The Timeless Landscape
One of the very special things about landscape photography is the sense that the best photographs seem to exist, somehow, outside of time. People often refer to traditional darkroom generated black-and-white sepia toned prints from years gone by as being timeless. While warm tone, monochromatic images go back to the very early days of photography what most people refer to as sepia probably refers to images made from the 1920’s up till the mid 1960’s. My point is that, as we can define the look of the classic sepia toned image by date, it’s hardly timeless.
The Concept Of Timeless In Photography
So what do people mean when they use the term timeless in relation to photography. Rather than it being about a specific time or place I think the term is used to describe a look that seems somehow beyond fashion. While most fashion dates (even quintessential blue jeans almost went out of fashion in the west following the introduction of cargo pants, favored by skateboarders, around 20 years ago) the term timeless probably suggests a look, feeling or mood that does not.
Love does not date in so much as its possible to fall in love more than once or, for some hard working, honest and lucky folk, to remain in love till death us do part. What we refer to as timeless probably suggests a purer, less complicated world. Photographs from those times depict a slower, less complicated and, on first impressions, safer world. So it’s logical in this day and age to harken back to seemingly simpler times we associate with a bygone era.
I think this is one of the reasons way warm tone black and white images still work today, even when applied to more contemporary subject matter. Whether it’s a portrait of a newborn baby or a grandmother; an urban landscape featuring an old Victorian style building; or the outside facade of a suburban milk bar that’s been closed for years, a warm tone treatment can elicit a similar emotional response as a print from the 1930’s.
In the case of landscape photography I feel the effect can be even stronger. With water and/or clouds moving through the frame we also have the ability to explore the movement of time within the still frame. This strange juxtaposition, unique to still photography, is one of the landscape photographer’s most potent tools by which she may both explore the illusory nature of time and transcend the scene or subject depicted in a way that opens a door to a new understanding of reality. This, together with the interplay of light on the landscape, is the reason I love to photograph our natural world.