The Passionate Observer

By Tuesday, October 18, 2011 grafphoto

Halfway Log Dump, Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula National Park

There are times when I am out photographing where it doesn’t seem like I am being much of an artist in the traditional sense.   After all, artists create and interpret.   The traditional artist starts with very meager materials and forms them into something inspiring, thought-provoking, beautiful.  When I look at some of the images I bring back, sometimes I feel that I am only recording what was created prior to my arrival.

In my wildest dreams I couldn’t draw or paint such elaborate detail.  I just so happen to find it interesting enough to record and want to share it.   Sure I throw some “spin” on it to emphasize the way I saw something, but it often seems like a mere tweak to an otherwise completed painting.   If I can capture some of the emotion, then I feel as if it is going a bit further than documentation.

I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them. – Diane Arbus

I hesitate going into areas of  “what is art?” or “is photography art?” as those types of discussions will probably continue into eternity.  That isn’t really my intent.  Photography has such a broad range.   It can be only a tool, it can be a brush.  Sometimes it seems as if you are able to flip a switch inside that determines when you are moving from the tool to the brush.  However, when I contemplate the miraculous things that nature creates all by itself, I often walk away with a feeling of inadequacy.  I am merely a passionate observer.

Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • Patricia says:

    …I remember the very same feelings and thoughts when I was photographing Georgian Bay. (Fortunately) there’s not so many people who know about this fantastic place (even though it’s probably beneficial for preservation of its unspoilt nature). When I visited this national park I was charmed by its beauty as much as the Group of Seven, painters’ group who depicted landscape of the Georgian Bay Islands almost a hundred years ago and made natural beauty of this area a significant part of Canadian national heritage. It’s place where I like to return, with all of its numerous attractions throughout whole year (you can take a look at this inspiring guide to Georgian Bay Islands National Park). I can highly recommend Georgian Bay Islands for those who are looking for artist-like sceneries.

  • Beautifully said, Mark. I sense that you come from a humble, awed place in your work, most often giving nature the credit. This is a healthy well-adjusted view of the art of photography, but it doesn’t make it any less art, or more documentary, or whatever. You are highly creative in my observation, even though you don’t look at it quite that way.

    I write a lot about questions like, “What is art?”, “Is photography art?” on my blog because in the mid 20th Century, photographers like my father, Philip Hyde, and his mentors such as Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston, struggled a great deal with these questions. They were paving the way to make photography art because it still wasn’t recognized as such. The art establishment was at some point convinced because most of the museums went crazy with acquiring photography. However, in some sense today with all the over intellectualization of these questions, photographic artists in some ways are buying photography back and bringing it back into doubt. Better to stick to your senses and powers of observation used during the actual process of making photographs. This was also what Minor White taught, in addition to the analysis, which can be overdone. My father would agree whole heartedly with your post.

    • Mark says:

      Hi David, thanks for the very thoughtful input here. I really appreciate your take on this and your historical knowledge. True, those are difficult questions for even traditional painters to tackle. I really don’t mean to over intellectualize it either. There is a point when you just have to stop thinking and go with what your heart is telling you to do.

      Your point about being humble is what I was thinking about most. Because I was just observing something that was there, I felt my contribution to creating something was rather minimal.

  • Tom Whelan says:

    Beautiful rocky scene and stormy sky, very attractive in B&W.

    Cameras record, but they transform – they don’t see the way our eyes do. Here’s a somewhat over the top quote along this line from Orson Welles, found in a book by Bill Brandt: “the camera is much more than a recording apparatus. It is a medium via which messages reach us from another world.” You need a passionate eye to get the message.

  • Pat Ulrich says:

    I think that the observation part of nature photography is what makes it such an interesting art form. Unlike painting or drawing, we do not get to set up a scene to make it artistic — the mountains are where they are, as are the lakes, trees, and wildlife. But instead, passionate observers like yourself find a way to bring an extra emotion to that scene that can connect with other viewers, and that’s the magic of a good photograph. It may only be a capture of what is already present, but it can leave a meaningful mark on the heart of a viewer who was not there to see it.

  • Chris says:

    Mark, your work is fascinating. I am still a beginner in photography but your style and the way you capture an image is unique.

  • Anita Jesse says:

    A thought provoking post—you make that an admirable habit. All that needed to be said seems to have been said. I will simply say my “amen” to all the above and add this. You may see what thousands of others can readily see; but, you manage, consistently, to see that scene, frame it, and capture it in a way that is unique to you. Not to take anything away from the glories that nature gives us on this beautiful planet, but what you do feels like art to me. Can’t speak for anyone else.

    • Mark says:

      Hey, why draw people in if you can’t make them think? 🙂 I appreciate the remarks Anita. I suppose most photographers have a problem looking at their own work objectively or determining where they are headed with it. Those questions always are on my mind. Thank you for the kind words.

  • Awesome image and to me a work of art. As I run this through my head I wonder if maybe the camera is our brush. Yes, nature presents scenes before all of us. Unfortunately some people are oblivious to the scene. Some will stand in awe of it, store it in their memory. Some will stand in awe and then walk around it, study it, get a closer look at it and wish to share what they see and feel with others. Maybe they will visualize what it would look like at another time of day. Then they will take their tools to share what they saw and felt, whether that is with an easel and brush, a pen and paper, a chisel or a camera. To me, you do that very well!

    • Mark says:

      Hi Monte, that is what I have been thinking about – just seeing something that others might not doesn’t hit me as “creating” something. I may just have my eyes open a little more, but it is really just there to discover. Photographers are perhaps a bit more sensitive to light, pattern and shapes and knowing more how they might fit together than just a casual observer.

  • Mark, I deeply admire your unique view and talent that you bring you each and every image that you share with us. Whether it is art or not is irrelevant. More important is the enriched pleasure and pause that your work brings to you and to your viewers.

  • Earl says:

    First, there is no shame in being a “passionate observer.” I see it as a noble profession. Learning to observe, to see, capture and present the true essence, or at least your unique passionate view of a scene is a skill not to be belittled.

    I really like this image in black and white!

    • Mark says:

      I hope I didn’t suggest any shame about it Earl. I wasn’t searching for anything wrong with such a label, only seeking differentiation between creating and observing. Thanks on the image. I poked around in SilverEfex with this one for awhile and ended up with something I liked.

      • Earl says:

        No not shame, much too strong a term, but perhaps I read it as if being described as a passionate observer was naturally somewhat less then a creator/an artist. Or perhaps I am totally off point. 🙂

  • Paul says:

    Mark: I’d have to agree with Ken and that quote that you selected uniquely suits the post. If you’ve ever been with a group of photographers, all at the same location, it is amazing the diversity that they can come up with, each having their own vision. It’s fascinating, really.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Paul. I saw that quote recently and was thinking about it quite a bit. Pointing things out certainly has always been part of the attraction of photography. But hey, a dog can do the same. 🙂

  • scuba_suzy says:

    Ken (commenter above) already phrased what I wanted to say better than I could have. Good post (borderline can of worms though ;))


  • ken bello says:

    It’s a good point about being a “passionate observer” but you are also able to record those observations and make them uniquely your own. That’s the quality that separates the artist from the casual observer.

    BTW, great shot.

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