Author: David Ward
Publisher: Argentum (Aurum Press)
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
There are plenty of photography books that instruct on technique. There are fewer showing how technique can be used to disclose vision. Fewer still are those showing how to develop vision. David Ward’s first book,”Landscape Within”, is a part of this latter group.
Now Ward has returned with further ruminations upon this topic. Although Ward is primarily a landscape photographer, emphasizing the intimate landscape, all photographers can benefit from reading his books. Like the first book, this one consists of a portfolio of Ward’s photographs, which, while related to the essays, illustrate his points generally, rather then being tied to any specific point. Ward says the essays illustrate what he considers to be the three essential elements of his work: simplicity, mystery and beauty. The fourth essay, called “Questions or Answers”, suggests that there are two different types of photographs (or perhaps photographers – I’m not sure): Those that raise questions and those that provide answers. Ward also provides useful technical data on his pictures, and to appease some critics, but not me, information on where photographs were taken.
Ward’s pictures are magnificent. His essays proved thought-provoking and, sometimes, troubling.
In the simplicity essay, he urges the importance of simplification to the photographer; most thoughtful photographers will agree with him. The second essay, which I found the most interesting, averred that he sought to provide an air of mystery in his work through the manipulation of scale, spatial ambiguity, lighting and incongruity. Hopefully, after perusing this chapter, one will explore one’s own work but I wish there had been even more discussion of each of these topics. I do admit to wondering why Ward limited ambiguity to spatial relationships, but on the other hand he stimulated me to consider this issue and I expect that if he succeeds in provoking introspection, the essay will have achieved its goal.
I was quite disturbed by the chapter on beauty. Even though he was no more successful in defining beauty than Hume or Kant or Hegel (I reread their work in “Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of the Arts” edited by David Goldblatt and Lee Brown) I was most disappointed by his attack on post-modernist photographers, especially his singling out of Andreas Gursky, one of the most accessible of these artists. While I am not a fan of the post-modernists, I believe that photographers can expand their boundaries by trying to push beyond their own genre, rather then rejecting others that do not conform to their own internal model and expectations. To fail to do so is to relegate one’s self to taking the same pictures, over and over.
I found this attack particularly surprising in light of Ward’s assertion in the final essay that we grow the most as photographers and human beings when we make difficult picture with which the viewer (and perhaps the artist) are required to grapple. (Those are my words, not Ward’s)
If one has to choose between “Landscape Within” and “Landscape Beyond” I would recommend the former. But since I believe that the artist in us will be continually challenged to better his or her work by thinking about and confronting it, I see no reason why the serious photographer should not read both.