Sunday, August 14, 2022

Communicating the Joys of Doing Photography - Part 2

“Nothing is ever the same twice because
everything is always gone forever,
and yet each moment has
infinite photographic possibilities.”
Michael Kenna (1954 - )

A few months ago, I wrote about five of my favorite "Youtuber" photographers whose channels I go back to again and again, and whose notifications of a new video always put a smile on my face as they pop up on my iPhone: Henry TurnerThomas HeatonNigel DansonSimon Booth, and Gary Gough. In that earlier post, I alluded to other photographers that have caught my eye - and who certainly deserve equal attention - but about whom I had not yet (at the time) written because I had only just recently "discovered" their channels and was still in the process of learning more about them, their styles, approaches, and photography portfolios. Well, having now done precisely that, I unveil an additional trio of preternaturally talented "photography storytellers" (as I referred to those in part 1): Simon Baxter, Adam Gibbs, and Steve O'nions.

All three share the same exemplary core characteristics I ascribed to the photographers highlighted in part 1: (1) they 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, their video posts would still be a privilege to view; (2) although their channels are mostly landscape oriented, their artistic sensibilities and repertoires run considerably deeper; and (3) they all have a gift for story telling and for expressing their obvious love of being out in nature and capturing its beauty. Apart from these similarities, of course, each of them also offers a unique - and uniquely insightful - perspective on doing photography:

Simon Baxter lives and works as a professional photographer in North Yorkshire in England, is the winner of the Light on the Land category in Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and was a featured photographer On Landscape Magazine. His particular specialty is woodland photography - indeed, he is arguably the first "woodland photographer" on YouTube! - but to call Simon's gift a "specialty" hardly does justice to the extraordinary art Simon's eye and soul create. I challenge you to look at Simon's portfolio without: (1) having your proverbial jaw drop at some of the finest woodland photographs you'll ever see (yes, they are that good!); and (2) having your proverbial jaw drop a second time after you realize that Simon's images have literally changed how you will now look at "trees" - and at nature, in general, with your camera  - ever again (yes, his images are that good!). Beyond - or better, behind - Simon's superlative photography is his gentle manner and presence, the quiet but articulate cadence of his speech, and the soulful timeless wisdom that he imparts to lucky viewers of his channel. Simon is of a rare breed of photographer who is equally adept at transforming the "ordinary" into something transcendently magical with his eye/camera, as he is at helping aspiring and seasoned photographers alike forge their own path towards "seeing" and "expressing" their own vision.

“To me, photography is an art of observation.
It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…
I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see
and everything to do with the way you see them.”
Elliott Erwitt (1928 - ) 

Adam Gibbs, a landscape photographer I "discovered" after seeing him featured on one of Simon Baxter's videos, lives and devotes many - though by no means all - of his videos to photo safaris on Vancouver Island, Canada; his YouTube channel contains playlists that include Antarctica, the Canadian Rockies, China, and Scotland (among many other places). Apart from this geographic versatility, what sets Adam apart is his ability to draw the viewer into his "aesthetic thought space." While other photographer/Youtubers have a gift for narrative (starting with any of the other artists on my two "best of" lists), and are able to bring the viewer along on an adventure using both words and images, Adam also unassumingly - and oh, so gracefully - injects the viewer into his inner machinations, sharing his thought processes on how he "sees" a place, how he makes his compositional choices, and/or what post-processing tools he uses (or intends to use) to bring out the full aesthetic potential of a given scene. He is never rushed and is ever-so-deliberate - Zen-like, one might say - in his pacing and approach to setting up a shot. I also much appreciate the "before and after" fashion in which he unveils his images: the viewer is first shown what the unprocessed raw file looks like after the image is captured, followed with a reveal of the cropped-and-edited final image. This simple narrative schema lays bare (but makes no less mysterious) the artistic transmogrification of initial impressions and intent into a completed image. Gibbs is a master craftsman/artist teacher.

“In large measure, becoming an artist
consists of learning to accept yourself,
which makes your work personal,
and in following your own voice,
which makes your work distinctive.”
David Bayles (1952 - ) and Ted Orland (1941 - )
Art & Fear

Steve O'nions is an amateur (mostly, film) photographer who lives in Wales, where by using the term "amateur" I wish only to convey that Steve does not make his living from photography (though, given the growing number of subscribers to his channel, that may soon change!), and not that his skill set is any less than expected of a "professional" of the highest level; indeed, if judged on his skill set alone, Steve is in a class by himself. I have been voraciously soaking up his YouTube posts ever since I stumbled upon one of his earliest videos about - what else (for photographers)? - Waiting for the Light during an autumn photo safari back in 2016. I was immediately struck (right from the start) by two patterns that have held true for the 50 or so videos that I've enjoyed since: (1) Steve's sparse, knowledgeable, to-the-point narratives and, on occasion, pedagogic demonstrations of technique, are simply a delight to experience (though, like all great masters, he makes things seem easy; to get to Steve's level one needs patience, practice, and a lot of time!), and (2) where most fine-art photographers profess a disdain for focusing on gear rather than the art the gear is designed to help create, Steve takes it to the next level: the gear is both most and least relevant to the contextualized vision he brings to a given shoot. Steve uses (and is equally adept at using) myriad kinds of cameras that range from old 35mm film cameras, to 4-by-5 and 8-by-10 large format, to micro-four-thirds digital cameras (among many others). But he doesn't stop there: is it black and white film or is it color, and what kind of film is it? Is it Hasselblad or Bronica? Yet, throughout all of his saunter-adventures and camera and film comparisons, Steve's focus is always on the image. Other photographers talk about how one must never lose sight of the forest for the trees (literally and figuratively); Steve shows you how this is done. In the best possible sense, Steve is a wonderful throw-back to artists of yesteryear. Give him a camera and some film - just about any camera and any film - and Steve will show you what fine-art photography is all about. (And all this is without even mentioning his unparalleled compositional skills and his wonderfully dry sense of sardonic, often self-deprecating, humor!)

As I said in my closing paragraph the first time around, you do not have to take my word that these three "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! The only down-side of watching so many videos of these accomplished photographer/story-tellers/teachers is that it leaves even less time to go out and do photography 😊

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