I have a little Fujifilm point-and-shoot that I bought while I was traveling in Canada when I once again had broken I think it was my third Nikon Coolpix. It's shock and water resistant and I carry it just about all the time. It's my little friend, my little sketchpad, and what I like most about it is I never know exactly what it's going to do. It gives me a lot of control, but many times it, well, it doesn't take over, but it's almost as if it says, wait a minute, why don't you look at it this way?
It's still during the pandemic, when it seems it's still going to to be a year or more when I'm trapped in my apartment, on my porch, in my garden, when I'm almost too frightened to walk to the post office. When you jack the ISO all the way to 3200, the results look like charcoal drawings.
Untitled Highway (Riding Shotgun) is a series of spontaneous, contemporary American landscapes I make while sitting in the passenger seat of a car during long-distance trips between places like Boston and New York traveling at a high rate of speed, at least 65 mph or faster.
I am not interested in the mainstream. What attracts me is the beauty of the places and things that others overlook; that others choose to overlook because they're too busy, too distracted by society and or by expectations of what they’ve been told they should pay attention. Nature is almost always the common element in my work.
I know these images don’t document or comment on the dramatic human condition. They don’t show the America landscape in the dramatic way we’ve come to expect the American West or our cities portrayed. They are landscapes that explore and document the fleeting. I feel these are very intimate landscapes, the presumed insignificant made significant for just the viewer whose life is going too fast.
These landscapes slow things down. These images are in keeping with traditional landscapes, for more meditative viewing where the photographer sets up a camera on a tripod and meticulously composes a scene. But our world is too fast-paced and too crowded for that now and these landscapes reflect the speed of our world.
These images were made out of a car window traveling down the Interstate at 65 mph or more. In this type of scenario, there is no time to think, no time to contemplate just like our modern lives don’t allow us to stop and think. Only see and respond before the next landscape is served up in the next moment and the process is repeated. As the image-maker, I am like the harried viewer. I don't ask myself the questions that would normally go through my mind, or through the mind of any artist: Is this a pretty picture? Is it relevant? Will others like it? Will it sell? I just react to what's in front of me for that second. (For that 1/5000 of a second and then it’s over!)
In a matter of a few hours you can be hundreds of miles from where you started. Think of all of the landscapes you've passed! Thousands? Tens or even hundreds of thousands? But you only see them for a second before they dissolve from your consciousness: They're gone for good, replaced by the next one and the next one and the next. Many people's response would be simply to blank out, to stare.
The landscape has changed because our lives have changed. No vistas. It's closed and fast, civilization has encroached everywhere, and snap snap snap. But the world is still beautiful. It has now become the job of the image-maker to compose in an instant.
John Greiner-Ferris is a fine arts photographer and writer in the Boston area. Sometimes he makes images. Sometimes he writes. Sometimes he does both.