Three verities

The fun thing about living with a photographer is that I get access to books that I wouldn’t think about buying/borrowing myself – big, beautiful coffeetable books, certain art theory and criticism, etc. I was reading some essays in Robert Adams’ Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values and was particularly intrigued by an essay called “Truth and Landscape”, which tackles the question of what makes a landscape photography different from say, regular documentary reportage. It was timely because we had just come home from an afternoon spent poking around the little galleries at 372 Ste Catherine, and I had especially enjoyed the landscape photos of Lawrence Beck. I’ve also been recently thinking about Andrew’s photos, the types of landscapes he prefers, trying to contextualize them, I guess, explore different ways of understanding or appreciating them.

Lawrence Beck

Andrew Emond

The truth is that I’ve generally been the kind of person who likes photos “with people in them”, who can’t always sit still long enough to drink up the hugeness and the detail offered by a landscape photo. But this is starting to change now that I’ve actually started paying closer attention. I was also recently flipping through my Virginia Woolf books (yes, I flip a lot through my books, especially when I’m sitting at my desk trying to write. I figure it’s better than e-stalking via Facebook). I came across that section of To The Lighthouse that is simply a description of the passage of time. And then there are those big chunks of The Waves which are pure written landscapes.

Anyway, this is all to say that when I was reading that Adams essay, I came across this really elegant description he gives of landscape photography, and realized that it applied just as easily to writing and stuff I’d been thinking about, that it helped me string together my meandering thoughts on landscape photography with naturey writing descriptions. And it was kind of satisfying.

Landscape pictures can offer us, I think, three verities – geography, autobiography, and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together, as in the best work of people like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, the three kinds of information strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life.


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