I recently spent five days in California at a photography workshop with National Geographic Photographer Frans Lanting. Frans is a master at what he does and in my opinion is the top nature photographer alive today (if not of all time). He has a unique view of the natural world and is able to show that perspective through his photography.
I first heard his name ten years ago or so when I went to The George Eastman House Museum in Rochester, NY where they had on display an exhibit of his. It was striking to me to see how pictures of nature could be turned into art. At the time I had no interest in taking nature photos myself, but within a couple years that interest grew and I rediscovered Frans and his work. Since that time I have always wanted to participate in one of his workshops, but it wasn’t until this year that I finally had the opportunity.
The workshop’s function wasn’t merely to teach people how to make a better photograph, but also how to tell a story with those photographs, this was the overall goal and assignment of the workshop. I wanted to do something abstract, but I was having trouble finding what my story could be. Early on in the workshop I sat down with Frans to go through my pictures. One jumped out at him, it was a picture of a lizard (seen below). He pointed out the skin around it’s neck which it had not yet shed and the way it seemed to be emerging out of obscurity and into light and focus. He suggested the idea of emergence as a possible story and suggested I go through the rest of my photos looking for that theme, whether it be light emerging from darkness or even the emergence of life.
One of our field trips took us to a beach in Big Sur where the wind and surf crashed into the shore relentlessly. I saw emergence everywhere. Waves emerging from wind, rock emerging from earth, and energy emerging from the interaction of all of those elements. I stood on the beach and watched as wave after wave met the giant boulders protruding out of the sand causing powerful displays of force. I took some pictures of this in the harsh afternoon sun and began forming an idea for a shot I could take at sunset. When the light was right I kicked off my shoes, rolled up my pant legs, grabbed my camera and flash, and waded into the surf. Try after try got me the shot seen below (along with a couple of very numb feet). As I walked out of the water I glanced up at the cliff top and saw Frans giving me his signature thumbs up.
As those of you who own the book can attest; I’ve photographed decay, I even fought a weak battle with myself to rejuvenate it as a new project. After Decay was released there was discussion of doing a follow up, Regeneration… or something along those lines, it never happened. But now I have a new word and a new idea; Emergence. I’m tired of seeing things as they deteriorate or sit stagnant. I’m interested in growth, new life. Light emerging from darkness, energy emerging from interaction, one life emerging from another, etc. And I can’t help but look at myself, each time I travel I return a better photographer, more confident in what I can do. Is it too obvious to compare myself to the lizard, shedding old skin for new, coming into the light, obtaining focus?
Ten years before I met him Frans Lanting gave me inspiration. Within a day of knowing him he gave me direction and a word; emergence.