Landscapes and “Miniscapes”

We all love landscapes. The great master painters and photographers have captured rare moments when the light, sky, and formations come together in a near mythological union. I hope some of my images in this book fall into this category. To see samples of the landscapes in the book, go here.

But I also wanted to share my discoveries on a much smaller scale: the compositions close by and underfoot, which I call “miniscapes.” Unlike landscapes, these are much freer in their compositional form, since they are not structured with sky-above-earth- and-water-beneath. Like Abstract Expressionist paintings, their compositional elements can fall anywhere inside the image, leading the eye in any direction. Many photographers have explored such abstractions in nature—water reflections being a prime source. What I find fascinating is that since we’re looking at rocks and sometimes at creatures, the image subjects are both abstract and real at the same time. Moreover, when dealing with mineral formations, their masses, lines, textures, tensions, spaces, etc. have been created by natural forces over various time spans, from days and weeks to millions of years. The photographer’s task is then to frame them so that they make compositional sense to the eye. To see some samples from the book, click here.

Abstract Expressionism was the American art movement of the 1940s and ’50s that was said to be the first original American movement. Its connection to geological miniscapes is not accidental. Nor is the connection to miniscapes of its predecessor Surrealism, whose practitioners first introduced unidentifiable or “enigmatic” objects into their art. In fact, it turns out that many of these artists were profoundly inspired by nature. Jackson Pollock, for example, explicitly stated, “I don’t paint nature; I am nature,” meaning that his vigorous way of applying paint to canvas on the floor was the energy of nature working through him. Abstract expressionism taught viewers to appreciate the visual meaning in purely formal elements that were putatively non-representational. But like clouds, water, granite, wood grain and the zig-zags of PreCambrian gneiss, these abstract designs have always surrounded us—and appealed to our eyes. The Abstract Expressionists were the first artists to make them subjects in their own right. They were preceded by the Surrealists, who plumbed the unconscious producing images that didn’t necessarily have a recognizable meaning. But some of these, too, have turned out to have geological inspiration. For example, the very real-seeming objects in French Surrealist Yves Tanguy’s work, that for many years were considered unidentifiable, turn out to be virtually literal copies of granite formations off the coast of Brittany, where he spent his childhood!

These artists have helped photographers to see beyond the familiar in the real world, to recognize beauty in new places, and we photographers, in turn, hopefully can help extend everyone’s vision,  increasing not only enjoyment, but appreciation for the natural world, which has taken so many thousands and millions of years to create its “compositions.” Now this world needs our committed and vigorous defense, as the depredations of the industrial civilization that enables us to live in comforts unknown to our ancestors, have wounded the Earth that we depend upon for our existence.

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