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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Changing With The Times

How a landscape photographer reinvented himself for the digital era

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A lot can change in 30 years—just ask landscape photographer Carr Clifton. He has endured a turbulent stock-photography marketplace and revolutionized workflow to find himself, creatively speaking, right back where he began. As a newbie photographer in the early 1970s, Clifton simply wanted to photograph beautiful places. Today that same desire pushes him a little farther into the great outdoors.

“America’s changed a lot,” Clifton says. “Our culture has changed, and the population has changed; the regulations have changed. The amount of photos out there has changed. All of that has an effect on someone like myself. Some places have been overphotographed, and so some of the photographers who have been around a lot don’t visit those areas any more.

Winter Sunrise “I’m aiming more toward just the visual: not telling a story, not describing a place, but just making a great photograph, whatever it takes. Whatever works is whatever works. It might be that nobody even knows what the image is, but the colors, shapes, forms and textures create a feeling in you, though you don’t know why. It’s like music without lyrics. There’s a melody there and it makes you feel a certain way, but you don’t know why. It’s just sound waves. These are just light waves.”
“The national parks have been overphotographed,” he continues. “I think there are still photographs there; there’s still a lot of great beauty, definitely, but there’s a certain style that’s been overused. More of the pictures are so evident—the postcard scenics and poster-type imagery. I guess it has just kind of pushed me to the side, looking for something different. If you crowd yourself with shooting the obvious, you’re missing everything else. You only have so much time. If that light gets great and you just shoot the first thing that you see because it’s so obvious, you’re missing the real jewels of imagery. There are always pictures that I bypass because they’re just too blatant. They’re too obvious. I think if you just dig a little deeper and move in a little closer or crop something out in a different way, it comes out so much nicer. I’m always trying to push the envelope.”

While the younger Clifton was simply happy to photograph beautiful landscapes wherever he could find them, the seasoned Clifton needs a bit more of a challenge. When you’re just starting out, every vista is new and exciting. When you’ve seen it all before, you tend to look for something different. And that could be just about anything.

“I’m absolutely looking for something different,” Clifton says, “trying to get the experience heightened, no doubt about that. I need new material. I need to see something I’ve never seen before. A type of tree maybe that I’ve never seen in person. Just a new place. I love going back to places and rephotographing; that’s a learning process all on its own. But boy, having new terrain to explore is really a creative starter. It really gets your creative juices flowing.”

The most important thing for Clifton these days is getting those creative juices flowing in a way that personally pleases him. It sounds simple, but there was a time when many stock photographers were beholden to their agencies. The landscape shooters learned what sold well, and like Pavlovian dogs, they knew what to shoot to make a buck.


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