Timeout: This is Not a Pipe

“I am two with nature.”–Woody Allen

This is not a pipe

The Treachery of Images, by Rene Magritte, 1928-29
Ceci n’est pas une pipe. This is not a pipe.

René Magritte’s message is rather unambiguous.  An image of a “thing” is not the thing itself.  But don’t worry, I’m not headed toward a heavy ontological discussion here.  I have a simple question which, believe it or not, my overly opinionated philosophical mind has virtually no idea how to answer.   Maybe one of you out there can help.

I love nature photography.  Flowers, birds, wildlife, oceans, lakes, clouds, mountains, landscapes–you name it, I like looking at these images and they are my favorite to photograph.  Good grief, I’ve even photographed mud puddles and insects.  And yet I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, what one would call a nature lover.  I hate gardening and yard work.  I won’t even mow my own lawn as I am allergic to grass pollen. I haven’t been camping in 30 years and only rarely go hiking.  I do spend a good bit of time outdoors, but this is almost entirely involved with playing or watching sports.  It seems that I prefer a well framed image of nature to the actual experience of nature itself.  And to add to the conundrum, this only applies to photographic images.  My preferences in other visual arts tends towards styles or schools–Surrealist (Miró), Social Realist (Hopper), Post-impressionist (Seurat, Rousseau, Van Gogh), Geometric Abstraction (Klee, Mondrian).  (Here is a link to my favorite contemporary artist, Yanick Lapuh.)

I have only just realized this–and really have no strong ideas about why this should be.  A preference for a well-composed image?  Remnants from a childhood anxiety of physical reality?  Or, like Woody, am I just at two with nature?   All you amateur psychologists please provide your opinions by email, snail mail, or pony express.  (Comments herein are OK, too)

Below, three of my personal favorite landscape photographs from my own travels, as well as a couple of representative pieces by Monsieur Lapuh.

(Click on images for full size)

Sideways tree

Sideways Tree. Looking out from the Great Wall of China. Copyright 2006, Mark Sackler


Costa Rica Coastline. Copyright 2008, Mark Sackler


A Scottish Loch. Copyright 2010 Mark Sackler

Objection Your Honer, Yanick Lapuh, 1993

Envisioned Solution, Yanick Lapuh, 2006


  1. If you must ask a thing, then ask the biggest thing you can, I guess. Your question is so big it can only be answered with silence. Anything more would take your lifetime to understand, and who could write it?

  2. What came to mind when I read your post is that any image – nature or otherwise – provides an ideal. Taking your observation of a well composed image one step further – photographs of nature may comprise a well composed ideal of nature to you. As opposed to the reality of nature – biting bugs, biting reptiles, biting animals, uncertainty at night, what’s around the next bend on the trail, where’s the nearest Starbucks… You’re getting my drift. Ideals are so comfy and certain in a very uncertain world – and I believe – oh so very necessary. Just a random thought….

  3. Interesting. Though I enjoy the “reality” of nature (as long as there aren’t too many bugs or the weather too extreme), I’m careful to frame my nature photos to avoid any evidence of civilization—buildings or power lines, for example. So I guess I’m also drawn to some ideal version of nature. Then again, maybe it’s just a neurotic tendency. (Thanks for visiting my cartoon blog.)

  4. Anne Bonney says:

    I don’t have the answer, but admire your sense of composition in your photographs – masterful.

  5. maybe your sense of touch out ranks your sense of sight. your need for comfort is stronger than the need for visual pleasure. Being exposed to the elements does not go down too well with your body.that’s the only explanation I can think of 🙂 and I’m in the same boat!

  6. Interesting… esp since I am almost the complete opposite – I love nature (being in it, hiking, trailrunning, etc) but nature and landscape photography, for the most part, leaves me cold. I’d much rather go for a gritty, grungy inner city scene, street photography, architectural & industrial images, science etc. Or otherwise very abstract images. Strange how we are…

    I find it particularly interesting that you have such differing tastes in photography vs ‘other art’. Dunno what that means, though…

  7. Were you ever a Bob Ross fan? I’m not much of a landscape lover (I used to do a lot of drawing and focused on living things – people, animals, etc.) but I always was captivated when watching his show.

    • Nope, not at all. I’ve seen him a couple of times, if only for a few minutes. That’s all I can take.

      • Haha, so you weren’t as happy as he was with the “happy little clouds” and “happy little trees”?

        I feel like it’s as entertaining to watch him be himself as it is to watch him paint things.

      • Somehow I don’t think the clouds or trees are actually happy, though I am sure he was. 😛

      • Haha, apparently so. Hard to believe that guy used to be in the armed forces.

        His show was on the air when I was really young, so in some ways, he was like that reliable Mr. Rogers-type character. They were both really gentle guys with peculiar routines.

        I always found it funny when he’d say “now we need to make a very important decision about where to place this mountain… oh what the heck, let’s put it right there”. And how he’d always dry his brushes by whacking them against the easel pole, and say “just beat the devil out of it”.

        Haha, maybe the fact that I saw so much Bob Ross explains why I grew to become so fascinated by amusing and eccentric people.

      • It might also be why you prefer funny names to ordinary ones, like Bob Ross.

  8. mensfurentis says:

    I’m going to try my hand at a more philosophical analysis of this. There is a discrepancy in nature and one’s involvement in it. You can stare at a mountain, or you can be on top of it, but it’s impossible to do both at the same time. The breadth of emotion you feel being on top of the world is different than the high you can get admiring the height of it from an outside standpoint. I’d argue we’d naturally migrate to one side or the other, and I’m with you that I enjoy the emotion of yearning after a beautiful vista more than I would being immersed in it.

    Also, thanks for visiting my blog! I invite you to view more of it — but I fear mine may be even more ridiculous than yours. 🙂

    PS: I really enjoy your style; I’ll certainly be back!

    • Oh, I love a beautiful vista, but I don’t necessarily go seeking them out. I may never know what the answer is, but I appreciate your response, as well as all the others.

  9. Many years passed and I had not taken a photo. I started blogging and someone suggested I take some photos and it is like I found “me” again. Thoroughly enjoy taking photos of flowers, birds, ect. Always striving to get the perfect shot. The Costa Rica coastline is a beautiful photo nothing like our coastline.

  10. Your pics are lovely. Interesting observation. Here’s my thought—nature scares you; you’re only able to truly appreciate it when there’s a glass in between. I say this because I used to feel the same way. Living however here in the country has inured me to the more frightening possibilities of what might be lurking behind a tree, as long as it isn’t a damn mosquito—a mouse, however, is fine!

    • Well…not really. When I was a kid, yes. But that was long ago (way too long). I think maybe an earlier comment was more on has to do with artistic ideal. Then again, maybe I’m just nucking futs.
      ! 😀

  11. essaalroc says:

    I had that sticker on my bong when I was a teenager. My mom picked it up, read it and put it down. I think it worked!

    • 😀 Are you sure you aren’t secretly a child of the 60’s? I actually did smoke a pipe for awhile in the late 60’s and early 70’s. My parents actually brought me back a genuine hookah from a vacation trip to Turkey. They were naive enough to think I would actually use tobacco in it! 😉

  12. Thanks for visiting and liking my post “Escorts”.

  13. A preference for images of Nature rather than Nature itself? I understand fully. Looking at a picture of a flower can be a lot more peaceful than sneezing from pollen; enjoying an image of a lightening bolt is a lot better than getting hit by one; observing a painting of a mosquito is, well, you can see where I’m going…..

  14. Love the “Woody Allen” quote! great pics

  15. Thanks for stopping by and liking my post Crowned.

  16. D. Raymond-Wryhte says:

    I wonder if the answer to your question in part lies in the difference between reality and fantasy. Perhaps another distinction is more accurate: the difference between the real and the ideal. Perhaps yet another distinction is more accurate: the difference between realism and romanticism. Let me illustrate. Many young girls (in the West, at least) like ponies and horses. They watch movies and TV shows. They read books, They collect toys…. Give the girl a real horse, and that’s another matter. Horses are big and heavy. They excrete. They need to be curried and combed and groomed. If they are to be friendly, they need training. If they are to be helpful, they need more training. They need food and water and veterinary care. They cost money. They need and want attention every day, and that’s work. Real horses are different from pretend horses. So it is with puppies. So it is with combat: what seems so exciting and glorious and heroic and fun in the media is hell in the war zone. Nature is that way, too. Nature in reality — at least in this sin-sick, fallen world — is harsh, brutal, violent, and dangerous. There are bugs! Storms! Lions tigers and bears, oh my! As it is written, “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.” (See Romans 8:18-25.) I like nature, and I am far from John Muir in mettle; I’m not even much like Jack London in his prime. However, I still take walks and pictures because I love the Artist who composed the scenes.

  17. Your photos are amazing!

  18. I love the photos you’ve posted here, and certainly they capture that ideal composition. The less than ideal reality of interacting with nature has been pointed out in other comments, and that makes sense to me why you could love the image without being a nature lover. The one thing I might add, since I love both being in nature and the captured photo images, is that the photo I gravitate to and post is often not the one that was the most gorgeous view or my favorite experience while I was on the trail. A photo is indeed something other, and there’s a magic in the lighting as it’s captured, or in the design of the cropping of the natural lines or in what I see once my fingers aren’t falling off from the cold wind that wasn’t at the scene at all. Also, with a photo I can cheat the scene and bring only the part that works–taking the art from the reality. For instance, my March 28/13 mountain photo was taken from the middle of the grocery store parking lot and the foreground that was cropped was anything but beautiful….but the Starbucks I got inside after capturing the shot was lovely! Breathing Space is often smoke and mirrors, leaving my town that I’m standing in out, so the viewer can enjoy the natural artwork.

  19. Beautiful photos! (Couldn’t resist downloading to use as wallpaper on my laptop… that’s how much I like them.)
    I totally get where you’re coming from regarding the subject matter of your photos, because I’m the same way. I suppose the saying, “It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t wanna live there” somehow applies, although I’m not sure the reason, lol. Probably no big mystery here, nothing really “deep” Maybe it’s as simple as this:
    You appreciate the out-of-doors and the diversity it lends to photography, but as a general rule, if given the option, you prefer carpet under your feet, not dirt or asphalt. 🙂

  20. Charles St.Clair says:

    I appreciate your conundrum. Nature, as it’s experienced in it’s found state, doesn’t seem to offer an opportunity to ask questions; it just is what it is (to use a current phrase I abhor). A photograph of nature, on the other hand, provides lots of leeway to find alternative explanations and contradictions.
    Well, you seem to have found the armchair psychologists; your bills are in the mail.

  21. freespirit424 says:

    thanks for visiting my blog. I love photos, take tons, have a crappy camera and know nothing about photography. I like being outdoors and will take pictures of anything. I’m going to do a blog on a Photo Whisperer because I could sure use one. Over 5000 photos and no idea how to organize them…ha ha. look forward to spending some time on your blog.

    • Believe me, other than a decent sense of composition, I don’t know all that much about photography either. Basically, I just shoot tons of shots and get lucky with some of them.

  22. Gee, Mark—this sounds an awful lot like the way I miss snow~

  23. No reason needed. You just seem to love living.

  24. Reblogged this on The Millennium Conjectures™ and commented:

    Winter Chill Rerun: Time for Something Warm…

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