How to document the absence of people? I’ve been thinking about this a little in-between errands, and compiling shopping lists for people who can’t go shopping, or teaching online, or at least speaking online with students.
Documentary photography is richest when observing people, but in their absence do we become architectural or landscape photographers by default?
I feel I’ve become the photographer for a book of walks that can only be done from my own home, fortunately it’s walking distance from open countryside and the sea. Rather than empty streets I can hedge by bets and pretend to be a landscape photographer for a day, or at least an hour in the late afternoon.
Personally, whilst I can appreciate and marvel at the work of someone like Ansel Adams, for the most part landscape photography is far less appealing to me than the emotional connection you can find in a photograph containing people. Often these photographs are far less technically perfect, they can’t be by definition, moments are moments and they’re not repeated, every one is subtly but inevitably different, and that’s what the best documentary or street photographers are trying to capture. To paraphrase someone who’s work I’m fond of – there’s difference, even in repetition.
Landscapes and architecture seen through a lens are ultimately surfaces for the interpretation of light, whilst both can evoke emotional connection in a material sense, when you dwell within them or return to them as shapes and forms that remind you of past memories or feelings, it’s rare to find that sensibility communicated in a photograph. At least a photograph without people.
Ansel Adams’ work is one of the exceptions, his emotional connection to Yosemite is evident in the tirelessness of his technique and the beauty in how he renders a vision of light and granite and trees and water.
In the end however, I imagine most of us would trade every photograph of a sunset ever made, for one photograph of someone they love or loved.
Today I settled for a horse on a hill, as all my loved ones are tired of being my daily subject matter, and in fairness I already have a few photographs of them all.