5 Aug
2014
Ian Plant By
Posted in: Creativity    42 Comments

Say Anything

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.”—”Say Anything” (1989)

If I were to pick a single actor who defines my generation, I think the nod would have to go to John Cusack. Yes, this tells you Millennials out there how old I really am, or those Boomers how young (I’m right smack-dab in the middle of Gen X, for those who care to know). Although I much prefer Cusack as the affably violent Martin Blank in Grosse Pointe Blank than the sappily sentimental Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, his delivery of the line quoted above was one of the finest moments of his career (yes, even better than that iconically stupid boom box scene). This quote inspires my post today.

"Something Blue" - White Sands National Monument, USA (by Ian Plant)

“Something Blue”—White Sands National Monument, USA. Canon 5DIII, 24mm, ISO 100, f/11, 30 seconds.

It’s a constant struggle for any artist to define his or her work. It’s not an easy thing to do. With so many people taking pictures these days, it is very difficult to do anything original or meaningful. And maybe the world is full of food and sex and spectacle and we’re all just hurtling towards an apocalypse, so none of it really matters anyway. Nevertheless, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do, and which direction I think my work should take. And I bet you do too.

Sometimes, however, it is easier to say what you don’t want to do. So here it goes.

I don’t want to follow any gimmicks or trends. For that matter, I don’t want to start any gimmicks or trends. And I certainly don’t want to hop from one gimmick to the next, trying to stay ahead of the copycats. There’s an old saying: if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it. Well, if it is easy to copy, then trust me: everyone will be doing it. Just like the grunge HDR fad, the Orton glow fad, the pictures of the back of your camera LCD fad, and countless other fads that have come and gone (or come and stayed) over the past few years. That’s what makes them fads: they’re all flash and no bang, superficial accoutrements lacking in any real artistic depth.

"Avian Artistry" - Dorob National Park, Namibia (by Ian Plant)

“Avian Artistry”—Dorob National Park, Namibia. Canon 70D, 232mm, ISO 400, f/22, 1/320 second.

I don’t want to be constantly trying to wow people with “in your face” moments of over-the-top epic awesomeness, producing nothing less than the visual equivalent of a speeding train driven straight into the ocular cavities of viewers. I’m not interested in only photographing the most insane sunsets and sunrises with bold lines radiating from the foreground leading to majestic mountain backdrops just so I can maximize the number of OMGs I get from people I’ve never met on Facebook.

I don’t want to be one of the Photoshop Wonderboys that have come to dominate online forums, each competing to outdo one another by coming up with the next twisted and contorted digital darkroom caricature of the reality witnessed by the eye and captured by the camera (although more and more these days, reality is thrown out altogether). I’m not interested in being a Lance Armstrong of photography, pumping my photographs full of digital performance enhancements and lying through my teeth about it, all in the name of maximizing the ego rush that comes from having dozens/hundreds/thousands of adoring (and unsuspecting) online fans. I’m certainly not interested in cartoon photography.

"Awakening" - Yellowstone National Park, USA (by Ian Plant)

“Awakening”—Yellowstone National Park, USA. Canon 5DIII, 105mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1.3 seconds.

Instead, I want to capture something that is real. The photographic process can be revealing—it can reveal the inner essence, or a facet of truth unseen by undiscerning eyes. It can reveal true beauty, and the art which spontaneously arises from the random interactions of our chaotic world. I want to celebrate the subtle moments, and not just the ridiculously incredible. Jacques-Henri Lartigue once said that “photography to me is catching a moment which is passing, and which is true.” Yeah, what he said—that’s what I want to do. Simply put, I want to be a photographer—capturing the magic, rather than concocting it on the computer.

Above all, I want to produce something which means something—if not to others, than at least to me, but hopefully to others as well. I’ve got something to say with my photography, and although I don’t need to shout it, I’m hoping it will nonetheless speak volumes. I want to be the still waters which run deep. I want to plunge down the rabbit hole to see where it leads. I want to strive for a deeper mastery. I am looking for a “dare to be great” situation. I want to be the tip of the spear, rather than just another dull edge. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

Of course, anyone can say anything. Doing is what matters. So let’s get out there—we have our work cut out for us.

P.S. Extra points will be awarded to anyone who can identify all of the bonus Lloyd Dobler quotes in this post!

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Ian PlantAbout Ian Plant (395 Posts)

Ian Plant's photographs and instructional articles have appeared in a number of books, calendars, and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography. Ian writes a regular blog column for Outdoor Photographer online, and he is the author of numerous instructional eBooks and videos. Ian leads several photo tours each year.


42 Comments

  • One hundred percent with you on that. I think about my work a lot. It’s very difficult to find a way of doing something, or saying something, photographically that hasn’t been said and done already by 10 million+ other people with cameras. I did not say photographers. Finding a different way of expressing an idea is what separates the artist from the pixel slinger though. That’s the hard part. I don’t have a quick solution but I do understand the problem.

  • Excellent post and timely. For me it is validating to see other photographers of varying calibers going through the same challenges and, even more, making the same choice to go the road less traveled.

    I was just considering this morning the social media stir fry of photography, especially nature and landscape. I even catch myself zipping through G+ at mach speeds. I wonder if the situation will ever change. What I do know, though, is that change is only possible when people have choices. If we want to change the current landscape of photography, we have to be the ones to show people that there is more to it. Without that they will never challenge their own thinking. Not everyone will take the time to reconsider the value of photography but luckily there are enough people out there catering to the masses. Change begins with a catalyst, and even the smallest contribution by a single photographer adds strength to the collective effort and moves us closer to the tipping point. After all, that how the current state of photography evolved into what it is today.

  • “I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph.”

    That’s a Kesey, not a Dobler. Apropos, though.

    Dobler? Another movie I have to watch….before or after the Zombie one you always mention and I always forget?

    • Ian Plant

      Lance, you have to watch Zombieland. Don’t bother with Say Anything – it’s just slightly elevated 80s teenage angst garbage. Zombieland, on the other hand, is pretty damn good.

  • Well we have talked about this over a beer and burger on Oscars so you know were I stand in this. :) Yes completely on your side here Ian.
    My images is sometimes the opposite to the internet trend. I do love the subtle colors and motifs.
    Love the fact that you brought this subject to the blog!

    • Ian Plant

      And I love the fact that you mentioned Oscars. Now I’m hungry!

      • Ron Coscorrosa

        My affection for a burger is directly proportional to the number of times Ass is used as an adjective in describing it.

        I, too, miss Oscar’s.

  • I absolutely love the ” Something Blue” image. The different shades if color plus the leading line create a simple yet powerful image. Even though blues are identified as cooling colors, j think you’ve created a powerful image. :) great work :)

  • Well said. A good “part 2″ to Ron’s post from last week.

    Awakening is gorgeous/dramatic/moving.

    And yes…Zombieland is fantastic!

  • One of the main reasons I respect you as a photographer is because you have done exactly what you describe in your post. I wish I could find that same confidence to pursue my own path with less concern about what everyone else is doing. I agree with one of the comments above that it is harder to do when starting out since attracting attention is necessary to make a business out of one’s photography.

    Beyond the actual photographs, I think I am more disillusioned with the culture that has developed in recent years related to these trends. In many ways, it feels like high school all over again and that culture seems so out of line with all of the things I find appealing about landscape photography. The competitiveness, the cliques, campaigning for likes and faves, bragging and lack of humility, the view that what is popular is good and everything else is boring, private groups for the cool kids instead of public learning forums for sharing (like NPN used to be), becoming a landscape photography idol with 10 photos in your portfolio (all #1 on 500px!) that you took on a workshop that look exactly like the leader’s photos, cluelessness and a complete lack of curiosity about the photographers who came before us and blazed this trail we are all on, etc…

    Thanks for the great post (minus the movie references that I do not understand) and saying what a lot of us are thinking.

    • Ian Plant

      Now I know I am old – I thought I was making movie references that would be universally recognized, but as it turns out, anyone under the age of 35 has no idea what I’m talking about. I guess you’re more part of the “Titanic” generation – maybe I’ll quote some lines from that movie in my next post! Admit it, you went to see that movie like 15 times in the theatre, am I right?

      • Actually no, I only saw it once and did not like it. I am not a chick flick peep. :) I would say I am part of the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off generation.

        • Ian Plant

          I guess Ferris appeals to all generations! :)

  • Amen brother, BIG amen!

  • Coming from a fellow “X generationer” you’ve hit the nail on the head there. The Lance Armstrong analogy couldn’t be any more appropriate. I think what’s happening is social media’s ability to twist everyone’s natural want for recognition, acceptance, and validation to obscene levels and it’s being reinforced by the immediate feedback on your favorite network in the form of “likes\favs) and from the feedback you see “popular” photographer’s get. Subsequently folks then try to emulate that photographer to get all the likes\faves and the rat race begins. It’s easy to lose track on why we fell in love with photography in the first place. In all honestly I’ve found it all just creates a lot of noise, pretty noise, but noise none the less. I try to take it for what it is. Sometimes I’ll use it for inspiration (for good or bad) but I gave up a long time ago trying to emulate anyone. It’s just too much work and just detracts\distracts from the reason I fell in love with photography. It turns it into another job to keep up with postings and new content to keep those likes and friend counts increasing. And more and more it’s like shouting in a room full of thousands of people – your never going to get heard so why try. If photography was my business I might feel different but it’s not so I try to stay away from that. I honestly don’t mind some of the behind the camera shots, some see it as bragging, while I see it as sharing the excitement of the moment and I’m cool with that. In the end I find much more value and satisfaction in the social aspects of sitting around a fire and talking about the “epic” shot that day with my buddies vs spending time with my “friends” scrolling down page after page on [insert your favorite social network here]. Anyway good stuff man.

  • Excellent words Ian, I’ve been thinking along the same lines as you for some time, I just haven’t been able to put my thoughts into words quite so eloquently as you have. There’s certainly a lot of ‘ Lance Armstrong’s ‘ out there these days, I feel the ‘sci fi / CGI’ processors have caused irreparable damage to landscape photography. It’s no wonder few people are selling prints, nobody can believe in their authenticity.

  • Ron Coscorrosa

    It’s like your reading my mind, if my mind was eloquent.

    By far the best statement on the current state of photography that I have read.

    • Ron Coscorrosa

      “your reading my mind” – How did I manage to co-author a few e-books?

  • Inspiring post Ian!
    I guess when it is all said and done if you don’t create art to nurture your soul it is unlikely it will nurture anyone’s, outside of the image’s 15 second ADHD internet life.
    What I find quite amusing in the photography communities of today is that most everyone thinks that their way of photography and post processing is 100% right and everyone else does too much or too little . The fact that the only person’s art you have the power to improve – is your own – seems lost in the trophy hunting.

  • “Adult World” is a must see for Cusack fans. This from a Boomer who has been lugging a camera around ever since the Army turned him into a photographer way back in the mid ’60s.

  • Ian Plant

    Okay, so since no one identified the bonus Lloyd Dobler quotes from the movie, here they are:

    “And maybe the world is full of food and sex and spectacle and we’re all just hurtling towards an apocalypse.”

    “I am looking for a ‘dare to be great’ situation.”

    I’m profoundly disappointed in all of you.

    • George Stocking

      oh yeah – we’re all hanging our heads over here just thinking about it…..if only we could stop the wailing and gnashing of teeth…

      • Ian Plant

        PROFOUNDLY disappointed . . .

  • Besides Arnold’s and Dirty Harry’s quotes the one I remember most is “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Boomers who are in love with photography should be able to relate to that line.

    • Ian Plant

      Love Story? Ouch. That’s even worse than Say Anything!

  • I’ve only recently started on my journey as a photographer, but I want to say thank you for creating such a real website, and more importantly, such an authentic body of work. It has definitely inspired me as I move towards what I want to express through my own work. And yes, I am looking for more, I’m looking for that “dare to be great situation”.

  • Wow Ian, this is definitely one of the best posts I’ve read on your blog. I agree with everything you said (I can’t see how many could disagree actually). I go even further I think in sort of rejecting the idea of looking for the abstract in landscapes and nature scenes. But I want that abstraction to come through in my photography anyway, just don’t want to consciously look for it. I’ve had a couple pieces of horrible luck lately that have taken photography away from me, at least for awhile. But I’ll get back to it. Meantime I’ve been thinking about things just like this. By the way, the follow-up to this post is how you manage to make a living without pandering to the popular online mania. Like you said, thinking and saying these things is one thing. It takes courage (and maybe a truly spartan lifestyle) to actually live it. I really like these images, and I know I wouldn’t be a follower of your work if you didn’t regularly do images like these along with the “OMG” images of the southern Andes, etc. Keep up the good work and good luck!

    • Ian Plant

      “By the way, the follow-up to this post is how you manage to make a living without pandering to the popular online mania.” Good idea – I think I will do this!

  • Interesting thoughts from a guy many would love to copy. Isn’t being an inspiration and mentor, really creating ones own legacy in a craft so saturated by crappy shooters and more with talented editors really what you’ve already done? I draw my inspiration from a small core of amazing shooters. And enjoy what a world of others are doing. I’ve read the first chapter of Visual Flow probably close to twenty times. I use the teaching to mold my thought processes behind my lens. Through my viewfinder with little to no thought. I used to always say the world is full of compositions it’s up to us to show everyone what we see. Be true to your vision and yourself when we tell our stories through imagery.

  • Thanks, Ian, for a great read! No truer words have been written, and the images are just amazing! When asked what photographer you most respect and aspire to, my answer is always Ian Plant.

  • Good thoughts, and close to my own. Thanks.

  • Enjoyed your blog once again Ian. I not only caught the “lines” from ‘Say Anything’ but I am a proud owner of a Boom Box that is exactly as the one in the movie, and yes it still works :) I love that sentimental mush movie! The classic boom box scene made me a John Cusack fan forever.
    And now onto your blog, stay true to your convictions. Fame can be a real test for what kind of character a person has ( not is but has). Just wanting your ego stroked can lead to many down falls, I don’t “feel” that happening to you Ian, at least I hope not. Remain true.
    But then there is also a reality about life, sometimes, the real awards in life won’t come on this earth nor even be noticed on this earth, it’s easy to lose track of what’s really important in the long haul. That’s a whole other discussion on a whole different site:).
    I enjoy your blogs, you are not only a great photographer to the beauty of Gods’ Creation but you are a fun, insightful writer.

    God continue to Bless your journey Ian.

    Jeanie

  • Well said. I just had to chuckle though. Before I ever read I said, let me guess, Canon Mk5iii…sure enough. That to me for some silly reason in itself is a major copy. At least with all the landscape wow wonders whom I no longer press the like on their pages. Enough already.

  • So many people seem to think that a ‘shouty’ photography which has a high initial impact is the way to go. Unfortunately you’ve often seen everything that the image can offer in less than 10 seconds. I much prefer images that ‘whisper’ in your ear far longer than this and have more to say long term. Such a shame the shouty photographers are so loud that so many of the whispers get drowned out.

  • I’m so pleased that someone with your standing in photography has made their thoughts on this subject public Ian. You wouldn’t believe the amount of ‘hate mail’ I have received when I have openly voice similar opinions on certain forums. It seems nowadays that if you don’t shoot into the sun as it peeps over or under the horizon then you obviously aren’t very good!
    500px is all that really needs to be said on the subject. I’m hoping in the long run that it is just a passing fad and folk will learn to see and appreciate the real light that nature occasionally offers us as photographers.

    • Ian Plant

      Hi Nigel, good to see your name pop up here. Yeah, 500px . . . where the Kings of Cartoon Photography reign supreme . . . love it or hate it, I’ve got a feeling that aggressive computer manipulation of photography is here to stay, and it’s likely to get more extreme, not less! I really don’t know what that means for dinosaurs like us. Evolve or die? I hope not! But I bet T-Rex said the same thing right before the end . . .

  • I thank you from the bottom of my 76 year old heart, Ian. I have found my hero! I’m so happy to know there is still someone who wants to show the beauty of our world without polluting it with all the digital effects that so clutter most of the work I see nowadays. You are my muse and I thank you!

  • You mean I don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. anymore?! I have to admit, as a hobbyist, I’m still in the “shoot the sunburst and learn how to process images” stage but your article encourages me to keep searching and finding the unique lighting and opportunities that nature serves up in the most unexpected places and times! Of course, I’ll keep shooting the sun rises and sunsets until the wonder is gone, which hopefully will never happen. Thanks for a great article. I’m a big fan of your work!

  • great article and outstanding photos! these are important things, and I agree with the most of your point, except i think you are maybe too harsh with the new generation of photographers or new photo genres.
    I’m 36, I started with film and hated/refused Photoshop in the beginning, so I guess I am halfway between the old and the new generation, and I think I manage to understand them both.
    You are right about the trends/overdone processing, but I think it would be fair to mention that some (very few) of those new Photoshop wonderboys managed to create something great, something new, something very different, and really contributed positively to artistic photography. And even if their pictures are really processed and “in the face”, some of them are based on really spectacular light conditions, and the most of the processing is to convey that challenging light, rather than to alter it. And some of them are good enough to do these tricks without becoming cartoon-ish or caricature. I repeat, these are indeed very few, but worth mentioning that there are exceptions.

    Also congrats for your other article, “Fat stacks of cheddar”. That picture “Vesturhorn” have some genious composition.

  • Late to the fray on this one but only just discovered your blog so I can be excused ;)

    Firstly, thanks for putting so eloquently what I am feeling. I’m a boomer but still don’t recognise the quotes but then I’ve never seen the film either. However I’ve struggled most of my life with hearing folks tell me I must have a goal or I must have a hero or I must know where I’m going. But the only thing I must know is why I take & process photographs. I want them to represent the reality of what I saw as best I can. As you put it “to capture something that is real” – thanks for the extra words around that which have helped clarify who / what I am with my camera and now I have an answer… I’ll tell folks to come and read this post.

  • I came here because Stuart above suggested I read this post. So I did. Hi Stuart! . I am a Gen Xer and as such my memory is beginning to fade. I am hopeless at remembering movie quotes, maybe it is time for me to re-watch Grosse Pointe Blank because I remember enjoying it at the time. I think your images are stunning. They clearly represent your goal.
    I am one of those people that sometimes like to use a lot of photoshop. I don’t consider myself on a bandwagon, or a copy cat. I am just being me in a different way to the way in which you are being you, that’s all. I am a story teller. I want to invent stories that which touch peoples’ souls or stories that make people think about the power of possibility, or stories which encourage a belief in magic. I think there is plenty of room on this planet both for people who seek the truth in its purest form, and for people who seek to reflect it through their own creations. Thank you for your post and sharing your thoughts.

  • Wow, this set me thinking. You’re quite right. I shudder to think how close I just came to purchasing the latest — hm, never mind. :-) Yes, once in a while I use a bit of HDR Grunge for a very specific type of photo, so I don’t feel guilty about that, but when you see photographers in whose work this sort of technique becomes a default, an end in itself, that’s a problem. And the plethora of “in-your-face” landscape shots that all begin to look alike after a while. With the Internet bombarding us with all these things it becomes a great challenge to maintain one’s artistic integrity — it almost makes you feel like an anachronism to do so sometimes! Thank you for this post. I’m going to print it out as a reminder.