Intimate Landscapes

My first article for Outdoor Photographer was published in the March/April issue 1986.  The magazine started up the previous year, and a photograph of mine appeared on the cover of the second issue.  Then, I had been asked to write a “how to” article, but instead I wanted my first writing in a national magazine to be my “artist’s statement” rather than about how to do something technical, or a “where to be when” article.  I mentioned my use of a 4×5 camera and film, and that I had been living in Yosemite for eight years.  Since the article was written 1985, it is now 35 years that I’ve lived in the Yosemite area! Below is my essay, and images of the article.

Photography is a quiet, contemplative activity for me. It is a time to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the natural world. I seek to experience and reveal the mysterious, spiritual aspects of nature.

Minor White wrote, “Be still with yourself, until the object of your attention affirms your presence.” My approach to photographing the landscape requires the time to truly see to observe closely the form of, and the light upon the subject. A spirit of exploration and curiosity has been vital in developing my personal vision.

I have lived in Yosemite for eight years. Emersing myself in its magical qualities has taught me a valuable lesson. To photograph Yosemite successfully, one must transcend the classic but cliched scenes. I have sought my own unique way of seeing Yosemite. In doing so, I have discovered endless intimate details that reveal an essence of Yosemite rarely experienced by the casual visitor. This lesson serves me well exploring other landscapes less familiar to me.

“Through my photographs, I am interested in inspiring a deeply felt love and respect for the natural environment; an understanding of the magic and mystery of the earth’s processes, such as the formation of a rock or of ice on a pond. I feel a need for a sense of spiritual ecology, a respect for “the earthforce.” These feelings are at the root of my motivations to photograph. I wish to give back at least some of what I receive from nature. Nature is a powerful healer, and it is its ability to rejuvenate and nurture my soul that keeps me in close contact with the natural landscape. Millions of people visit our national parks and other natural places to be rejuvenated. Making photographs, for us, is an effort to retain and later reconnect ourselves with those healing experiences with nature.

My approach to the technical aspects of making a photograph is simple and straightforward. Although craft is essential for a fine photograph, I feel strongly that technique is merely a tool to be used for self-expression. 1 mostly use a 4×5 view camera. It encourages a contemplative approach. Each image is thought through carefully before an exposure is made. The size of the viewfinder provides for easy and precise composition. I use Ektachrome Professional 4×5 sheet film and make my portfolio prints on Cibachrome print material.

I prefer to photograph in flat, even light found in complete shade, on cloudy days, at dawn or twilight. These low-contrast conditions fit nicely into the narrow latitude scale of color slide film. The resulting images are often richer in detail and more pleasing in color. Subtle or monochromatic color appeal to me. One can’t depend on the impact of color alone for a successful image. A sense of design, the careful placement of elements within the frame, is essential. I often find myself isolating and abstracting a part of the subject.

By creating photographs where the content or orientation is not immediately obvious, a surreal, mystical feeling may come through. I would rather make an image that asks a question than answers one; that intrigues and arouses curiosity in the viewer. I appreciate a photograph that grows on me and endures more than one that has initial impact, explains itself immediately but then quickly fades from memory.

Outdoor photography is a wonderful way to explore and encourage our own uniqueness. I feel that I receive more from the process of being out there making photographs than I do from the photographs themselves. I have learned a great deal about myself and my environment through photography.

Remember Ansel Adams. He touched our lives with his tremendous compassion for the natural environment and his deeply-felt spiritual connection with nature through his photographs. We can all follow his example ourselves by photographing with conviction and emotion.”         OP

Published by William Neill

William Neill, a resident of the Yosemite National Park area since 1977, is a landscape photographer concerned with conveying the deep, spiritual beauty he sees and feels in Nature. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars, posters, and his limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection, and The Polaroid Collection. Neill received a BA degree in Environmental Conservation at the University of Colorado. In 1995, Neill received the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill's assignment and published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. Also, he writes a monthly column, On Landscape, for Outdoor Photographer magazine. Feature articles about his work have appeared in Life, Camera and Darkroom, Outdoor Photographer and Communication Arts, from whom he has also received five Awards of Excellence. His corporate clients have included Sony Japan, Bayer Corporation, Canon USA, Nike, Nikon, The Nature Company, Hewlett Packard, 3M, Freidrick Grohe, Neutrogena, Sony Music/Classical, University of Cincinnati, UBS Global Asset Management. His work was chosen to illustrate two special edition books published by The Nature Company, Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder and John Fowles's The Tree. His photographs were also published in a three book series on the art and science of natural process in collaboration with the Exploratorium Museum of San Francisco: By Nature's Design (Exploratorium / Chronicle Books, 1993), The Color of Nature (Exploratorium / Chronicle Books, 1996) and Traces of Time (Chronicle Books / Exploratorium, Fall 2000). A portfolio of his Yosemite photographs has been published entitled Yosemite: The Promise of Wildness (Yosemite Association, 1994) which received The Director's Award from the National Park Service. A retrospective monograph of his landscape photography entitled Landscapes Of The Spirit (Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown, 1997) relates his beliefs in the healing power of nature. William has taught photography since 1980 for such prestigious organizations as The Ansel Adams Gallery, the Friends of Photography, Palm Beach Photographic Workshops, The Maine Workshops and Anderson Ranch Workshops. He specializes in landscape and nature photography and is concerned with conveying the beauty seen in Nature. Currently, he teaches online courses for and One-on-One Workshops in his home studio near Yosemite National Park.

15 replies on “Intimate Landscapes”

  1. I do believe all the ideas you’ve offered for your post. They are really convincing and will certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are very short for starters. May just you please lengthen them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.|

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  3. Thanks, Bill, for sharing this. I agree with all the comments, it is a wonderful article and very relevant now. I, too, especially like the quote that Clay copied. I will keep this in mind as I continue to edit my portfolio. Really great pictures and writing!

  4. “By creating photographs where the content or orientation is not immediately obvious, a surreal, mystical feeling may come through. I would rather make an image that asks a question than answers one; that intrigues and arouses curiosity in the viewer. I appreciate a photograph that grows on me and endures more than one that has initial impact, explains itself immediately but then quickly fades from memory.”

    I have probably learned more from these three sentences than I have from all my books and articles on technique.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article on your personal philosophy. I recognize some of the reasons you had much in common with my father, such as the attraction to images that grow on you and endure rather than having the initial “wow” factor that many galleries pressure photographers to look for. I especially like what you said about spiritual ecology and about nature being a powerful healer. Thank you for digging into the archives. Would love to read others…

  6. This is a great article. I can relate to it because as I develop my own photographic voice, I see myself going the way of the intimate landscape as well. For me, it is the way to create deeply personal images. I’ll always photograph the beautiful sunsets in grand landscapes, but an intimacy with nature is what I strive to convey.

    Interesting too that you talked about cliché images back in 1985. Its even more so now, and not just in Yosemite…


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