on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

A Summons to Seriousness

Engaging in Desirable Difficulties

Guy Tal

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



Photography, if practiced with high seriousness, is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. ~ John Szarkowski

In his seminal work, The World as Will and Representation, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer proposed this thought experiment: “Let us transport ourselves to a very lonely region of boundless horizons, under a perfectly cloudless sky, trees and plants in the perfectly motionless air, no animals, no human beings, no moving masses of water, the profoundest silence. Such surroundings are as it were a summons to seriousness, to contemplation, with complete emancipation from all willing and its cravings.” Being in such a setting, Schopenhauer proposes, has the power to liberate the mind from its default mode of constant striving, and to reach a state of pure contemplation. “Whoever is incapable of this [state of seriousness and pure contemplation without striving],” Schopenhauer wrote, “is abandoned with shameful ignominy to the emptiness of unoccupied will, to the torture and misery of boredom.

Although we may differ in our preference of where and how we feel most at ease and most motivated to photograph, we all have the choice to consider such situations as “summons to seriousness.

Although we may differ in our preference of where and how we feel most at ease and most motivated to photograph, we all have the choice to consider such situations as “summons to seriousness.” Seriousness manifests both in how we pursue our own work and consider the works of others, the importance we give art in the greater scheme of our lives, and the sincerity and courage with which we experience and express our thoughts, views, and feelings. It is likely that most, perhaps all, of those we consider as “the greats” have taken their work as more than just a casual pastime—as something to invest serious thought and effort in. I propose that it is this serious attitude, and not any circumstance or virtuosity of skill, that is the seed of greatness: what Paul Strand described as, “the sharpest kind of self-criticism, courage, and hard work.”



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