I have this hopelessly romantic notion that ‘spirit of place’ is a metaphysical reality; that as humans we can be in a place and somehow communicate with our surroundings, allow ourselves to feel the emotion that’s wrapped up in the ‘spiritual energy’ of any given location.

Homage to Steichen

‘Tree and Moon’, Maplebeck, Nottinghamshire
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, EF24-70mm f/2.8 L USM @ 70mm, 0.4 seconds @ f/11 ISO 100
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 grip-ball head.
Adobe Photoshop.

“Pictorialism provides a wonderful aesthetic for creative landscape photographers because it emphasises the value of personal artistic expression above realistic representation.”

Homage to Steichen

My image this month results from a dalliance with pictorialism in homage to Edward Steichen, creator of the photograph ‘Pond-Moonlight’, which at the time of it’s sale, was the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction and is a sublime example of the genre.

Pictorialism provides a wonderful aesthetic for creative landscape photographers because it emphasises the value of personal artistic expression above realistic representation. The pictorialist photography movement began in the late 19th century when photography itself was just 50 years old. Photographers were striving to be accepted as mainstream artists so it’s not surprising that photographic styles started veering towards more painterly representations of reality. For a period of 20 years between 1890 and 1910, pictorialism was considered the highest level of photographic art. Photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen were staunch proponents, following the basic premise that the artistic content of the image was more important than the actual scene being photographed. Opponents to pictorialism like Ansel Adams felt that photography should stand alone in the art world and not depend on mimicry of etchings and paintings to maintain it’s position; they wanted to celebrate the ability of the camera to accurately record everything that lay before it. Such photographers felt equally passionate about artistic expression and often spent hours in the darkroom making alterations to the ‘reality’ captured by the lens to create their imagery, but their results were generally more ‘photo-realistic’.

One hundred years later, the pictorialist versus ‘straight-photography’ argument still persists in the world of landscape photography. There are proponents in both camps seeking to further our own cause, but regardless of personal bias, it is always liberating to experiment with alternative styles.

The Moon has been a potent source of inspiration for artists and writers through the centuries, featuring in countless written and musical works, it has enchanted generations because for most of history it has been unreachable, unimaginable. I travelled to this favourite location near my home and chose this simple arrangement featuring two powerful subjects, just after sunset. Once the exposure had been chosen and the camera was set up on the tripod, it was simply a matter of waiting until the moon moved into the desired position. Shaping the final result was wonderfully immersive, I let the muses work their magic as I intensified the hues in the digital darkroom.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.