Before I get to the prescriptive post I just promised, a random snap. Last night's sunset over the soybean field out back. Why? Because this place has been really short of pictures lately—we haven't posted any pictures at all since David Bailey's portrait of Maud Ford a whole week ago. That must be some sort of record.
Did you know that there hasn't been a single great sunset picture ever taken, in the whole history of photography? That's because, compared to the experience of watching a sunset sky, a picture of it is just a souvenir. The photograph is never a greater thing than the thing itself. You can enjoy the experience just as much without taking a picture at all, and any picture you make, even a good one (this is a pretty good one, a stitched pano—and the colors are pretty accurate, too, they really were like that—) is just a token.
I stood in the soybean field till it was nearly completely dark, and my mind was full of certain thoughts; what I remember is what I was thinking about. It was a magical sky, spectacular, but peaceful.
(Thanks to S.)
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Featured Comments from:
Richard Newman: "And I don't think there's ever been a single 'great' sunset painting either, for much the same reason."
Mike replies: Turner, maybe? I always liked Van Gogh's "Willows at Sunset," although maybe it's not among his greatest. What about Winslow Homer's "Saco Bay"? Great painting, maybe not great sunset. [s]
Jon Bloom: "We had a great sunset last night. My wife was driving me over to friend's house to fix her computer. My first thought was, 'Darn, I don't have my camera!' But each time we turned a corner or topped a hill I got to see a different aspect of the sunset. If I had stopped to take a photo I would have missed the multiple intakes of breath as each new element revealed itself. I'm glad I didn't have a camera with me."
Martin Fiala (Case): "I consider myself a sunset photographer. Might not be a good one, that's for others to decide. I'm certainly not a pro, I've never sold a photo in my life, most likely never will. But I really enjoy taking sunset photos, so I just do it. Time and again people tell me that what I do is the lowest of the low when it comes to creative photography and that sunsets are the most kitch subject you can possibly think of.
"I don't mind. I just enjoy sunsets (and sunrises and clouds and sky in general, both during the day and at night). So when I see a beautiful sunset, I just can't help it and take that 'souvenir.' Every single sunset or sunrise experienced is a special moment for me, if only for the fact that it will never happen again. Sometimes I plan the scene and place in advance, sometimes I just shoot right out of my window. And then I share that special moment with others and feel happy when someone likes the picture, since that, to me, means that I managed to share with him/her that moment he/she missed.
"These days, many people say that we're so busy taking pictures of everything all the time that we can't even enjoy the moment. I don't get these remarks. For me it works precisely the other way around—I notice and enjoy a moment much more when I'm taking a picture. I can enjoy a great sunset out in the nature perfectly fine without camera, but when I start thinking about how to take a good enough picture of it, then I become much more aware of what is happening around me and in front of me, noticing every single little detail...the final image might not be representative of those feelings at all (and most often isn't), but it still happens. And when I look at that picture, that souvenir of sunset or of any other thing I've witnessed, it often all comes right back to me pretty vividly, even years after it happened. I would never remember a single sunset and how it felt to be watching it for that long if it wasn't for that souvenir.
"So yeah, maybe there has never been any great sunset picture taken and never will be. And maybe what I do is really just filling the world with more uninspired kitsch like some people tell me. As long as it means I do what I like and can share that enjoyment with others, I'm perfectly fine with it :-) And I've taken some photos I'm actually quite proud of, even if they will probably never be admired in a gallery somewhere. :-) "
Mike replies: You sound like a quintessential photo enthusiast and I admire that.
Thomas Paris: "Martin Fiala's comment reminds me of the most important thing photography's given me: it's taught me to open my eyes. I now see things I probably wouldn't see had I not picked up this hobby. And the best thing? I do even when I don't have a camera in hand."
adamct: "Martin Fiala (Case): Your comment may be one of my favorite all-time comments in the history of T.O.P. It really resonated with me and touched me. Thanks for sharing. Best regards."