I occasionally worry that my tendency to analyze—some might call that an understatement—could be a negative influence on my work, causing me to lose spontaneity or fall into one rut or another. But I’ve now proven to my satisfaction that any effect is both unconscious and ineffective. Here’s how it happened.
Last early Sunday morning I went wandering about the northern Gallatin Valley, which is to me what Hockney’s East Yorkshire is to him, namely the local cultivated landscape. I was well past halfway through when the idea come to me that I had been photographing with an eye to flat patterns of tone, broad swaths of dark and light, with accents here and there. Gone was the three-dimensional landscape, extending into deep space. I was succeeding in the effort commented on last week: I was thinking about the two-dimensional picture, and without even remembering to try.
That’s the thought I still had with me two days later as I sat down to process images at the computer. But as I worked, the realization slowly grew that I had not only not abolished projective space, I had even enhanced it beyond the usual. The bright, hazy air between the foreground and the Bridger mountains, lit from behind, produced a tremendous aerial perspective, which seemed to be strengthened further by the relative unformity of the recession in bands moving up the picture.
I found this light-space effect particularly interesting because it seemed to be the opposite of what I had thought of as convention that light could highlight an important foreground element, which then stands clearly forward of a darker background. Looking into that a bit, it appears that landscape masters such as Poussin and Claude Lorrain were actually more subtle, typically using light more surgically to create a receding succession of brighter areas.
Notice that in these photographs, the mountains are not so far away as they were for June in the desert, and I had no missing middle distance problems, although there were some hidden stretches in the first three images. Rather, it is the mountains that almost disappear, remaining just faintly there like a Cheshire grin. You don’t so much see the mountains as the air before them. (Hockney, by the way, seems to eschew aerial perspective altogether, along with other familiar methods.)
So much for knowing what I was doing. But that begs the question of whether my current understanding is any more accurate. Do these photographs in fact give you a sense of depth as strongly as they do me? And do you sometimes change your mind completely about how you think your artwork works?