I didn’t start out researching Monet or travel photography. Really, I didn’t. It’s strange, though, how a simple search for one piece of information reveals other things that sends your brain reeling into new directions. It’s unforeseen and, often, once the new thought grips you, you just can’t let it go.
I’ve learned that when this happens, the best thing for my sanity is to drop what I am working on and get it out while it’s fresh. In fact, the last time this happened, Polarizing Images was born.
So here’s what I learned: for the last 40 years of his life, every scene that Monet painted
could be found within a couple of miles from his front door. His haystacks were actually were visible from his house. He didn’t feel the need to travel much further than his locality to find fresh subjects.
As I thought about that, two questions popped into my head: Why do we, as photographers, feel the need to travel to far away places and how do we recapture the fascination and beauty of our local surroundings?
I hear it time and time again: someone says they want to get into travel photography and, when asked why, tell me it’s because they are tired of shooting the “same ol, same ol” and wanted to shoot something exciting and fresh.
But I usually like to respond that we live in Chicago, a major international city with renowned architecture and parks, a beautiful waterfront, and great urban landscapes. A city that people travel to from all over the world… to photograph! So, if people are traveling to your backyard to photograph the very city that you live in, why are you so bored with it?
Brad and Todd Reed, a father and son photography team in Ludington, MI, produced a book called Ludington State Park, Queen of the North. While it’s filled with beautiful imagery, it’s a part from the introduction that sticks with me:
Like so many other lifelong Ludington residents who live within minutes of this place, we came here on occasion. This world-class gem, considered by millions of people to be the queen of Michigan’s state parks, lies in our backyard. Yet we did not truly know her well. And since we did not know her, we could not love her the way generations of families who have camped in her woods year after year.
I have to admit that I often have the same thoughts myself about being here in Chicago; that familiarity breeds boredom (not contempt).
Then, a few months ago, I was walking through the Morton Arboretum with my three year old son and something happened. He was excitedly pointing at things like odd-colored leaves, or a big twig/small branch that had fallen down, or a bird flying by… And I thought to myself that, just for five minutes, what I would give to see the world with the same sense of amazement and wonderment that Luke was showing.
The funny thing is, it wasn’t his first time to the park. It wasn’t his first time to see leaves or branches or birds. But it sure seemed like it.
So that’s my goal – to see my world, my immediate surrounding, with the same sense of awe and wonder that’s exhibited by a child – to see the familiar anew.
But how? That’s the next part of the equation, isn’t it? I know that the saying goes you have to admit to a problem before you can solve it but I am not sure that makes the answer any easier to figure out. I know what I want, I beleive I know what is lacking, but how to figure out how to resolve it?
I love to travel and, I too, am re-energized by new sights. Maybe Monet had it right – just force yourself to keep going out and working in a local area. Perhaps… perhaps in a short amount of time I’ll be able to see what the tourists and artists see. Or, as the Reeds suggest, I just need to get to know Chicago again.
How would you handle it?