Eliot Porter does not teach us to use foreground
Before the era of Youtube, I never knew I should use foreground in my landscape photographs. Then it happened that I learned from vloggers that for a landscape photographer, the foreground is very important, to the end that one must always have one, at least if you are using a wide-angle lens.
Without giving it much thought I swallowed this and went on. Not a big deal, I'm not shooting landscapes with wide lenses that much. However, the thought stick on me. One day, I decided to go on a photo walk in a familiar forest with a wide-angle lens only.
Troubles meeting the goals set by who?
I had such a hard time to make any exposures. I was desperately trying to make compositions, where foreground would be the meaningful path to the depth of the image. That's what it is supposed to be, right? You place something interesting on the foreground, which connects the scene further behind and give the feeling of space and depth to the whole composition. I realized I have to practice this a lot.
I did practice. The results were not good. I wasn't happy with this and decided to leave wide angles to street photography. Later I realized it was the foreground issue. I had never had special need for the foreground, and now that I was trying to force it on every image, I didn't felt comfortable. Also I realized where the urge for this kind of composition had came: letting something said somewhere to affect me without further thought.
The unorthodox Eliot Porter book cover
Eliot Porters book The Grand Canyon was on my desk another day. I had gone through the book a while ago: tons of sweet photographs - highly recommended. There's a foreground on the cover picture. Grass hanging on the edge of a sublime opening to the canyon. Why this is composited like wide-angle landscape vloggers where telling me to do?
I had a bad feeling. Having already processed all the trouble with wide-angles and foreground, I was afraid that Porter would be a practitioner of this style and I have had missed it.
No. Of 65 plates of this book, there is only one picture with a foreground that is not a rock, sand or water, like the rest of that same picture. Why is this one picture made it to the cover? I don't know. But one thing might be telling: this book is not curated by Eliot Porter, it is made after his time.
What about the foreground. Never?
Particular problem with the foreground dogma, that I believed for a moment, is that it easily produces a kind of pictures that are not real. Is being realistic important? Absolutely not: a lot of my work or visual arts that I love is surrealistic. But consider this. The cover of this book is a good example. Would you ever, in any circumstance, stand there, by this view, and have a piece of short grass in front of your face? To me it looks like I have fallen prone and hopefully not going to drop off the cliff.
This being said, I have nothing else against the foreground idea. There's a place for it and one can make greater than life photographs with a foreground. Most of the time, I don't compose my photographs like that. If you do, good! Dogmas are just dogmas. The most important thing is: get your camera out and take photographs.