Impressionism and magic

This is a blog note on three photographers I’ve been looking at lately: William Neill, Jerry Uelsmann, and Andy Goldsworthy. They all have a vision that is different than my own and that I find refreshing. In my photography, I take an approach that is “realist” for lack of a better word. Reality is a debatable term, but I mean pictures that take a literal view of the natural world. The photographers that I’ll mention in this post all go beyond a realist view of the natural world, but in different directions. They stretch the boundaries of “nature photography.”

William Neill is an eminent landscape photographer who is known for photographs of Yosemite and other locations and also abstracts and closeups of natural things. These are images filled with telling details. In his recent Impressions of Light portfolio, the images are about something else: color, design, and motion. They are beautiful, but there are no fine details. It’s an impressionist approach that has multiple roots, including the work of Freeman Patterson. It’s not a departure from his landscape work, but a new dimension or direction in it. Read his article in Outdoor Photographer for his rationale and techniques.

I’ve also been looking at photographs by Jerry Uelsmann. His book Other Realities contains virtuoso composites of black and white photographs (many are nature subjects), combined using darkroom techniques. The book’s title is Other Realities, but the images are surreal: boats float in mid-air, houses are underwater, a tree has a giant leaf as a root. The result is magical. Visually striking and impeccably crafted, these are thought-provoking works that I’ll need time to think about and unravel. You can see a selection of Other Realities at Uelsmann’s web site, but the book communicates them better.

While Uelsmann makes magic out of combined photographs, Andy Goldsworthy makes magical sculptures and objects out of natural materials and photographs the results. Some of his sculptures of balanced rocks (in his book Stone) or ice (in Collaboration with Nature) are no less gravity-defying than some of Uelsmann’s work. The effect is magical, but not surreal. Goldsworthy’s magic is close to the earth. Only some of his art has the showy magic of the rock and ice works – see his books, and you’ll find a range of subjects and styles. Some of them conceal themselves in the landscape and have to be discovered. Goldsworthy doesn’t maintain web page, but you can find a few images by searching for his name – but his books are easy to find in bookstores and libraries.

Happy New Year!

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One thought on “Impressionism and magic

  1. Happy New Year Tom. Thanks for the referral to Jerry’s work, have never seen it before. Some pretty interesting images – just wish they were larger on his site.

    I have been a fan of Niell’s work for some time, his impressions series is great. I think we will continue to see nature photographers pushing the boundaries like this in their quest to expand their creativity.

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