An Integral Piece of the Puzzle

by Kerry Leibowitz | June 12, 2012

© Kerry LeibowitzI had an epiphany of sorts, two years ago. For a variety of reasons, I seriously pondered the notion of selling all my gear and giving up photography entirely. I descended into “The Photographic Doldrums,” a deep photographic funk for roughly six months before “Back in the Saddle” finally extracting myself from it in April of 2010. So what was the epiphany? Read on.

You may have come across the term “shutterbug.” It’s commonly defined, in essence, as someone who is enthusiastic about photography. My own twist to the connotation is that the word refers to someone who is an enthusiastic photographic generalist; a person who is captivated by photography and carries a camera around at all times.  While there’s nothing at all wrong with someone who fits this description, that’s not me.  When I first dipped my toe into the photographic waters, many, many years ago, I thought I’d be interested in all kinds of photography. I thought, for instance, that due to my enthusiasm for sports both as a participant and a spectator, I’d enjoy sports photography. It turned out not to be the case. I should have known.

Cades Cove © Kerry Leibowitz

When I was a kid, I used to draw a lot. My mother took note of this and sent me to a class at a local arts center when I was something like nine years old. It became clear, in short order, that I was easily the least talented person in the class. I wasn’t horribly bad, but I wasn’t particularly good either.  I knew what I was trying to accomplish but I couldn’t, for the life of me, seem to follow through and actually render the image that was present in my mind’s eye on a piece of paper. The course instructor realized this right away, but neither one of us knew what to do about it.

The class experience having been a failure, I returned to my doodling which—most of the time—was represented in the form of landscapes. For reasons of which I’m unsure, I’ve always been drawn to the landscape and images of landscapes.  But I remained unable to render the images in the manner I sought; I simply didn’t have the talent necessary to accomplish what I wanted to do.

As I grew older, I left drawing aside. I wasn’t particularly good at it, after all, and the exigencies of daily life took over. I continued to dabble with photography, but virtually the only times that I used my camera was for snapshooting when on vacation.  I really didn’t know what I was doing, from a technical standpoint, but I adapted my interest in the landscape irregularly from drawing to photography. I made no effort, however, to learn the craft aspects of the discipline.

Santa Fe trees and moon © Kerry Leibowitz

This is how things remained until I was well into young adulthood. My (now) wife and I took a two-week long trip to southern Utah about 15 years ago during which I shot plenty of (print) film.  After having the film developed upon returning home, I went through the shots and selected a dozen or so that I wanted to enlarge to 8×10″ prints, so I took the relevant negatives to a local camera store that produced enlargements.  One nice part of the service was that they would custom crop the shots (which were developed at 8×12″). The shop was staffed by professional photographers, who worked at the store part-time as an income supplement. The gentleman who was helping me decide on the crops said, “I hope you don’t mind me commenting, but I have to tell you, these are much better than typical holiday snaps.”

By my current standards, the shots are uniformly atrocious. The light is terrible and the images suffer from a lack of care on my part as they were all handheld. Even today, however, through my jaundiced eye, I can see a hint of compositional competence. (But just a hint.)

That’s what I see now; back then, I thought these were pretty good images and the comment by the professional at the camera shop only reinforced my initial assessment. It was in the aftermath of all of this that I decided to pursue photography more seriously, which led to my embracing the technical fundamentals and spending copious time studying composition.  From that point I reawakened my slumbering interest in the landscape and applied it directly to the camera. For the first time in my life, I found myself able to translate my landscape vision to an art form through which I could satisfactorily express myself.  It was a remarkably pleasing experience.

White birch forest © Kerry Leibowitz

Fast forward many years to the point where this entry began, when I was considering giving it all up, for reasons that had little if anything to do with photography specifically. During this time I found myself struggling to understand why I was so drawn to the landscape. To this day, I’m not entirely certain of the answer. But in the process, I learned something that I am sure of, and that’s the epiphany that I mentioned at the top of this essay.

What I discovered, through this lengthy introspective process, was that there were many things about which I am interested and/or enjoy doing. (There are also many things that I feel obligated to do.) But expressing my vision of the landscape through photography is more than that. Yes, I am interested in doing this and I enjoy doing it as well. But landscape photography far exceeds fascination and pleasure for me. It’s not just something I like to do; it’s part of who I am. This is why, I found, I ultimately couldn’t abandon my gear a couple of years ago; doing so would be akin to dissecting and removing an integral part of me. Once I committed myself to getting back out in the field and sticking with it, a lot of things in my life ostensibly unrelated to photography seemed to repair themselves. In retrospect, this all seems incredibly obvious, though it did not at the time. I suppose that’s what self-discovery is all about: learning how difficult it can be to understand yourself.

Schoodic Peninsula © Kerry Leibowitz

About the Author

Kerry Leibowitz is a Midwest-based photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape. He is the co-author of the ebook Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: A Photographer’s Guide. His work has appeared in numerous publications, both traditional and electronic, and his prints hang in commercial and private collections throughout North America. To see more of his work and blog, visit his website.

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