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Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Ian Plant’s landscapes aren’t abstracts and they aren’t entirely literal. Plant uses uniquely photographic techniques and tools to transform the scene, and his images end up going far beyond a documentary shot.

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"Primordial Night.” Taken from a boat using a tripod with extension legs in seven feet of water, this eight-minute night exposure captures clouds streaking across the sky in Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia.
Plant relies on his creative passion and a willingness to use uniquely photographic techniques to transform the land into Dreamscapes. Rather than relying solely on the environment to dictate a shot, he combines elements of location and chance with techniques like long exposures to create something unseen by the naked eye.

“Artists should impose their vision on the scene,” Plant says, “not the other way around. I’m always looking for ways to create an image, rather than just record one. I achieve this by finding ways to use the camera, my lenses and other accessories, as well as alternative lighting and perspectives, to transform how the viewer might otherwise see the scene, presenting something new and surprising. Neutral-density, graduated neutral-density and polarizing filters are essential for extending exposures to help create a surreal look. It helps as well to view the elements of a scene as abstractions. I’m not photographing a rock or a waterfall, but rather an abstract shape that needs to relate to other shapes in the image. The ability to see beyond the literal is absolutely essential to the creative process.

“Another way to transform a scene,” he continues, “is, ironically, to relinquish control of the process. Using ND filters to achieve long exposures is a good example. When you slow your shutter speed down to several minutes, you lose control over how the image will look. But injecting a healthy dose of chaos into the image-making process is a good thing because chaos is the lifeblood of art. It all starts with letting go and seeing what happens.”

Listening to Plant talk about pushing the boundaries of traditional landscapes, it would be easy to misread his passion for restlessness. He’s not tired of tradition; quite the opposite. He simply wants to take a more active and engaged role as a creator.

“Dreamscape.” A 30-sec. twilight exposure from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park renders fast-moving clouds as an impressionistic blur.
“I’m not sure I would say that I’m bored with traditional landscapes,” he explains, “but I do believe that nature photography, as an art form, has to reach out into new directions or else it risks becoming stagnant. We have seen too many pictures of stunning landscapes or sunset skies. Too often nature photographers merely ‘chase the light,’ waiting for that perfect sunset over a dramatic high-mountain lake. I think we need to take a more active role in artistic creation and not just leave it all up to Mother Nature. That’s what makes night work so appealing to me; when all is covered in darkness, it’s the closest I ever get to working on a blank canvas. Instead of chasing the image, I get a chance to create it.”

One of Plant’s favorite subjects is the landscape after dark. Challenging though it may be, it affords him the opportunity to be creative in the camera and surprise himself—and his viewers—by creating something out of the ordinary.

“Night work takes a lot of planning,” he says. “It can be very difficult to get the right look, and it’s hard to predict what will emerge after several minutes—or hours—of exposure. Using flash allows me to control which parts of the scene get illuminated. I use flash, flashlights, lanterns or other artificial light sources to illuminate the landscape, sometimes using colored gel filters to play with color contrasts.


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