Minor White-Philip Hyde Letters 3

April 26th, 2012 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Minor White Letters To Philip Hyde 3

Stick To One Style. Scope Is Fatal To Recognition…

Do you agree or disagree?

(Continued from the blog post, “Minor White-Philip Hyde Letters 2.”)

Note On Minor White’s Letters And The San Francisco Art Institute

Late Sun Near Point Pedro, Pacific Ocean, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. Scan of original hand made vintage black and white print. Photograph made on a California School of Fine Arts field trip.

Philip Hyde first met Minor White in the 1946 Photography Summer Session taught by Ansel Adams at the renowned California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. Ansel Adams soon after made Minor White lead instructor of the new photography program, which was the first to train photographers for a non-commercial creative photography full-time profession. Philip Hyde enrolled in the full time day student photography course taught by Minor White in 1947 and earned his certificate of completion in the Spring of 1950. His group was the second full-time class to go through the school. The letter correspondence between Philip Hyde and Minor White began shortly after in May 1950. The letters of Minor White to Philip Hyde are clearly responses to letters from Philip Hyde to Minor White. However, the first three letters from Philip Hyde to Minor White are missing. For more related background on Minor White, Alfred Stieglitz, Philip Hyde, Ansel Adams and other points in the history of photography see the blog post, “Minor White–Philip Hyde Letters.”

Letter From Minor White To Philip Hyde

(From Philip Hyde’s correspondence file with Minor White. Used with acknowledgement from the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, copyright by the Trustees of Princeton University.)

“Make A Name For Yourself Faster, And Money Faster By Sticking To One Style Until You Catch On With The Public. Scope… Is Fatal To Recognition…”

30 Nov 1950

Dear Phil,

Say I want to apologize for being so remote the other morning. I was under the impression that you were returning that afternoon and could spend more time to talk and look at pictures. Sorry as hell.

Must say that your pictures looked better than ever. Clean as Ansel’s and a slant of your own seeing. Was amused at Pete’s choices—as I have been several times lately when the opportunity came up for him to pick from other people’s work. Still the same seeing as his Filmore project—think the years out of photography will be better for him than anything else.

The Albert Bender Grants-In-Aid foundation is including photography this year. Ansel Adams is chairman of the committee and I am serving on it also—so is Imogen Cunningham. Ansel is so confident that you will hit the Guggenheim that he would just as soon not consider any application you might make for the Bender. I am still seeing to it that you get an application—and leave the rest up to you. It’s 1200 bucks for creative photography or some project that can include creative photography.

When I get in a philosophical mood (which at the moment I am as far from as possible—printing all day) wonder if you will continue the approach to photography you now have for how many years. You are starting a career dead center in the same tradition Ansel stands for. Starting as positively few of my students have done. You earned the position, I can add happily. If I just can curb my patience, it will be heartening to see how you grow. And in a way I envy your present mastery of the medium, it is full and fulfilling, and your pictures show you are creating freely. Pursue the vein as long as it lasts. The tradition you are following is a fertile one. You can make a name for yourself faster, and money faster by sticking to one style until you catch on with the public. Scope, that I am always chasing, is fatal to recognition I gather. At least so I am told. But that is hardly anything to keep me from photographing everything I can in as appropriate a manor as I can manage, NO?

Cheerio, old bean, best regards to ‘wife and kids.’ Sorry I am in no mood to rave on. I probably ought to frame the folded fine prints. One of them is only a hair off success.

Minor [Hand written signature]

(Emphasis on the above bold sentence added by Landscape Photography Blogger.)

(Continued in the blog post, “Minor White-Philip Hyde Letters 4.”)

Do you agree that scope is fatal to recognition? Does this still apply today? Please share your thoughts…

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  1. pj says:

    Probably true, though I don’t know if fatal is the right word. I guess it’s what we call specialization. We tend to attach more authority to specialists than to generalists.

    It’s an interesting question, and one I think any aspiring pro should well consider — should I be a specialist or a generalist? It also brings up another question… do I even want to be a pro? My answer to that for years has been no. I’d rather follow my own vision wherever it may take me, consequences be damned…

  2. Hi PJ, I appreciate that perspective. On one hand I disagree, in your case, with your choice to not go pro. I believe you have the talent to do so any time you might want. However, it is perhaps a prudent and unassuming choice. Either way, it’s your choice, whether I agree with it or not. I do, however, completely agree with what you say about following your own vision, consequences be damned. Though I don’t believe I personally apply that philosophy as diligently as you do, my father definitely approached his photography that way.

  3. Richard Wong says:

    It’s certainly easier to become known for one thing. That’s basic marketing philosophy. It’s probably even more important today given that there is so much content out there. The dilemma though comes down to whether you want to be a commercial photographer that only shoots what sells or do you want to be an artist that makes your own choices. Sometimes you can be both but more often that not, it’s the client that calls the shots so you have to play within that framework. Or if you are a social media photographer, it’s certainly easier to become known for one gimmick than to become a well-known good generalist.

  4. That makes sense, thanks Richard.

  5. QT Luong says:

    I agree. More often than not, successful artists are known for a specific style, and often a specific subject, sometimes explored obsessively. Look at most of the greats, and see if you can’t define what they did within a sentence.

    It is certainly possible to have a wide-ranging body of work, but this is done by expansion over time, rather than doing all sorts of projects simultaneously.
    Ansel Adams may have photographed many subjects in different ways, but he had a signature: the “fine b&w print”. Besides, he is remembered for his nature photography.

    This doesn’t have anything to do with “shooting what sells”. What sells is your reputation as an artist.

    I am not an expert on commercial photography, but my understanding is it used to be that generalists were in demand because that field was more relation-based. Nowadays client have lots of choice and look for shooters with a specific vision for a given assignment.

  6. Thank you, QT. Interesting you mention that what most of the greats did can be described in one sentence. That’s one of the exercises I’ve heard career coaches suggest people do to define and narrow the focus of their work and message. There are, of course, exceptions to your rule of thumb here, both from today and yesterday. Man Ray is one artist that comes to mind. Good advice you give about expansion over time. That’s one secret to getting noticed and not getting bored, as Minor said.

  7. I think what I find comfort in after reading this letter is the sentence that follows what you have bolded. “At least so I am told.”

    I have talked to several photographers of different generations and this often comes up. It’s given as advice, but often of an inflection of a question or the tone of “I think, but I’m not 100% sure”. I find comfort that this is a perpetual thought, question and point of discussion.

    In general I think this advice is sound (who am I to contradict Minor White!), but I do think three is always room for an exception. I’m sure there is one out there somewhere. The big challenge is for photographers to actually abide by the recommendation. When you’re passionate about photography and exploring the world with your camera it’s tough to restrain what you share. This is particularly true in todays world of digital photography and Internet sharing where the ability to create and share new work is so easy. It is becoming increasingly expected to turn over and share work quickly if not in a fluid manner. That certainly poses a challenge to the mantra of sticking to one style.

  8. Glad for your visit and input, Jim. As Minor White pointed out, it was never an issue for Dad. He kept the same specific style his whole life. Because of this, he didn’t talk about it much, but my impression is that he felt it was the magazine editors and curators who were always telling people to specialize, rather than photographers themselves. In other words, the idea has been perpetuated more often than not by the non-photographers who benefited by the photographers doing it a certain way. The question the editors and curators didn’t raise was whether or not maintaining the same style would fulfill the photographers or not. It might be the best way to pay the bills, or climb in popularity, but was it rewarding to the artist him or herself?

    Jim, I’m also glad you mentioned that I put the emphasis on that sentence. Minor White did not bold it, I did. I’ll make a note of it above.

  9. Dan Baumbach says:

    I think that Minor is probably right. It’s easier for a gallery to put you into a specific niche and market you from that niche.

    One reason I don’t want to give up well paying job as a programmer is that I don’t want to shoot with a market in mind. When I’m out with a camera or when I’m working on images at my computer, I don’t want sales to enter my mind as I choose images to work on and choose how to work on them. I just want to be concerned with making a great photograph.

    I have no problem slanting a portfolio of images towards a specific market if I think that will make sales, but I still want to take the images that excite me.

  10. Hi Dan, I’ve noticed that many photographers relate to your approach. I’ve talked to many image makers who keep photography as a side hobby or side business and don’t take it on as a primary career precisely because they want to photograph what interests them and not cater to whatever will sell, which may or may not be in conflict. Dad often traveled to an area specifically to obtain images for a certain cause, book project or non-profit organization, but when it came to the specific make-up of each image itself, he resisted photographing certain types of subject matter in certain ways just to please editors.

  11. Jim says:

    Hello David,

    I have to agree for the most part with what Minor says here. I have been told by several commercial photographers that a photographer is hired for his/her style, and even more often these days, for their expertise in a particular subject matter. (i.e., specializing in automotive beauty shots, liquids, splashes, glass, food, etc.) After all, there is the old saying, “Jack of all trades; Master of none”. A professional may be proficient in different styles and subjects, but can he or she excel or stand out in any of them without focus?

    However, while I think style and speciality can get one work and likewise recognition, I have to believe these photographers photograph whatever catches their eye on their own time. How could they possibly ever grow as artists if they never step outside of their comfort zones?

  12. Best regards, Jim. I hear what you are saying and I agree. At the same time, have you noticed that in the current era many photographers seem to do several specialties? Many, if not most nature photographers and landscape photographers, also specialize in some other area. In my father’s day, starting just before the era of the above letter, you were either a commercial photographer or a fine art photographer. Ansel Adams, Minor White and their associates liked the term “creative photographer.” You were either that or a commercial photographer. Now I notice that most photographers are both. Is this mainly due to economics and the need to diversify some to make it, or is it simply the approach that works best now? I would enjoying reading people’s opinions and input here on that as well.

  13. Greg Russell says:

    Interesting letter David–thanks for sharing.

    For me personally, I can see what Minor White is saying here. It took me a while (years) to figure out my “style.” but a few comments from others as well as some serious introspection led me to think that my style (as it were) is to produce images of more intimate landscapes…I’m not really a “grand landscape” sort of photographer.

    Within the framework of intimacy, I have expanded my portfolio; Minor White might have argued that I am still too diverse….who knows.


  14. Hi Greg, your work is not at all too diverse in my opinion. I like to imagine that all of it would be well within the confines of what Minor White or Dad would have considered a well defined style.

  15. Greg Russell says:

    Thanks, David. I appreciate that.

  16. Hi Greg, Also Michael Gordon reminded me recently of the distinction between “style” and “subject matter.” In the days of Ansel Adams’ photography school at the California School of Fine Arts, a good deal of overlap existed between style and subject matter and in many instances the two terms were essentially synonymous. If you photographed landscapes, that was a different style than street photography. Today the meaning of style and subject matter can be concurrent or there can be a wide departure between the two. You may photograph a wide variety of subject matter but maintain more or less a similar style throughout. As you know, much of this is subject to the viewer’s interpretation as well. Some people look at my work and say, “You have a very different style from your father.” Some people say they are happy to see that my style is similar to his. The latter are most probably talking more about subject matter than style, or they may be talking about where the two overlap. Which raises the question: can a style be consistent if the subject matter differs? If I photograph a street scene, how do viewers judge whether or not this is done in the same style with which I photographed a church or a forest? Just because you photograph mainly intimate landscapes, details, close-ups and images of smaller scope, does this define your style? Isn’t style something more? Isn’t style the WAY you photograph details, rather than the photographing of details alone? I would love to hear yours and others’ thoughts on this too.

  17. I read this post when it first came out and have been thinking about it often since that time… Who am I to contradict the greats, but I’m gonna.

    I think if you follow the premise that if you take images of things you know and love, then you are going to take better images than someone with the same subject matter but without the emotional connection.

    I’m all for making images of things you love because it shows over the body of your work whether that’s intimate landscapes, like Greg or a combination of things, like others.

  18. Thanks much, Derrick. You always help make the discussion interesting. I feel some people can definitely pull off diversity. You have given a very good reason why: pursuing and photographing what you love, which in the case of some photographers is a wide range of subjects. Is this commercially viable? Perhaps not as often as a single focus, but I still believe it can be, depending on many factors. I’ve seen it done in the current era more than ever.

  19. Greg Russell says:

    Hi, David. I appreciate you pointing out the difference between style and subject matter. At some point I think we’ll start splitting hairs, but there is, in my mind anyway, a difference here.

    I think subject matter is what you photograph; style is how you envision it. I shoot landscapes, but my mind drifts to the intimate details…my style is largely to portray landscapes in that way. Similarly, my style is to not use gaudy HDR techniques or anything like that…I prefer a more natural post-processing.

    There’s definitely some overlap between style and subject matter, but I think they stand on their own as well…

  20. Hello again, Greg, I appreciate you returning and adding some clarity to the difference and overlap between subject matter and style.

  21. It’s so cool to see how the style of the black and white picture is used a lot nowadays 🙂

  22. Good point, thanks Harry. Black and White photography lives on both in digital photography and in the traditional darkroom processing of film photography. The collectors’ market for Black and White Prints also remains much stronger than the market for color prints of any type.

  23. Sharon says:

    Hi David, I was also glad you brought up the point of style vs. subject matter.

    I do think too much variation in style could be fatal unless this is truly coming from your own creative impulses and is not the result of trying to follow every fad that comes along. Sometimes, when you see someone with wildly changing styles it is because they are copying others work rather than developing their own style.

    Hope you are doing well.


  24. Hey Sharon, glad to hear from you. We see what you’re talking about more often than we would like, don’t we?

  25. Sharon says:

    We do and a lot of it is made worse when you are starting out by listening to the wrong people – especially in online photography forums. Very few people can give you a critique that takes into account your own style. I know I’m not very good at critiquing. Dirck is much better at it.

    Your dad had the benefit of wonderful teachers with strong points of view and they must have been very good at not wanting their students to all produce the same work as your dad’s work is quite distinctive.


  26. Hi Sharon, thank you for returning and for your compliments to my father. Minor White’s whole agenda was to bring out what each individual had to say through photography. His emphasis was on the inner life and how it reflects in the creative process and in the photographic results. Ansel Adams too, surrounded himself with teachers who each had completely different views and approaches to photography. He wrote about having certain experiences in nature and the intent of sharing these with his audience. He inspired others to translate their own unique experiences as well. On top of this the proof was in the pudding, as they say. Each of Dad’s classmates had completely distinct styles and interests in photography. No group mind developed in the individual expression through photography at CSFA.

  27. Kevin Ebi says:

    I think there’s a lot to his advice. It’s basic branding. If you repeatedly photograph something a specific way or of a particular subject, every piece you create reinforces your brand. Every time you do something different, it makes it harder to define your work.

    Today’s question, though, is given how many photographers there are, how can you truly brand yourself now? And how helpful is a brand?

    To build a brand with so much competition today, you probably need an incredibly unique approach or to limit yourself to a specialized subject. But even if you are THE Yosemite rock climbing adventure photographer, is there enough demand is there for that?

    I think the key to success today is finding a way to stand out from the crowd without having all your eggs in one basket. And I think we’re all trying to figure out how to do that.

  28. I think of Clyde Butcher, when after his son was killed, looking at all the photographs he had taken because he knew they would sell and taking them to the local dump and throwing them all away. Then finding a new direction, doing what brought him peace. How many of us could ever do that?

  29. Hi Kevin, Thank you for your comment. I feel the term “branding” is overused, especially in reference to landscape photography. Nevertheless, whatever term applies, your points are all valid. You also raise some interesting questions. If each photographer niche markets him or herself to such a degree as to differentiate against the competition, do we then run the risk of narrowing our market so much that there are not enough people in that target niche? “…Stand out from the crowd without having all your eggs in one basket.” Does that mean that we focus our “branding” toward several niches? A lot of this can get too caught up in marketing, rather than following our hearts in making images that excite and satisfy us. Just this evening I talked with Carr Clifton. He said he is going to continue to ignore the markets when making photographs. He plans to continue to seek images that interest him and let the marketing be done by his business manager. He keeps a clear separation between “church” and “state” that way. He doesn’t want to be thinking of marketing or whether an image will sell and to whom, while he’s out in the field photographing. I’m sure everyone has a different process. I don’t market my own images for stock yet and am just starting to make some of them into prints. I know that I spend much time and ask many experts regarding image selection of Dad’s work for the purpose of printing, exhibitions and gallery sales. My father did not think of marketing in the field at all, but then his was a different era. In most scenarios in his day, there was no market. He often made the markets what they became. His photographs over time were very widely published and paved the way for the establishment of interest in the genre. People today say that magazines and other markets are losing interest in landscape photography, or at least pure nature or wilderness photography, but part of this may be due to a lack of high quality fresh and unusual imagery. Or is it because too many photographers are doing over what has already been done? Are there enough leaders doing strong enough work and charging hard enough to get it through new doors? Or are there too many photographers knocking on the doors too loudly?

  30. Hello H. William, I appreciate your story that I didn’t know about Clyde Butcher. I’ve read about him in some magazines and follow him on Twitter. I have great respect for him and his work. Interesting about that shift in his approach after his son’s death. Sometimes losing a loved one or other traumatic events end up having a silver lining that turns into a profound influence and inspiration.

  31. Kevin Ebi says:

    Hi David — Sorry for the long reply, but this is a great discussion.

    The economics of art isn’t a new problem. One example that recently came to my attention was that of painter Paul Gauguin’s final exhibition in Paris. The paintings he created in the Marquesas Islands are now considered masterpieces, but during his last show, 85 percent did not sell. Just 7 of his 49 pieces found a buyer. For much of his career, he was broke. And he wasn’t the first, or last, artist to find himself in that position.

    As much as I would like to separate art from accounting, for most of us, it’s not possible. The need for nature photography today is just as great as it was during your dad’s time. Wild areas were saved because your dad and others showed people what could be lost. The need for that imagery is no less today. Tar Sands, the recent abandonment of the Wild Olympics plan — there are numerous conservation issues that need work like your father did.

    So how do we get that important work done? To do it requires time and money to cover the travel, equipment and regular expenses of life. The number of publications and grants to produce this work is a tiny, tiny fraction of what it once was. Is it better, in an effort to keep your art pure, to take a desk job to cover the bills and photograph only on weekends or vacation? Or is it better to photograph as much as you can, shooting some subjects because you know there’s a market demand for them and other subjects only because they matter to you? What is the difference?

    Too often artists equate “popular” with “bad.” We act as if anything that has any commercial appeal is garbage. We practically consider it a crime to produce such work. In doing that, we lose sight of the fact that anything with commercial appeal also reaches a wide audience. But isn’t that what we hope for with our messages about conservation or other important issues?

    You could say that I’m working on both sides of the fence by making art for me, and art that affords me the ability to keep making art. Over the years, I’ve discovered that fence isn’t very high. Some of the images I have produced that I was certain would matter only to me actually rank among my most financially successful works. Shows you what I know about what people want ….

    Other artists may be embarrassed by this, but I am really proud of the fact that my images are in children’s books and park kiosks as well as art books and galleries. I took up nature photography to show people the amazing wonder of nature. I see the “commercial” end of my art as doing for a wide audience what my parents did for me: introducing me to nature. It doesn’t compromise my vision; it is my vision.

  32. Hi Kevin, glad you returned with these thoughts. As much as I am surrounded by purists who put “aaahrt” above commerce, as certainly my father did in some ways, at least in image composition and selection, I understand that we all have to make a living, which is getting more and more challenging. Your experiences of the overlap are intriguing. I imagine some of that happens to many landscape photographers, as I have seen it in representing Dad’s work. I still like to believe that each photographer can find his or her unique voice AND be a financial success. The incessant copying, beating to death of the icons and what my father called “roadside landmark photography” are what I object to even more than photographing what sells, whatever that may be. I think there may be a difference between what some photographers believe will sell and what does sell. There is also a difference between what licenses well as stock photography and what is sought after as fine art prints. Also, there is the element of educating the public to appreciate good art. In my own photography I do consider what people will like, even in the field, but mainly keep my image composition and selection to what I like myself, what fulfills me and what exemplifies my own vision. Meanwhile, once I get back home, the image selection process is governed more by considerations of what is most marketable as fine art prints, without compromising quality however. Of course, myself and others are wrong in the selection of my images and Dad’s on a regular basis. There are disappointments and pleasant surprises. Some photographers refuse to even select images based on what will be popular, which seems silly to me, for many of the reasons you mention. If your goal is to “share the loveliness of nature” as John Muir said, why wouldn’t you want to share it with as many people as possible? Dad’s style was somewhat of a cross between what people loosely call “fine art” and documentary. This was because his motive above both sales and art was conservation. Land conservation was his mission and photography was the means, his love and his ticket to a life in the wilderness. I agree completely that today, far more than even in his lifetime, the environmental threats are growing and the need for good conservation photography is high. At the same time, fortunately many more photographers are doing it, which is some solace, but certainly not a reason to be complacent. I feel that all who enjoy and photograph nature have an obligation to do their part in this regard.

  33. Kevin Ebi says:

    Hi again David. I don’t want to dominate your comments, but allow me to provide a couple of examples of the art/commerce overlap.

    For a couple weeks each spring, tens of thousands of shorebirds congregate in a tiny bay on the Washington coast. These birds winter in the South and breed in the far North, but these birds use this basin as an important rest stop during their migration. Seeing them all fly in formation, flashing their white bellies and then their brown backsides, is a wondrous sight. I have gone out to photograph them nearly every year since I became a nature photographer. Each time, I work to create a mix of art and artistic documentary images.

    This area isn’t a secret, but when I first started photographing there, you could often have the place to yourself. Several years ago, the state used one of my artistic documentary images in a campaign. So did a birding magazine. It’s not a bad image. Personally, I like another image that I shot that same morning better, but I’ve made both available.

    When I hiked out Monday, I shared the boardwalk with dozens of birders and an entire class of fourth graders. As they were oohing and ahing while watching the birds through their binoculars, I’d like to think that that afternoon gave those young children a new appreciation of nature and set at least a few of them on a path toward a desire for conservation. And this is in an area where a plan to expand the protected area around Olympic National Park recently failed due to tremendous protest over an evil “land grab.”

    I don’t claim to be the person who got those children out there, but I do know that my documentary (and commercially successful) image reached far more people than the purely artistic image did.

    And as I was hiking out there Monday, I came across a gorgeous section of horsetails that were just sprouting up. The lines, the different shades of green – I spent a half hour making art. As I was packing up, I saw a different cluster where the horsetails right next to each other demonstrated different stages of development. One was nearly fully grown. Several others were just budding. The rest were in between. I photographed it, too. The image isn’t pure art, but it illustrates well how spore plants develop and reproduce. And for that reason, it may very well be more commercially successful than the art image I so like.

    If I concentrated only on pure art, I never would have taken the documentary image. And I would have missed an opportunity to help educate children and adults who don’t have the first-hand experience in nature that I am lucky enough to appreciate.

    I certainly agree that there are too many people making the same images from the same roadside pullouts, but just because there’s a road there doesn’t make that parcel of nature any less special. Just as a child’s first experience with music isn’t going to be some classical masterpiece, their first experience with nature isn’t going to be a 7-night backpacking trip. Without the overcrowded pullouts and short trails, there wouldn’t be as much appreciation for the deep wilderness. They have value in helping people develop an appreciation for nature, just as popular images help people develop an appreciation for true art. And if we don’t help people develop that appreciation, who will?

  34. Kevin, your engagement in the discussion matters, whether your part in it is larger or smaller compared to others, doesn’t make any difference, in my opinion. I encourage everyone to express themselves here to whatever degree they see fit. There would probably be at least some disagreement and more probably a wide range of opinions as to what constitutes an “artistic” image versus a documentary photograph. I usually don’t encourage people to post a lot of links to their own work in comments here, but links to relevant blog posts and other pertinent material are encouraged. If you have both of these images posted somewhere, I would like to see links to them both to get some sense of what you are talking about. I understand what you’re saying about children and grown up kids both needing to be introduced to nature in small bytes to begin with. At the same time, I object to anyone and everyone calling themselves landscape photographers, just because they drive around to the various major landmarks and click the shutter. As you know, even today, there’s still more to being an accomplished outdoor photographer than having a good guidebook, a detailed iPhone app or a digital camera. Though the idea of getting people into nature in itself is also controversial, I commend the work you’re doing to raise awareness.

  35. Guy Tal says:

    I think we should all be grateful that Leonardo Da Vinci decided to do more than just paint; that Ansel Adams didn’t want to limit himself to the piano; that Picasso did not get stuck on any one style too early… I can go on.
    If you define success in terms of celebrity, sure – be a stereotype, or define your own. If, however, you want to live a meaningful life, forget about style. It will be a mere by-product of your independent thinking and may lead you to revelations you will never reach if you are too afraid to reinvent yourself.


  36. Guy, you are an individual and great thinker and have a talent that most photographers never touch. Your motives for becoming a landscape photographer came out of being moved by the land and otherwise inspired. My guess is that many people jump into whatever art they’re in for less meaningful inner reasons and thus have a hard time producing meaningful art. My father did not stick with one style, one genre and one art for commercial purposes, but because he was one of a fortunate few who had a deep sense of mission, unstoppable drive toward it and a love of what he did that endured because he paced himself well and didn’t burn out or need to reinvent himself to keep from growing stagnate. Today the masses are hoarding into photography by the droves, often just because it’s easy, sometimes because they think it might be a cool way to make a living, more often than might be imagined merely because they saw a great photograph they liked and wanted to see if they could copy it themselves, and quite commonly because they are jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak. I understand your points that diversity makes sense when driven by your own creative urges and that style is a byproduct of quality thought. However, you also have opened up yet another avenue of discussion regarding different art forms. Is it wise to diversify or reinvent yourself to the point of exploring not only different styles or subject matter, but different types of art altogether? Diversifying in any of these ways, it could be argued, will diminish your chances for recognition and accomplishment in a given field. However, I find it fascinating that there are some artists throughout history who have successfully pulled off each of these paths of reinvention. Are these possibly the exceptions to the rule though, just as you are one in a million yourself? I hope you or others will have further to say on this.

  37. A very good post and loved the following comments. Not sure I can add much to the conversation but wanted to let you know I appreciate reading all the views. I can spot some photographers work just by looking at them, some due to the subject and some due to their use and understanding of light or their post processing. I hope my photography is an on going process, taking on a new form as the changes occur within me as a person. Thanks everyone!

  38. Thanks, Monte. I believe our photography does evolve as we change. I’ve seen it over and over.

  39. I also find my heart is grounded in nature and yet I enjoy shooting the street scene or portrait. Not sure that makes anyone fall short of quality but it does limit spending more time with one area. I just like it all!

  40. Monte, OK, now that this discussion has gone this far, I’m going to come out and say that I align with you in this area, as far as pursuing the two different types of photography you mention. As I’ve written before and elsewhere, my roots are in nature. I was born in the wilderness and it is where I live. I tend to find solace in nature. Therefore, I enjoy landscape photography. However, I have also lived much of my life in cities. I like the city too. I love grit and grime. I relate to the poor because at one time in my life I was homeless myself, back before my parents were well off and I hit a low point. I relate to and empathize with the underbelly of life. The poor, the disadvantaged. I don’t want to exploit them, but to share their humanity. Thus I enjoy street photography and urban exploration too. Someday I hope to be a social activist photographer as much as an environmental activist and conservation photographer. This however, has more to do with subject matter than style. I believe I can maintain and develop my style and photograph a wide range of subjects. This may or may not be what Minor White was talking about. Perhaps, as Guy Tal mentioned, an artist could even go into other arts and maintain the same STYLE. I wonder if Ansel Adams played the piano the way he photographed. People have said he did. I have had people tell me that he could play the piano in a way that touched their soul more than “Moonrise” ever could.

  41. pj says:

    I still think White was basically right, though I think niche might be a better term for what he was getting at than style. It’s easier to get known and recognized for working in a particular niche.

    For what it’s worth, I think the whole idea of striving for a ‘style’ is putting the cart before the horse. It doesn’t come from a decision to work with certain subject matter. That’s simply picking a niche. Unless you’re a complete hack, your style will evolve and emerge through your commitment to your art, regardless of subject matter. What you photograph doesn’t constitute a style. How you photograph does — it’s how you see photographically, and it grows with time. It would be much harder to not have one.

    If you’re working honestly your style will reveal itself. And it will grow and change. What one chooses to do with their work is of course a personal choice.

  42. Thank you so much for returning, PJ. Great points all. I hope “young” photographers will heed your words of experience.

  43. Guy Tal says:

    David, I still fail to see the great importance of recognition or accomplishment when stacked up against such things as finding meaning in one’s life and work, being honest and at peace with what you do and why you do it. They may be important to pay the bills but why make them the primary drive? Seems to me like a sure recipe for a life of frustration and self doubt.

    “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. ” -Desiderata by Max Ehrman

  44. Hey there Guy, I appreciate your wisdom. I think that many photographers and other artists of all types, including myself, would agree with you in spirit and then act differently. What many of us do every day is essentially chasing recognition. It’s human to do so. However, I agree completely and have seen what you say borne out in my own experience. When I have sought out approval solely or as the most important objective, I have been the most unhappy. I hope that people will truly hear you. To apply your advice and seek primarily meaning and fulfillment rather than accolades takes a level of maturity that many people never reach. Some of us have had to do a lot of inner work to let go of all of those childhood needs that were not met. I still have much further to go. That people like you and my father are and were available as examples and reminders, makes the road that much easier. Thank you.

  45. Kevin Ebi says:

    Hi David – Social photography or environmental photography? Do both. Art is a creative endeavor, and being creative means following your heart and doing what you feel you should do, however different it may be, regardless of what everybody says you should do. You will likely find there are different audiences for both sets of work and you’ll probably have to work twice as hard to establish your work in two different fields (I think this is the crux of what Minor White is talking about), but so what? Everyone has an opinion, but they’re just opinions. Only you can say what’s right for you. In a creative field, I’m not sure there are right and wrong answers.

    Since you asked, here are the four images I talked about earlier. I certainly wouldn’t want my career judged by these four images alone, but I think they illustrate that you can approach a subject multiple ways for multiple audiences and still be true to yourself.

    Shorebirds, commercially successful:

    Shorebirds, artistic (photographed about 15 minutes earlier):

    Horsetails for science:

    Horsetails for art:

  46. Hi Kevin, Great images all. I am in accord with your image category designations as stated. As much as I feel the urge to pursue a couple different types of photography, I believe you may be right about working twice as hard to establish yourself when you are photographing in two different genres within the medium. It’s all about audience. I know Guy Tal and others including myself might say go for what you are drawn to, follow your vision, and so on, and they are right. However, it is worth considering audience too. I notice this even on my blog. I write my blog for photographers and collectors of photography. I also gear it to photographers and collectors of photography who also lean toward being “green.” However, if I focus too much on environmental subjects, I lose the interest of photographers and vice versa. A mix of about 60 percent photography content and 40 percent conservation content works, but too much farther in either direction begins to lose my main reader base. I also noticed this when I first went up on Twitter. Because of my own personal interests, I followed a large number of urban exploration photographers and organizations. None of them followed me back or had much interest in what I was doing. Why would they be interested in a blog with the name Landscape Photography Blogger? Why would they give a hoot, excuse me, a tweet, about a student and teaching associate of Ansel Adams? To get their attention I either would have to start another blog with some gritty urban name and run two blogs, or change the name and focus of the current blog, which would then discourage the nature and landscape photography fans. As it is I settled on following groups named something like Urban Gardens, Sustainable Cities and so on, because these subjects also interested me. My post called “What Urban Exploration Photography Learned From Nature” helped to bridge the gap somewhat, but was not enough to convert or establish many long-term readers. Based on these and other experiences, it seems to be much more of a challenge to establish a name in more than one field.

  47. Hi David.
    It took me a while to visit and read your post and work through all the fine and thoughtful replies.

    I am not, nor will I most likely ever be, a professional photographer…not that it would pain me to follow that path. As has been said by a couple of others, I am glad that I am an “amateur” so that I can pursue what is meaningful to me and makes me at peace with myself. Nature is the draw for me also and at the end of the day if I have captured an image that pleases me I sleep a bit better. I am fortunate that my style of photographing flowers or water, for instance, pleases others. Now whether this is in alignment with Minor’s advice or just happenstance is hard to say. I generally am not that cerebral about my imaging but more responsive to the moment and experience. I love my subjects and just try to show others the beauty I find in them.

    I’ve mentioned before that your father’s “Navajo Wildlands” was the first photography book I viewed for the purpose of appreciating photography and that certainly made an impression. But the most influence on my early development came from reading John Shaw’s series of books and, in my opinion at least, he is an excellent example of a very successful generalist….at least general in terms of nature photography. As one who is more a naturalist photographer being a generalist fits better for my style and substance.

    When debating the wisdom of comments made by folks such as Minor White and Guy Tal, my opinion is a whisper in the wind, but I would have to say I’m more in agreement with Guy’s words. When one is fulfilled by his/her work and is driven with a love for their subject then the art will be more successful as well.

  48. Thank you, Steve for sharing some of your process and for your thoughts on “Navajo Wildlands” and on John Shaw, who is on my “to read” list. Besides you and I agreeing with Guy Tal on pursuing what you love, David DuChemin said something similar in VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography. My father said his life was better because he pursued what he loved rather than monetary gain. I always agreed with him, but sometimes played devil’s advocate. I might ask Dad, ‘why can’t I have both? Do they have to be mutually exclusive?’ And of course Dad had a reply to that…and on it goes…but if it were one OR the other, certainly, doing what you love is the higher ideal. I agree with that…

  49. Charles says:

    Your comment about establishing the name in more than one field – I agree to a certain degree! It has been a “struggle” to find a niche especially here in Texas! I have decided to broaden my styles, types of photography. By taking photos of landscape, architecture, and travel, I am opening up my chances of “getting hired!”
    Oh, and by the way – nice B&W photo, it should be made into a postcard!

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