Monday, April 18, 2022

Communicating the Joys of Doing Photography

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses
what one feels, in the deepest sense,
about what is being photographed.”
- Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984)

To my ever-patient readers, I will dispense with my usual (and likely tiresome) "excuses" for yet another prolonged period of inactivity on my blog. Suffice to say, that photography is something I am able to pursue only as time - i.e., "day job" constraints - allow; and to which I look forward to soon returning. But this is not to say that the pleasures of photography are ever far from my mind (or soul); even as the making of photographs goes through the inevitable crests and troughs of daily realities. It is in this spirit that I offer not one of my own recent photographs (since there are none I dare share), but instead introduce - and provide links to - a few prodigiously talented YouTube photographers/storytellers that I'm sure my kind readers would enjoy spending some quality time with. By "talented," I mean that these photographers are not just gifted artists (something that is immediately obvious by looking at their online portfolios), but that they all possess a preternatural gift of (seemingly effortlessly) conveying the joy of doing photography through visual narrative. As I wallow in my current state of creative non-being, I have repeatedly turned to these "YouTubers" for inspiration, solace, and the simple pure pleasure of immersing myself in beautiful imagery. (To be clear: though I sense a deep creative kinship with each of these storytellers, I do not know nor have I ever met any of them, except through the videos and portfolios they post online.)

So, who are these magnificent "aesthetic storytellers"? I follow about a dozen or so photographers on YouTube (and there are certainly many more that deserve attention), but the ones whose channels I go back to again and again - and why I always smile when my iPhone notifies me that a new video has been posted - are: Henry TurnerThomas HeatonNigel Danson, Simon Booth, and Gary Gough

First and foremost, these are all magnificent photographers, in the purest sense of the word; i.e., if they did nothing but stare into a camera each week and pull up whatever new images they produced since their last video, it would still be a privilege to view. But each of them does so much more (as explained below). Overall, their channels are mostly landscape oriented (which is easy to understand, since they all live in the U.K. and are within easy reach of the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye, among other spectacular places), but it would be foolish to blindly categorize the imagery that any of these photographers produce as "just landscapes," for their artistic sensibilities and repertoires run considerably deeper.

"Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling.
If you can't feel what you're looking at,
then you're never going to get others to
feel anything when they look at your pictures."
- Don McCullin (1935 - ) 

Turner, who is my favorite (for reasons I'll immediately explain), has a bit less experience than some of the others in this esteemed group (Turner posted his first video only four years ago, while Heaton's first is seven years old and Gough's eight), but - my oh my - what a God-given gift Turner has to inspire even time- and weather-beaten old photographers such as myself (for whom straggling down a short slope at a local park to get to a "shot" depends more on the state of my 61yo knees than how good the shot is that I think I might get!). Turner's joy of photography - his utter delight in just being out and about in nature, hiking, exploring, doing photography (or, sometimes, just looking, with his camera still in the bag) - infuses each and every frame of the videos he posts. He comes across as a genuinely unassuming, humble and creative soul; his instinctive reaction to beauty appears deeply visceral (on at least one occasion, I recall seeing him shed a tear because of what he was "seeing"). His infectious enthusiasm for being/reveling in nature is utterly mesmerizing and intoxicating (in a good way)! I challenge you to watch any of Henry's videos without discovering a smile on your face, and finding yourself in a relaxed, meditative state of mind after seeing his trademark signoff - "Out!" - at the end. Turner is an impassioned, sometimes humorously self-deprecating, master photographer and storyteller; and his stunning videos are experiential wonders. A few of my favorites are: Isle-of-Sky, Stop complaining about the conditions, and What landscape photography gives.

Heaton is the first "YouTuber" I became a devoted follower of a few years ago, and - as is true for the others in this group - I rarely miss any of his episodes. He is both a consummate photographer and an experienced, and creative, YouTuber. Indeed, I am often left in awe at the care he takes in putting together and editing his videos. All are masterful, and are a treat to experience. His 2021 two-part series recounting his north-to-south hike on Scotland's Isle-of-Skye (part 1 and part 2) is one of my personal favorites. Heaton is as comfortable - and gifted at - capturing "Wagnerian" epic like vistas, the likes of which most of us will never get to see (simply because we lack the will or stamina, or both, to trek up some mountainside hours before a glorious sunrise reveals itself at its peak!), as he is at finding quiet abstract compositions of nothing but sand on some otherwise nondescript beach.

"Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field."
- Peter Adams

Danson, who started his channel about five years ago, has a quiet and inviting demeanor. The relaxing tone of his voice and cadence gently lulls you into a creatively receptive state of mind, as he explores the practice and philosophy of what it means to "do photography." Endearingly, he is often accompanied on his "adventures" by his adorable English Springer Spaniel, Pebbles. (Equally endearing, at least to me, is that Danson and I share a love of physics: Danson's Ph.D. is in optics, mine is in complex systems.) While Danson is a superlative all-around landscape photographer (and founded the World Landscape Photographer competition in 2020), his work with trees is among the most accomplished I've ever seen. A few favorites: woodland photography, trees of scotland, and woodland photography tips.

Simon Booth, whose channel I have only recently "discovered" (but who has been uploading video content for five years), is both a landscape and wildlife photographer with over 30 years experience. Like Danson, he a scientist; specifically, an ecologist. His research interests often play an integral part in his adventures, as he uses his scientific knowledge to help guide his aesthetic choices. Dedicated viewers of his channel learn as much about the flora and fauna of the places he saunters in as they do about the creative process. His graceful unassuming manner belies a keen eye for composition. If ever there was a photographer who can find a photograph where others see nothing - with the magical ability to transform (what to most people's eyes, even to other photographer's eyes, is) an "uninteresting" leaf or fungus into an otherworldly, exquisitely beautiful image - it is Simon. He is a master of turning the "ordinary" into the extraordinary! A few of my favorite Simon Booth videos are: hidden gems, summer photography, and looking beyond the obvious.

"Don’t shoot what it looks like.
Shoot what it feels like."
- David Alan Harvey (1944 - )

Gough is a landscape, commercial, wedding, and portrait photographer, though his YouTube channel is focused mainly on landscape. What I love about Gough's videos is an amalgam of what I admire about what all five of my favorite YouTube photographers do so well. He is a talented artist, unassuming and unarrogant, knowledgeable about the art and craft of photography, takes his work seriously but not always himself doing it, and is a wonderful story teller. Gough is also a dedicated experimentalist, by which I mean that he often injects an element of "play" into his photography; such as when he recently challenged a $20 (old, old, so very old) camera to taking long exposures, combined wide-angle and telephotos shots of a railroad track and train into a single image, and discussed shooting landscapes in poor light. Gary's channel also include wonderful video tutorials on myriad specific topics; watching them is akin to being part of a master workshop (albeit, remotely, observing and learning, but - alas - unable to interact; and Gary's cheerful and inviting "video personality" certainly makes one want to engage with on a personal level). 

It is often said (as evidenced by the quotes above) that what distinguishes a "fine art" photographer from someone who merely takes "snapshots" is (in part) the ability to create an image that shows the viewer not just the "thing" or "place" the photographer was looking at, but to convey what the photographer experienced, emotionally (even spiritually) while engaged in the creative process that led to capturing the image. Each of the YouTubers introduced above shines in this regard! They all have a gift for story telling and for expressing their obvious love of being out in nature and capturing its beauty. YouTube may even be the perfect medium for communicating what it feels like to do photography, since it directly shows the photographer in his or her element; provided, of course, that there is something worth communicating, and that the photographer is skilled in doing so. YouTube provides a powerful new channel through which a special group of artists - those who are skilled equally in image making and storytelling - can engage with their followers; not by just showing them finished products of their work, but by taking viewers along with them on the walks (or hikes) the photographers themselves went on as they find and create their images. But you do not have to take my word that these five "photographer storytellers" are among the very best at communicating the joys of photography on their YouTube channels; just follow the links and enjoy the journey! 😊

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