Shooting the Classics

For the longest time I have shied away from photographing those quintessential landscapes that everyone seems to gravitate towards. I’m sure that we can think of a hand full of these – Yosemite Valley, Maroon Bells with alpine glow, the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Grandfather Mountain reflected into Price Lake, the list goes on. The photograph above is one of these as well, taken at THE old barn along Mormon Row in Grand Tetons National Park. Every morning that is not overcast, or -30, you are sure to find at least a couple of photographers trying to keep warm as they wait patiently for the sun to rise above the Gros Ventre range to the East and cast it’s golden light upon this landscape.

So the question becomes, why photograph this location? Why, if everyone with a camera who comes to the Tetons, frantically searches for this location so they too can bring home what they hope with be a “classic”, why bother? This was a question I asked myself many times. Well finally one rainy afternoon I decided to browse around a few of the photography galleries in downtown Jackson Wyoming (as in Jackson Hole). Interestingly enough I found that the majority of the galleries that I walked into had photographs of these locations for sale. This was curious to me. We as artists painstakingly try to create something original, a new perception, a new way to look at the world to add our name to the list of artistic contributions to our culture throughout history. Yet, here were highly respected photographers who made their living solely from nature photography selling these same scenes. Now don’t get me wrong, it is not that the walls are filled with these sort of iconic scenes – but they were there.

The reason that you can walk into these sort of galleries, all across the world and still see these sorts of scenes, is that they sell. Period. There is a reason that people want to photograph these locations. There are elements that seem to line up in just such a way that the photograph becomes universally appealing to viewers. Why photograph these areas? Simply put, they sell. They sell big time. Here in Jackson Hole, people who are buying photographs from galleries are buying a little piece of their vacation, of their experience. They are buying photographs of grizzly bears, great gray owls, waterfalls, and yes, the old barn lit up like a roman candle at sunrise in front of those cathedral peaks of the Tetons. Now how well would this photograph sell in Atlanta Georgia? Probably not so well. But here, in Jackson, the gateway to the Tetons, it sells quite well.

By no means is this a declaration of redundancy. I do not mean to say that we should all be out tripod to tripod photographing the same exact landscapes. What would this contribute to art? Nothing. With that said though, we should not forget to take pause at these locations and add them to our portfolios though. If nothing else it shows depth of coverage and expertise.

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