New Brunswick Photographer/Filmmaker/Journalist/Educator/Author

Don’t Box Me In

In June of 2021 I gave a presentation on Intimate Landscapes. I was anticipating a question along the lines of, ‘Aren’t these really just nature photos?’ and I got the question, or at least a version of it. One of the group asked if the photos I was showing would fit in a Landscape category for competition.

The phrase Intimate Landscapes was likely coined by Eliot Porter. It was the title of his 1979 book. In that book, one of the pictures was a close-up of an apple tree. Not exactly what we think of when we think of landscape photography. And, really, that’s the point.

We like to have things in neat categories. It’s convenient and comfortable to know what a landscape photo is, or a wildlife photo, and so on. Being comfortable isn’t necessarily good for our creativity. Convenience and categories don’t spur our imagination, or feed our creative soul.

Anticipating the question, I did some research into what various photography groups consider to be nature, or landscape photos. I looked at the Photographic Society of America, the Professional Photographers of Canada and the Canadian Association of Photographic Artists. Below is what I found for each.

PSA

Don’t Box Me In, RF-Photography

PPOC

Don’t Box Me In, RF-Photography

CAPA

Don’t Box Me In, RF-Photography
Don’t Box Me In, RF-Photography

Note: The CAPA definitions are so ridiculous I couldn’t paste everything onto a single page.

In the PSA definitions, the fourth word of the definitions tells you how limited the category is. As much time in all of these definitions is spent telling us what something isn’t as much as what it is.

This is not photography. There’s little room for initiative, for imagination, for creativity. This approach breeds exclusion and elitism.

Further, there are those who will make statements such as, ‘That’s not really a landscape image.’ or ‘So and so isn’t a nature photographer.’

When we read and hear statements like these, we should reject them. This kind of exclusionary, divisive mindset is borne, most typically of insecurity. An attempt to pull oneself up by pushing others down.

Photography should be open and inclusive. We should approach it with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow. Restrictive definitions and closed minds are not characteristics of a desire to learn and improve. Rather, these are hallmarks of people and groups that are satisfied with the status quo and ‘me too’ photography. There is no reward for pushing boundaries, for challenging perceptions, for true creativity, or innovativeness. The only thing served by competitions and groups like these is the ego if we happen to be awarded for something. There is far too much ego in the photography industry; and the arts industry more generally, already. Most of it unjustified. We don’t need to be adding to it.

Why do we have to label someone by saying, ‘He’s a landscape photographer’, or ‘She’s a nature photographer’? How about just, ‘They’re a photographer’.