Inside this issue
Seek solitude in the neglected and overlooked
Chris Murray is a full-time photographer, instructor, and writer from New York State. His photographs are not meant to be a literal document of the woods, mountains, and rivers of his home state, but rather a creative expression of his relationship with the places that ceaselessly inspire him.
Yet another photographer will scarcely care where he goes; he has learnt to select, and finds pictures everywhere. He does not do this by instinct or inborn faculty; he has had to inquire his knowledge; he has learnt to know what he wants, and picks it up the moment it is before him–he has learnt to see~ Henry Peach Robinson
Several years ago on my blog, I opined on the number of Milky Way photos flooding social media and magazines at the time in a piece I titled “Milky Way Fatigue.” Fast forward to today and Milky Way fatigue has been replaced by dune fatigue. It borders on ludicrous the number of images of sand dunes I have seen over the last few years, a trend that shows no signs of abating. It would seem the Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park may be the most photographed piece of natural real estate in the world, and Death Valley the most photographed national park. It's not to say many if not most of the images aren’t beautiful, they certainly are. But, it’s the worn out subject matter that has me tired and questioning. Why are so many photographers limiting themselves to such popular subject matter and places?
I realise I am wading into potentially hazardous waters here. Far be it from me to tell people what they should and should not photograph. Our choice of subject matter is clearly a very personal one. And yet, I am frustrated by the copycat feel of the images and the lack of imagination. I understand the lure of dunes, they are a photographer’s dream subject. That they are inspiring is beyond question. I also understand the desire to photograph interesting geographic features in general, the awareness of such no doubt fueled by social media in recent years. We see a great image of something interesting and unique and we wish to photograph it ourselves. The problem is when too many people act on this urge the subject matter becomes tired and cliche. As a viewer I have become completely desensitised to images of dunes and other iconic scenes in Death Valley, just as I have of Half Dome or El Capitan in Yosemite, to name a few. It’s one of the reasons I have little desire to photograph the national parks today. I love to visit them, but I have little interest in photographing them. Why? The reasons are several, but the big one is because everyone else is. The more dune photos I see the more I feel compelled to pull away from the crowd and express my vision elsewhere. It is why I have an appreciation for and admiration of those photographers who primarily photograph in ordinary places with ordinary subject matter. They are seeking something inside themselves first, the subject matter is secondary.