What’s All This About?

Where, then, does your vision of the world reside? What part of your art is drawn from history? What part is prophecy? What part is grounded in fact? What part takes wing in fantasy? These are useful questions. Do you really want to leave it to outsiders and non-artists to make up your answers for you?

~Ted Orland

This is not a photography blog; it’s a photographer’s blog.

If there is one thing you should keep in mind before reading my posts, it is this: you don’t have to agree with me. In fact, I sometimes read my own older posts and realize I have changed my mind since writing them.

This blog is my scratch pad. It is where I take raw ideas and try to develop them to see where they may lead. Ones that resonate most profoundly sometimes end up in books and published essays. My hope is that this blog will give readers a better idea of who I am, and the foundations of my work—why I do what I do, and why I do it in the way that I do.

I’m reluctant to refer to myself strictly as a landscape photographer, although it is perhaps the label most may know me by. There are many reasons and many ways to photograph landscapes, the most common of which is to portray beautiful feats of natural light and/or geography. That, however, is not my goal. I use the medium of photography, and elements of landscapes that are personally meaningful to me, in the hope of creating expressive art—images meant to express emotions, to imply sensations, to inspire moods, and to elevate the spirit. My photographs are not meant to be pictures of things; they are meant to be pictures about things.

My writings and photographs are not intended as just flowery prose, or as pretty pictures of pretty things; they are my best attempts at sharing with the world what I’ve learned in the course decades in which I came to know some places as more than just places, studied and explored the expressive powers of natural aesthetics and the extent of my ability to employ them in creative ways, and toward some desired effect (the quality that Alfred Stieglitz dubbed, equivalence). My goal in making photographs is not to just chance upon beautiful things and make beautiful record of them, but to employ the aesthetics of places that have become meaningful and important to me, to articulate something of their meaning and importance.

~~~

I grew up in Israel, at a time when it was mostly empty country, in the period after its former inhabitants were driven away by wars, and before it became the bustling metropolis that it is today (it is, after all, not much larger than some cities). I spent my early years innocently unaware of the brutal and regenerative events that gave rise to a new country, roaming seemingly endless fields and orchards abandoned by former occupants. At that time, I could find abundant solitude and fascination with the natural treasures around me. On my walks then, I often encountered rare and delicate species whose beauty left a lifelong impression, and that are now long extinct or almost so.

The wild vanished before my eyes as I grew up, and though I did not know it at the time, I was to spend the rest of my life trying to find it again. My mandatory military service happened to coincide with the Palestinian uprising known as Intifada, and brought me face to face with the ravages of war and its unspeakable toll. What I previously knew from abstract history, became painful reality, in some ways beautiful, and in other ways horrific. It also forced me to recognize how little I knew of the history of the conflict I suddenly found myself having to play a part in. Whatever opinions I formed of the place, I would rather keep to myself, but what I learned about myself I cannot deny: I am a compassionate human being born into a reality that did not fit my temperament or values; I am not a soldier, not a believer by association, not a member of any tribe, not anything so simple as to be classified in a word or a sentence; and I certainly want no part of any feud over any faith or ideology imposed on me by an accident of birth.

When the places—literal and metaphorical—I loved in my youth were no longer, and the politics and wars became too painful to bear, I knew I had to leave. As fortune would have it, being a self-trained technologist during the Internet boom, has allowed me to immigrate to the US, to become an American citizen, to start my own business, and ultimately to reconnect with the wildness I had lost, in the remote reaches of a desert region known as the Colorado Plateau, where I now live and work, and where I feel more at home than anywhere else I have ever been.

Photography to me is an extension of my lifelong love of (read: need for) wildness. It is a means of formulating something of my wild experiences into visual expressions, and to do so at the height of inspiration, with the emotions still raw in me. I don’t photograph merely to record what I see, but to express something of my relationship with the places that have become home to in a sense I did not know was possible until finding them, and the important role they play in my life. These places are my sanctuaries, my safe and welcoming spaces where I can think and feel in the clearest and most direct way that I am capable of. When needed, they are also my safe places to break down, and to put myself back together, in.

My photographs are not intended to commemorate the appearances of any specific places, and should not be considered as such. To a large degree they are faithful to real views, sometimes witnessed in extraordinary circumstances; but just as often they are composed and processed specifically to express specific emotional connotations, for which the identity of the things or places photographed is entirely irrelevant. My hope is that they are appreciated as such.

Guy Tal

Addendum:

In response to reader questions I wish to offer this additional information:

    • Any one of my photographs could have been made just as well with countless different camera/lens combinations. Don’t get hung up on what equipment I use.
    • I dislike drones and I don’t use them. My work is founded in my love and reverence for wild places and wild life. I believe that drones almost always are a nuisance to my own experience and to the experience of others in wilderness, which to me is more important than any photograph.

 

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