Monday, December 6, 2010

A Picture’s Worth

Awhile back, I visited The Annenberg Space for Photography. Its current exhibit, Extreme Exposure, had just opened, and I’d driven a little out of my way to take a look at five photographers’ work captured during their routine, but wild, adventures.

Although born out of pain, I found Clyde Butcher’s work to be romantic, probably because black-and-white prints and bulky equipment will always raise a touch of nostalgia. His pictures were absolutely breathtaking, especially when viewed in the large-screened theater. There’s a stillness that almost seems out of place since nature is supposed to be active. The effect was like that of a landscape oil or watercolor painting and a bit eerie.

Michael Nichols and Paul Nicklen are two National Geographic photographers who capture a lot of wildlife in action. The outcomes of their daring adventures were amazing and even humorous at times, but also extremely preachy. Reading one caption after another about endangered animal populations or climate change, I sensed that these photographers, including Butcher to a lesser extent, felt an apparent need to justify doing what they loved. They weren’t artists for art’s sake but activists who’d found a successful medium for advertisement. It’s sad because this tended to cheapen their prints, making them appear no different from any random lower-quality animal shot combined with the same automated conservation message.

Finally, there were volcanic eruptions captured by the globe-trotting couple Stephen and Donna O’Meara, founders of Volcano Watch International. Their portion of the exhibit included photographs of the recent Eyjafjallajökull eruption and volcano-exploring equipment. The color palates captured in many of their shots were beautiful. Who knew that smoke, molten lava, and ash could come in such a variety of colors?

The common theme uniting these photographers was their willingness to “push the limits,” so to speak, to get amazing shots. Learning the stories behind their work made me realize how accustomed I am to seeing “extreme” photography. Having seen the Space’s exhibit, I hope the next time I view such pictures I’ll appreciate the hard work and risk taking that went behind the camera lens.