“Studying the work of the Masters will raise the quality of you own work”
Becoming a photographer is a journey that starts with the purchase of a camera and lens. But this is only the beginning. Digital cameras are so good that little interaction with the owner is needed to get a properly focused and exposed image. But this is where most people end their quest for photography knowledge and pronounce that they are a Photographer. And here is usually the end of the story.
But there can be so much more. There is so much to be learned to become an artist but little of the important stuff is written down or can be viewed in a YouTube video. What are you trying to say with your work. So little of it has feeling. An Instagram feed is the perfect summation of photography today. Three hours of scrolling but no depth. Everything looks the same. The images are only square and are low resolution and small on a smartphone.
Des oiseaux by Pentti Sammallahti is the antidote for a yearning to experience photography at its best. For those who don’t know who he is this is a brief biography. He was born in Finland in 1950. His father was a photographer. He takes photographs all over the world. He was a teacher but that ended when he was awarded a grant by the Finnish government that allowed him to pursue his work for 20 years. In 2012 he published the book “Far and Away” that was a huge success around the world and was published in multiple languages. His current book was published in late 2018 and I purchased my copy from Peter Fetterman.
It is not a large book, it’s only 120 pages, but the work is beautiful. The layout is what I wish all photography books would adopt. There is only one image on each page that is centered with plenty of space around the image so that it can be studied with no distractions. Many different formats are represented, including square, rectangular, and panoramic images. Most of the work is of nature with most views of buildings and streets limited to mostly the background. The work of two of my favorite black and white photographers comes to mind, Michael Kenna and Masahisa Fukase. Sammallahti’s work feels warmer and more in touch with the environment. Some of the images even come across as having a sense of humor. The animals in his images are like co-producers of his pictures.
The first image from below is one of his more well known images. Being a panorama it is a bit small in the book but the image has a great deal of power. I have seen a print of this images at the Fetterman gallery and it is one of the finest images that I have ever seen. Weather in his images is often used to increase the minimalism in the image. Snow and fog are used to bring attention to the subject and to minimize what would be distracting backgrounds.
The lack of composition in today’s images is one of my pet peeves. Sites that aggregate photography articles are always pushing articles about breaking compositional rules. Strong composition makes for strong photographs. Is say if your Picasso break the rules, otherwise heed their advice. Sammallahti’s images are elegant because it is clear what his intentions are for each image. He also follows the advice to have layers in an image. This makes the image more 3 dimensional so that your eye searches for connections to the subjects.
This is truly the work of a master black and white photographer. These are not just color images converted to monotones. They are monochromatic works of art that will stand the test of time. Most of us would be happy to have created just one of these images.