One of the things I do when returning to the UK is make a quick visual survey of a newsagent’s magazine rack in the forlorn hope that there might be something beyond a mere catalogue of cameras that will occupy my attention for more then five minutes.
Sadly, this is usually doomed to failure for there is a seemingly relentless repetition of images demonstrating competence but a slavish adherence to a handful of styles set by a few such as Joe Cornish, David Noton and Charlie Waite who do it far better anyway. There are currently far too many ‘creations’ using HDR imagery that have that look of bland artificiality – very few people can use the technique convincingly so the general level of imagery is about as subtle as a child smearing Marmite on a window pane. Maybe with the passage of time people will use a lighter touch as has been done with the over-use of sharpening…one can hope.
So, how wonderfully refreshing to see image after superb image from someone who has mastered the gift of capturing the ‘spirit of place’ in a landscape…or indeed of anything else he does. The name, which will be known to many, is Guy Tal whose combination of technical mastery and artistic vision is superb. Here continues the distinguished American lineage of photographers able to capture images of the majesty of American landscape that leave you open-mouthed. Sure, many iconic images exist of the Colorado deserts showing their landforms, colours and ruggedness but this book is special for one man’s love of the place is apparent in every shot. Images of sandstone features such as slot canyons appear time after time on magazine covers and have become, to some extent, a cliché…yes, a beautiful one but a cliché nevertheless.
Guy Tal has the uncanny ability to take even the most well-worked of sites and to reveal something different through his use of light, the time of day, angle of view – all those compositional elements combined with the subtlety of a master creator.
If you think this is a mere eulogy with florid language then please take a look at this remarkable ebook – a jungle telegraph (Erwin Christis to Niall Benvie to me…) had me accessing the site and parting with cash via Paypal within seconds.
Guy Tal is also a thoughtful, articulate writer whose short descriptions and longer section breaks outline clearly his philosophies whether they are of conservation or of ‘art’ in the hands of a photographer. Here is someone who uses minimal manipulation – just enough, in fact, to recreate the image and to restore any losses in the taking but not to change it. You might want to think again if you mistakenly believe that the only way you can capture a full tonal range with the digital process is by merging a set of images with HDR.
The Tal image-making philosophy is set out below…
“….I strongly believe that photography is the most restrictive of the visual arts but at the same time also has the potential to make the most impact with the viewer for one simple reason: photographs have a binding connection with real events, real elements, real light, and real moments in time. Any obvious departure from these realities will cause an image to be dismissed outright regardless of any other aesthetic qualities it may possess. The photographic artist’s tools are primarily well-crafted composition and careful adjustments of the captured image within very narrow margins…”
In the course of my own work I view thousands of images weekly (often weakly…) – many of them superbly crafted and very umm, er nice: but no more than that. Just occasionally, I encounter something truly inspirational and that is why I have posted this for I found going through the ebook breathtaking. Here you have 146 pages of images, each of which is remarkable in itself, and it will cost you just $9.95 though I bet that what you, like me, will learn just by looking is immeasurable.
Not unreasonably, Guy asks that you buy the book rather than copy it since this is part of the way he earns a crust…but for those who genuinely cannot afford to pay he is prepared to supply a copy free. I would hope that deters the freeload merchants who believe everything should be free as long as they don’t have to put in any effort. Things like this do not just happen: it is a fusion of great talent, perception and dedication. As you may have guessed I rather like this ebook – it shows that unlike the printed page an ebook can positively glow thanks to backlighting rather than be viewed by reflected light.