The Other Grand Masters: The Influence of Art on Landscape Photography

Frank Serafini

Each year, I wait enthusiastically for the Outdoor Photographer Landscape Masters issue to arrive. And, each year I am never disappointed. The Grand Masters of Landscape Photography - Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Elliot Porter – continue to inspire generations of landscape photographers. Building on their legacy, the images of contemporary landscape masters - Jack Dykinga, David Meunch, Tom Till, James Kay, and Carr Clifton -  provide new perspectives and techniques to improve and expand upon my own creative processes.

However, these are not the only Grand Masters that have influenced how I see the  landscape and how I approach creating images. As a student of art, my photography has also been inspired by the works of Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollack, Wassily Kandinsky, and Claude Monet. I have learned from these master artists to consider the landscape from new perspectives. These Grand Masters used line, color, contrast, and texture to offer visions of the world that broke from realist and representational art forms. They help me to see the world anew each time I take my camera out in the field.

In the first example, I have drawn upon the work of Georgia O’Keeffe to look at the sensuous forms of flowers from a macro photography perspective. O’Keeffe expressed her artistic vision and feelings through harmonious arrangements of line and color. Her contoured forms suggest subtle transitions of color and texture. She synthesized abstraction and realism to transform her subject matter into provocative masterpieces.

I often use a macro lens to uncover patterns hiding in the petals of wildflowers. I sometimes blur the focus of my lens to call attention to the symmetry and gentle curves found inside these flowers. (See Images 1 and 2).

Wassily Kandinsky was one of the first artists to be associated with abstract art. He did away with traditional notions of subject matter, moving beyond representational art to focus on form and composition. He used colors and shapes to produce a psychological effect through his paintings. I enjoy photographic images that contain subject matter that is not readily identifiable. In this next image (See Image 3), I used the reflections of a clear blue sky to add dramatic effect to the ice forms on a small stream in Southwestern Colorado.

Jackson Pollack used “action painting” techniques, for example spilling and splashing paint to create his masterpieces. His artistic style forced the viewer to consider not only the image but the process that led to final painting. His style required the viewer to consider his ideas directly rather than through recognizable subject matter. I have long been fascinated by lichens and how they often remind me of Pollack’s work. The lichens that grow on rocks throughout the Southwest deserts have an abstract quality I try to capture in my images (See Image 4).

Another Grand Master that has continued to inspire me is Claude Monet. His paintings of water lilies and his backyard gardens set the foundation for the Impressionist movement. I was particularly moved by the reflections he painted from his garden pond. This image was taken in autumn to accent the fall colors in a still backyard pond (See Image 5).

Additionally, I used a soft focus to capture the muted tones of these gold poppies in the desert southwest (See Image 6). Reminiscent of Monet’s work, I tried to follow the Impressionist movements philosophy of expressing one’s perception before nature.

Another artist who’s work influenced, not only how I created images, but what subjects I photographed, was Thomas Moran. Moran went along with John Wesley Powell on his expeditions down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. His painting Chasm of the Colorado is a powerful image that inspired my work along the North Rim. I waited many days for a summer storm to create the image featured here (See Image 7).

Thomas Hill, and other American artists, have influenced my vision of Eastern US Landscapes. This image of a farm and countryside in southern Vermont typifies Hill’s artistic style (See Image 8).

Another of Hill’s famous images is of Vernal Falls in Yosemite. His images, and of course those of Ansel Adams, drew me to this photographic wonderland (See Image 9).

Barnett Newman’s abstract art inspired me to simill’splify my photographs to basic elements of design, including line, dot, shape and texture. This image of a crack in the sandstone in Zion National Park, features a simple line much like Newman’s Onement 1.

I am constantly working to expand my perspectives and add new dimensions to my creative processes and photographic vision. I have been inspired by famous landscape photographers and painters alike. To help inspire me when I am in the field, I include copies of art masterpieces in my notebook to help me consider new ways of looking at subject matter. New ways of looking at nature often leads to new ways of envisioning my photography. New ways of envisioning my photography leads to better images.