Can a landscape photograph really ‘talk’ to you? Make you feel something?

January 06, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

I really like this photograph. Not because I took it: I don’t really like many of my images - there’s always something I’d tweak if I could. It’s because … well, let me first ask you this: when you look at the picture, what does it make you feel? Warm, chilly, relaxed, challenged, uplifted, melancholy, wish you was there, glad you’re not, something else?

When I look at it, I feel tension.

At the time of pressing the shutter button I wasn’t tense. In fact, I enjoy shooting in challenging conditions. The opportunities for stronger stories and more interesting images are, for the most part, greater than in nice, dry, sunny, windless, comfortable ones. Also, there are normally less people around, less noise (other than the welcome sounds of nature like wind and rain) and a greater feeling of peace, personal space and mindfulness. But while I didn’t feel tense, I did sense a tension in the scene. 

The leading protagonist is the tree; alone on top of the nearside valley slope, relatively thin, bare at the bottom, yet belying its appearance showing resilience and strength, standing its ground in all weathers. Then there’s the heavy moisture in the air and a strong wind blowing along the valley, conspiring to create the appearance of a deepening mist which veils the background. Above this are the ominous clouds, grey, black, forbidding, yet with a chink in their armour letting a ray of light through to move across the landscape as the wind gusts. The light breaks through to lift the gloom as well as light part of the tree. But the real tension in the picture, for me, comes from the contrasting lines, formed from thousands of years of weathering and environmental change. The tree is the only clear vertical presence. It stands proudly to the left of the frame but it’s branches point to the right, where nothing appears but empty sky. Then there are the conflicting horizontal lines across the land: in the foreground sloping upwards right to left; the mid-ground valley floor relatively straight; and the far side of the valley sloping upwards left to right, conforming to the direction of the pointing tree. Finally, there is the appearance of lines in the clouds, giving the illusion of sloping predominantly upwards right to left, thereby mirroring the foreground lines. These mini-battles and contra-flows all combine to create conflict and a tense narrative.

I didn’t set out on this morning to capture tension. I don’t shoot that way. Instead, (and I suppose here’s the arty-farty bit) I begin walking with an open mind, have a good look around, enjoy where I am, and wait for the environment to ‘talk’ to me. Sometimes, I go out, don’t hear a word and so head home with nothing. But occasionally, I visit places that are chatterboxes and they are happy to tell several stories. 

Regarding this part of Ashdown Forest on the particular bleak, wet, windy day I was there, I was fortunate that the scene wanted to ‘share’ with me its view on tension. I like to think I did its story justice. But perhaps you think not? Did this photograph make you feel anything? If not tension, then something else? I’d be interested to know your view.



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