“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”
– Ansel Adams
The idea of choosing the word “significant” to describe the twelve photographs of a good annual crop, certainly leaves the quote open to interpretation. What are the determining factors or definition of the term? and who or what decides the criteria? Who knows? It goes right to the core of the question “What is art”.
Early on in my photography, I had an opportunity to join several other photographers in an exhibition at a new gallery in NJ; in fact, our’s was the first exhibit there. When I delivered my work, I chatted with the two owners and asked if either, as new gallery owners, had any background in art either as artists, or had any education in art history. Neither had any whatsoever; they were business people. Yet, they were the ones who, in the future, would decide what was exhibited… in other words, they would decide for their gallery, what is art! I would hope that they were the exception to the rule, but I fear that may not be the case. So we should never place too much emphasis into the choices a judge makes on our own work, even if they do have a working knowledge of photography. It is completely subjective, and accepting that, can help minimize any disappointments as well as any validation we may receive. Ansel Adams himself judged his own work in determining on average, how many in any given year were deemed as significant, where others may have been either more forgiving or even harsher critics. The same holds true of our own work.
My “excuse” for photography is, in most cases, to see our world in a way that it may have been prior to any imprint left by humanity; to be a “fly on the wall” of geologic history. I would love to watch firsthand the fast-forward of many millions of years in a few minutes, watching the rise and fall of mountain ranges, or the encroachment of oceans inland. It is that sense of historical perspective, whether eons or years, that I try to capture in many of the images that end up in front of my camera, whether it is a grand landscape or something much more intimate.
Photography sometimes gets me out where nature is a bit more raw and threatening to those of us who are used to the comforts of modern living, as it did on this trip. I suppose that desire to feel nature’s fury was always in me because I can vividly recall, in my early teens, putting on as much clothing as I could to fend off a raging blizzard, and venturing out at night to wander the neighborhood, ending up in a small forest trudging through the snow, forging ahead against a ferocious wind. Of course my Mother thought I was crazy, but I loved every minute of it, finally coming home half-frozen, but exhilarated.
Seeing the raw landscape in Grand Teton, Craters of the Moon and Yellowstone put me in touch with that same exhilaration, and rekindled the feeling of how helpless we are in the face of the forces of nature. I try to imagine how the sharp peaks of the Tetons over eons, rose inexorably out of the flat expanse to the east, or the close connection to the inner earth the geysers and hot springs clearly exhibit in Yellowstone. Seeing the herds of bison that have wandered this area for thousands of years was certainly like a live view into ancient history. Adding unsettled weather to it all just made it better than I realized at the time. I appreciate that now after sifting through and processing so many images. I suppose it was the scenes that illustrate our own insignificance that were the photos that touched me most; and I sincerely hope that some of those brought back from this trip have touched others as well. If they have, then they can be considered significant.