Stephen Patterson Photography

Artist Statement

The landscape in its broadest sense can be interpreted in many themes. For me photography represents a visual exercise in revealing the underlying order that can be found within the chaos of the natural and manmade world. Designs created by the natural forces of wind, rain, ice, sun, and temperature variations, are in a continuous flux, shaping the world in which we live. My photography in a sense has been going through an evolutionary process of its own, inspired by the arts such as painting, music, and sculpture.

The landscape presents itself to the photographer as a seemingly disorganized array of elements, yet within this apparent chaos reign principles of order. Through careful observation, I attempt to reveal the underlying symmetries that reside within this complex environment. As a visual artist, I sort through the cacophony of subject matter that makes up the landscape, and attempt to perceive some underlying structure within the confined space of the camera's viewfinder. Trees become exercises in the organization of lines and color hues, rocks become studies in form and texture, and old abandoned cars become abstract statements. While the subjects may vary, my artistic approach to visual design is essentially the same.

My background in music and association with the other arts has influenced the way I perceive the visual world. The harmony, balance, and counterbalance of music in all forms have inspired me in interpreting the visual world around me. The organization of elements within the picture space takes on similar roles to the tonal centers, rhythms, and textures found in music. As in music, compositional elements within the picture can vary greatly, from the familiar to the more complex, where the structure is not so readily apparent.

The more refined and developed the composition, the less obvious the underlying structure will be. This is one of the things to be learned from the abstract artists; develop a composition, break it down, then re-build it through the addition and subtraction of various elements. The Cubists and abstract expressionists are good examples of this artistic metamorphosis. This kind of control in the artistic process is a difficult task for the landscape photographer, because of the limitations of not being able to add or subtract important visual elements at will. The inability of the photographer to place components at will through the picture space, forces one to re-evaluate his or her preconceptions about how the elements within a photograph should be organized. This essentially teaches us to see differently, and re-organize a composition to reflect the reality of the subject without manipulation. Any photograph can be arranged to give sound structure to the composition, regardless of its complexity. As photographers we have the ability to change the focal length of a zoom lens, or use our feet to change perspective so that we have more artistic freedom. We strive for completion in the composition, but we never quite achieve it. This is the balance and counter balance, the yin and yang that creates the dichotomy of tension and resolution within the picture.

Paintings, especially those of the impressionists and abstract expressionists, have been instrumental to me in developing a sense of the use of color within a composition. One only has to view the paintings of Jackson Pollock, Jean Paul Riopelle, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and other abstract painters, to find the finest examples of underlying order created by the apparent randomness of color, form, and texture.

My inspiration comes from music and paintings, but I learned my photographic techniques from the observation of other photographs. I love color and its effect on the senses and human emotions. The fact that we can reproduce in absolute clarity, an artistic representation of the living world in full color on a small piece of film is remarkable. I find great satisfaction in combining color with various textures and forms. The relationship of colors with one another, and in combination with line and textures, has to be carefully balanced. Colours can confuse the viewer and create an unbalanced cacophony within the composition if not carefully considered.  Although I photograph mainly in color, Black and white photography sometimes influences my visual interpretation of the world as well, especially when working in monochromatic subjects, or with pronounced graphic shapes.

When I go out to find new photographs, I try not to be to conscience of my compositions. Experience has taught me to see the familiar from new angles, perspectives, and arrangements within the picture space. I rarely repeat a composition unless I know I can improve on it. I would rather look for new subjects and new compositional approaches.

Once the visual artist has become familiar with standard compositional approaches such as the rule of thirds, fifths, or other classical approaches where the picture space is divided into several sections, one can work on a more subconscious level. Here the technical process of organizing the elements within the composition becomes subliminal, allowing us to be more spontaneous and free from preconception. This form of self-expression is what I like about using the 35mm format. It allows me to be spontaneous, giving me the ability to explore, experiment, and abstract with ease. This format allows the photographer to create images that are sharp and detailed, close to what the eye sees.

Through the eyes of a photographer, the landscape presents as a very broad spectrum of photographic content. It compromises virtually all subjects, from the tiniest details of a flower or peeling paint, to the grand open vistas of a prairie landscape, large city, or distant mountains. When making a photograph, I sometimes like to move away from the literal, and focus on the structure of the picture space, while letting go of the subject's identity. I reveal as much as I want about the subject's identity by finding a suitable arrangement of color, line and texture within the composition.

Often the subject of my photograph is recognizable, sometimes it is not. My approach to photographing an abstract found in a car junkyard or an ice formation is not unlike my approach to photographing a view of an open landscape or grove of trees. I view the whole as a grouping of compositional elements and spaces, and organize them. For instance, the subjects within the photograph are made up of blocks of color which come together to form lines. The underlying compositional makeup, the arrangement of color, form, and texture, is treated in essentially the same way, regardless of the subject.

I also enjoy juxtaposing contrasts within my compositions as well, where for example shadows on a bright sunny day will create black areas of "negative space", breaking up the continuity of color in a composition and creating strong graphic shapes. For example, I will counterbalance straight lines with curving lines, creating an interesting discord within the stability of a composition, or include saturated primary colors to counterbalance other subtle hues within the picture.

Forests are one of the best examples of a visual exercise in finding the order within chaos. The complexity of interweaving branches and trunks along with foliage, ferns, and brambles, make it difficult environment in which to find symmetry in a photograph. The quality of light plays an important role as well. Bright sunny days create too much contrast, limiting the film's ability to record the finer details of the forest. Light areas get washed out, or dark areas disappear. Some of these contrasts create striking compositions, but overcast light is often preferable for its lack of contrasting shadows and highlights, which allows the subtleties of color and texture to be fully realized in a photograph.