, art, psychology and much more. I also asked him about how he got started in photography and his interest in the outdoors. We've transcribed the interview for your reading pleasure and if you have any other questions for Guy, please let us know and we'll try to do a follow up.
How did you start living a visual life?
I started photographing when I was a teenager. I lived in Israel at the time, and I always liked spending time outside in the fields, on the beach, in pine forests, and other natural places that were within my reach. For reasons I can’t remember, I decided one day to take my father’s camera along on one of my explorations, and I was absolutely fascinated with it. To study the world through a viewfinder, looking intently at things I loved and trying to compose them in appealing ways, was an incredible feeling; and then the sense of gestation, waiting to get my pictures back from the lab to see how well I’ve done, sometimes even to rediscover things I forgot, only prolonged and intensified my interest. Oh, and that first roll of film, not a single exposure on it was usable, but the experience for me was just addictive.
Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, I feel fortunate today that during the first decade I’ve been using a camera, I didn’t know any other photographers. I didn’t know anyone I could talk to about photography other than the people that worked at the lab; I couldn’t tell you who famous photographers were; I’ve never even heard of Ansel Adams in my first 10 years or so of practising photography with ever-growing interest. I was doing photography by myself, for myself, as my default mode; I didn’t have to tune anything out and I didn’t have anything to influence me; I just went about it in the way that was most intuitive to me.
What were the sorts of other media were you interested in? Were you a film buff or did you read novels?
I’ve always been a reader. At one point in my young teens, I had read all the books in our town library’s kids section and so they allowed me to borrow from the adults’ section just so I had something to read. So that’s always been a part of my life and gave me a lot of ideas. For much of my childhood and adulthood, I never really liked my life in Israel, never really connected with the place, the culture, and the politics, which is kind of odd because it’s a place where you’re raised to have a deep connection with the land and its historic and cultural significance. In hindsight, I can say that it always felt alien to me, but I didn’t really have any other point of reference until I left in my mid-20s.
For many years, books were my world and allowed me to imagine going to all kinds of places I never thought I’d see in person. And I had the natural world to spend my days in, away from the confusion of human affairs. At the time I had a lot of fields and orchards around my home, some that were abandoned by former Arab and Palestinian residents who were driven out when Israel became a state (before that it was a colony under a British mandate). I was never very social, so I just roamed these fields by myself a lot of the time, often with my dog. And then the camera came along. For me, photography was always part of an immersive experience, not just a means of taking pictures.
Going back to the relationship I have with pictures, at some point I started looking at coffee table books and magazines with nature images which I didn’t have access to as a very young person. My fascination grew even more—I could actually see places that previously I only read about and could only imagine. I’ve always had this thirst for exploring, roaming natural places looking for flowers and animals, butterflies and nesting birds and anything else I could find. With access to magazines and books of fine photographs, I started seeing all of these exotic places and exotic wildlife. I started reading about incredible adventures people were going on and it became a passion for me. In truth, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to do or see most of these things for myself, but then a series of unexpected opportunities came that ultimately allowed me to pursue a life of writing and photography in a place I never expected to fall so deeply in love with. It was the culmination of a lifelong interest, yearning, and love for pretty much all things wild.