Conceptual Depth in Landscape Photography

“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.”
“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”
“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
“The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.”

| Morpheus talking to Neo, The Matrix, written and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski

Where is Conceptual Depth in Landscape Photography?

Our social age might be characterized by superficiality. Individuals tinder through news and images and instantly make decisions on likes, upvotes, or ratings. Basically, judgments. In consequence, not only many fake news spread virally but also the photography art world gets swamped by soul-less, empty images. In a series of blog posts, I’d like to discuss conceptual depth in landscape photography, define it and give some outstanding examples of rich photography art work that are conceptually deep.

  • In part one of this series, I am introducing the problem and motivate why it is a problem in my eyes.
  • In part two, I’ll define a concept, introduce the idea of conceptual depth and suggest concrete criteria for identifying conceptual depth.
  • In part three, I’ll discuss some concrete examples of wonderful landscape photographers and their concepts.
  • In the final part four, I’ll suggest some concrete take-aways everyone can apply to their photography work to achieve a higher level of conceptual depth.

Disclaimer: As all my blog posts, this one as well, represent my own personal, subjective opinion. It is not in my interest to critique others, as art should be without borders. Everything is allowed, welcomed and respected (conditional on ethics and morality). This article just mirrors my personal need and wishful thinking for the future.

What is the Problem?

In a noisy world, where information overload is rather the rule than the exception, we are saturated of inputs. Saturation can be defined as repetition of events or stories or content, in our case in the images we see every day. If you question that this is the case, you may want to have a look at the Instagram account @Insta_Repeat. In consequence, we feel that nothing new happens. We have seen it already. Photography has unfortunately become a mass medium. And for that very reason photography has a problem of being accepted as an art form within the arts.

You may argue that just recently we have seen more and more fine art content being published and more and more individuals talk about the meaning of expressive photography. While this is true quantitatively, it is from my humble point of view false qualitatively. When content is coined “fine art”, is it already fine art? When individuals talk about “expressive photography”, is it expressive? Where is the expression? Where is the depth? When photographers talk about how difficult it was to get on location to make the image, is this a concept? Are we mislead by superficial bromides?

Where is the value of photography today? Where is our call? Where is our order? Where is our mission? The vast majority of images on Instagram and other social media channels will not make it into any serious portfolio, because they are made for the masses. Made to easily blend in. As a consequence, originality, truth and authenticity is lost. Basically, we lost our voice.  Photography has become an empty artefact without a soul.

Why has it happened? Let’s think of a continuum between two extreme poles and our own position on this continuum:

  • On the left hand side: The individual, introvert artist who creates for himself, without pressure, without compromises, with time and in peace of mind. Her platform is the canvas. Her audience are the walls. She is creating in isolation.
  • On the right hand side: The extrovert influencer who is pushed by platform algorithms on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and similar platforms to continuously produce, daily invest time in different platform activities and engage himself in building up a community through aggressive marketing funnelling advertisements.

Where would you position yourself on this continuum? You may want to think about this for a second.

Why is it a problem to be an extrovert mass influencer? We may have seen an increasing interest of passionated individuals transitioning into the field of photography. This is great. In order to get an audience, they are following trends and they do what everyone else, who is successful and publicly visible (remember Insta_Repeat). It has become too simple to become successful on the internet. There are obvious blueprints to success. If you come up with reasonable quality content, follow these rules, invest a lot of time and money for online advertisement, you’ll create your audience and you will make money from your work. It has never been simpler than today. It is however not easy, because the extrovert mass influencer pays with his lifetime. The costs of the extrovert mass influencer are the most valuable currencies they (and we all) have: time and peace of mind. The consequence often is content of mediocre quality.

It comes even worse. These mass influencers actively train themselves every day to destroy their ability to express ourselves. How much time gets lost in all your Youtube, Netflix, Instagram or online gaming sessions? How much potential do we all loose through these activities? Where could mankind be if that time and energy would be invested into creation? Into a mindful encounter with your partner, your children or even an anonymous person in the train. Instead of triggering the diffusion of fake news and insta repeats, we could start a diffusion of mindfulness, humility and humanity.

Why is it a problem to be an introvert isolate? They do what they believe is right. They invest time and are obsessed about what they do. But they do it with passion and joy, make no compromise, with time and peace of mind. Where is the problem? They are alone. They are by themselves. They have no audience. At least in the beginning. This means that they cannot live from it. Then again, they have to make trade-offs to earn a living, potentially in a job that is not related at all to photography. Which limits their time with photography. However, in the end, without the force and pressure to run after platforms and advertise themselves all the time, they’ll have potentially more time for photography than the extrovert mass influencer has with all his schedules, pressure, external expectations and the need to market himself.

The question is: Can we be meaningful, mindful, genuine and authentic creators that can showcase their work to an audience that cares, is interested in and open to discuss at the same time? In other words, are we able to find a trade-off in the middle of the continuum?

Red or Blue Pill? Which One Do You Take?

Or, do we have to make a decision and either take the red or the blue pill? As Morpheus beautifully framed it in the movie The Matrix. Choosing the red pill to reveal an unpleasant truth, or taking the blue pill and remain in blissful ignorance.

In part two of this extended blog, I’ll define a concept, conceptual depth and suggest some criteria for it.

Thanks for your interest and reading!


“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

| Morpheus talking to Neo, The Matrix, written and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski


This article is inspired by discussions I thankfully had in the past with Rafael Rojas and TJ Thorne. I am very thankful for this outstanding discourse and that they always welcomed my thinking.

Related other articles from my blog:
About Stillness
About Success in Photography and Life
Creating a Personal Style or Finding Identity?
The Unassuming Traveller