Why I love photographs of mountains

January 13, 2015  •  5 Comments

Today I was riding the bus home from downtown Portland and I was emotionally struck by a rare winter view of Mount Hood as we crossed the Morrison Bridge at sundown. The top of Mount Hood was painted in pink alpenglow with the Belt of Venus just above, adding a wonderful crimson hue to the sky. I've seen this sight many times before here in Portland, usually in the summer months, and my gaze is always drawn by it. The question I was immediately hit with today as I gazed at that wonderful mountain was - why are some people so drawn to looking at mountains and others could not care less?

Mount Hood at Sunset over the Columbia RiverMount Hood at Sunset over the Columbia RiverFinally a clear day in Portland and time to go take photos. On a fast whim, I decided to head to a spot I've had my eye on for quite some time. The light was pretty fantastic with sunset behind me casting orange and pink into the sky and a nice band of venus through Mount Hood reflecting in the Columbia River. I first spotted this location back in November when I first visted Portland. I can see myself visiting often!

My wife for example, bless her heart, never has anything good to say about photographs of mountains and is more drawn to abstract and whimsical photographs taken here in town. As I enjoyed the view to the east, I pondered my question and began thinking about my experiences in the mountains. Aha! So many wonderful memories were recalled - blissfully peaceful hikes, adventurous roped climbs, childhood camping trips, ascending my first 14er, finishing the 14ers with my best friend, witnessing sunrise and sunset from the tops of a mountains, gruelling yet intensely rewarding backpacking expeditions - just a handful of incredible experiences I've had in the mountains. 

Unparalleled DawnUnparalleled DawnAfter a 20+ mile backpack into Colorado's Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness Area, my climbing partner and I got an early start at 3 AM to ascend North Eolus Peak's 14,000 ft. summit before sunrise. We were joined by mountain goats on the summit (one is in the photo, but hard to see) and enjoyed one of the most memorable sunrises in my lifetime. Directly east of us below the sun was the formidable 14,000 ft. peaks Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak (which we climbed later that day and the day after). To the right (south) towered Eolus Peak and to the left getting hit by intense light were Turret Peak and Pigeon Peak, two of the more rugged peaks in the area. Also visble in this photograph are my favorite peaks in Colorado - Vestal Peak and Arrow Peak (left of middle, sticking up like a sore thumb), Jagged Mountain, Jupiter Peak, and more. You can even make out Uncompahgre Peak and Wetterhorn Peak on the horizon as well as Rio Grand Pyramid. If you can't tell, I'm a total Colorado mountain geek. Hope you like the photo. I can't wait to print one HUGE.

Recalling all of these emotionally charged experiences got me to thinking then - do people that enjoy photographs of mountains have some sort of emotional connection to mountains, or do they just enjoy pretty scenes? And, does the mountain in the photograph need to be one that the person has been to before or seen before? For example, I've never been to the Tetons of Wyoming (a tragedy, certainly); however, I have always really loved photographs of the area. Similarly, I've not been to Torres del Paine in the Patagonia; however, every time I see photos of that area my soul yearns to go there as soon as possible.

Sunrise on Pikes Peak - Rare ViewSunrise on Pikes Peak - Rare ViewThis is a rare view of Pikes Peak's south side at sunrise taken a few days after the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012.

I personally believe that this is what makes photography as an artform so compelling. Sure, it is not difficult to become a good photographer, as we've seen a huge surge in the number of people with DSLRs taking pretty decent photographs; however, I think great photographers, the true artists, are able to evoke emotional responses in us. For me it starts with exploring my own emotions - and photographing things that bring those out for me. Mountains take the cake. My life has been filled with fantastic experiences there - and almost any decent photograph of mountains, especially mountains I'm familiar with, can take me right back to that nostalgic place - which is certainly a comforting and enjoyable feeling.

Sangre de Cristo Autumn MagicSangre de Cristo Autumn MagicThe moment that I saw the light develop on the summit of Milwaukee Peak, Broken Hand Peak and Crestone Needle above lower South Colony Lake and Upper South Colony Lake, I knew that it would be a winning scene. This valley holds such a special place in my heart - having formerly served on the board of Directors of Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the organization responsible for all of the trail and campsite work in this amazing area. Crestone Needle was obscured in the clouds like this all weekend and even the following day when we climbed it. Such a great weekend commemorated by a fantastic image.
It had rained all the whole night before and all day up until this point where we were able to take in the awesome beauty of the South Colony Basin, one of my favorite places on earth.

So what do you think? Why are we draw to certain types of subjects to photograph and to view as consumers of this fickle artform? Is it because of some sort of emotional connection to a location, or can a photograph of a never-been-to scene be good enough to evoke the same feelings? Do you enjoy photographs of mountains? Why?


Comments

5.Photography by Matt Payne
Thanks Carolyn - the San Juans sure do have a pull don't they? I love them as well. Sisters is a great little town, I just never found the same feelings in Oregon as I did here in Colorado. I just prefer the types of mountains here I guess. Good luck in your journeys!
4.Carolyn(non-registered)
First of all your photos are gorgeous!Congrats to you!I have lived in Colorado (Montrose,Nucla,Naturita) and I miss the mountains so bad I can't stand it sometimes.I have a connection to those mountains(especially The San Juan mts.)that will never diminish. My soul yearns for them!!! I also just got home from Sublimity, Oregon.I was there for 6 weeks. My father just passed away from dementia. Anyway I went to Sisters and Bend and I fell in love with Sisters. I would so move there. Reminds me some of Colorado. I took several pictures from there. I also got to visit Seattle which I enjoyed immensely. Needless to say I got some very good pictures I thought. Last year I went to Moab, Utah and stayed for a month. They have fabulous Red mountains and it was gorgeous! (I would move there too!) Haha! Anyway I also like to shoot at night and the mountains. And mostly I guess everything. I don't have a real camera just my galaxy 6. But someday I will have a great camera and you will hear of me I swear. Taking pictures is in my blood and it brings me such joy! Thank you for all your info and sharing your beautiful pictures! Much happiness to you!

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3.Geoff(non-registered)
The 3rd picture have all my attention! Incredible Matt!
2.Photography by Matt Payne
Thanks for your response Kiefer! I'm fine with it too! I think for me it helps illustrate just how connected we are as humans to a sense of place, and how important that is to cultivate and cherish.
1.Kiefer Thomas(non-registered)
This is a similar question I've always had with myself. It seems some are held prisoner, even draconically by the mountains, images of them even thoughts of them and to others, they're merely fluff.
Personally, I'm not sure this question could ever be answered by my .02¢ is that some are more withdrawn & introspective. I think with personality types of this sort, images convey more feelings than words or places. We can extrapolate underlying meanings with very little input and deep down, being alone is typically not a problem. I think "these" people also tend to be a bit more on the creative side.
I like weird, abstract images too. But strictly for their artistic sense, not necessairly for how they make me feel.

I've had disagreements with past girlfriends over images and even movies. Wishing they could understand the image or meaning in the movie like I do but knowing, they don't. It usually stays superficial. Irritating to be sure but I suppose, I guess that makes certain images my own little slice of heaven. And I'm fine with that.
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