Big Bubbles (no troubles)

What sucks, who sucks and you suck

Why Landscapes Suck

I keep meaning to post a moan about the generic landscape pictures that clutter up photo gallery sites, not to mention yards of shelf with glossy colour hardbacks in tourist shops, but it probably wouldn’t amount to much more than “GAH, if I have to look at one more ‘glorious’ sunset, I’ll smash the monitor!!” This post from Auspicious Dragon and this essay by Mike Johnston are more eloquent and insightful than my annoyed ranting would be.

I would, however, like to add my “karaoke” theory of landscape photography, which is that such pictures are usually more fun for the participant than the audience. (A glance at any edition of “Outdoor Photography” magazine will usually turn up suitable examples - medium format on Velvia, taken at dawn or dusk.) You hike out to some wild and desolate region an hour before dawn, often in foul conditions, to catch the breathtaking first light creeping over the mountains. My ghod, it’s a wonderous moment to be alive just then. But you take a photo because that was your original justification for coming here when everyone sane else is still tucked up in bed at home (and also thereby not spoiling your photo by walking into shot). But the photo is actually a poor facsimile of the total experience - the chill wind cooling your skin, the warm glow from your exertions, the knowledge that you’re the only witness, the awesome stillness, etc. It’s a souvenir of your efforts. To the viewer, the photo is “pretty” - pretty much like all the other “magic hours” photos that fill up every available space. The only deeper meaning it can have is the glory of nature and the fragility of our incredible environment - and believe me, we’ve got that message from countless other examples (even if we haven’t done much about it yet).

(Of course, I’m talking mainly about ambitious landscape photographers here - the majority of amateur shots don’t go to so much trouble, being little more than “here I was at the time, this was the view”. But the karaoke principle still applies.)

Actually, I suspect my real problem isn’t so much with all these photos - people are, after all, free to choose what they want to photograph and many other people less curmudgeonly than I enjoy the results - but the impossibility of filtering most gallery searches to exclude such shots.