A Doorway to Including More of Life

Psychedelic Shed Doors ©Lynne Buchanan

The workshop I attended with Sam Abell at the Santa Fe Workshops ended last Friday night.  The five days I spent with Sam not only helped me to improve my photography and take it to the next step as advertised, it also changed the way I think about and connect with life and my views towards people.  This is not surprising, as one of his most famous books is entitled A Photographic Life.  For Sam and for me, photography is not about standing on the outside looking in.  It is about being all in, with both your conscious and unconscious mind, responding, thinking and making images that reflect your unique perspective on being alive at this moment in time.  Photography is the best way I have found to connect with what is and express that emotional connection. 

That being said, I realized towards the end of the week that I have been excluding an entire realm of existence from my work––other human beings and in fact any signs of the hand of man.  Sam told us he began his career romanticizing the American Landscape and would not show any power lines or unsightly blemishes in his scenes.  I would not even show buildings, unless they were ruins indicating our powerlessness in the face of the supreme power of Mother Nature.   On a hike up Sunrise Mountain one morning, I had a profound realization regarding the dangers of overly romanticizing life.  I realized that since I see and understand life through my photography, excluding this realm of existence in my work means I am only partially connecting with humanity in my life. 

Will I completely jump ship and focus exclusively on Sam's idea of Modern American Realism?  I doubt it as I still feel more connected with nature than things, but I now recognize that on a philosophical and spiritual level I have been in denial that other people are here to stay, and that the earth is not just inhabited by beautiful flowers and trees or the wonderful bison, grizzly bears, elk and moose I photographed in the parks of Glacier, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons.  I also saw how sometimes the hand of man creates things of beauty, even when they don’t appear that way on the surface.  Beautiful images can be made when rigorous seeing helps organize the scene to create a meaningful message, whether photographing pristine nature or man-made environments.  And Perhaps, combining nature with aspects of modern civilization in my work can eventually point to a way we can establish a more harmonious mode of existence.  I trust the philosophical underpinnings will become more explicit as I step through this new doorway and delve into a more inclusive photographic life. 

I wish to thank Sam Abell and the Santa Fe Workshops for creating the space where such profound exploration can take place.  The workshop and my exposure to Sam and his body of work exceeded all my expectations.  My fellow workshop participants were also incredible and everyone made very compelling images.  The synergy of our seeing helped everyone achieve a higher level of photographic understanding.

Sam Making a Point to Peter on Location in the Albuquerque Train Station
©Lynne Buchanan