I’m a positive guy, not normally prone to complaining. But today I have a bone to pick with all the photographers out there, myself included. It seems that while we continue to push the boundaries when it comes to capturing the world’s beauty in a visual way we’re sacrificing our ability to capture it in a linguistic way. Instead I am seeing an increasing number of wonderful photos paired with the most hum-drum and watered-down “extreme” adjectives such as “spectacular,” “gorgeous,” and the worst offender of them all “epic.” I also want to make it clear that I am as guilty of doing this as anyone.
I suspect we photogs have gone this route due to the fact that our images speak for themselves. After all, why eloquently describe what you saw when someone can look at your photo and see exactly what you did? But I can’t help but think of the times when I don’t have my camera or computer or phone handy to show my friends and family what I saw. And if they can’t see the scene, how else to describe it except via words. And sure I can say “it was an epic sunset” but that’s completely meaningless. That tells me nothing about what the sunset actually looked like. What about the colors, the shapes of the clouds, the quality of the light? I not only want to see the scene through your photo, I want to hear it through your words.
An example of some beautifully descriptive writing I came across a few days ago:
It might have been a vision of the polar regions; it undoubtedly felt like it. The mighty cloud ocean over which we were scudding resembled a polar landscape covered with snow. The round clouds contours might have been the domes of snow-merged summits. It was hard to conceive that that amorphous expanse was not actual, solid. Here and there flocculent towers and ramps heaved up, piled like mighty snow dumps, toppling and crushing into one another. Everything was so tremendous, so vast, that one’s sense of proportion swayed uncontrolled.
Then there were tiny wisps, more delicate and frail than feathers. Chasms thousands of feet deep, sheer columns, and banks extended almost beyond eye-reach. Between us and the sun stretched isolated towers of cumulus, thrown up as if erupted from the chaos below. The sunlight, filtering through their shapeless bulk, was scattered into every conceivable gradation and shade of monotone. Round the margins the sun’s rays played, outlining all with edgings of silver…
If you’re wondering what photographer wrote that, you’ll be disappointed. Those words were written by a pilot named Sir Ross Smith on his groundbreaking London to Australia trip by plane in 1919. And if a pilot can conjure such visions of a landscape, surely we photographers -who spend so much time surrounded by nature’s wonders- can strive to be his equal. So the next time you see an erupting mass of cumulus scattering the sun’s rays into shimmering pinks and scintillating yellows, think of Pilot Ross Smith and his flocculent towers, and write with eloquence.
I’m certainly going to try. What about you?
Leave your thoughts, comments, and ideas down below.