John Fan: Spirit of Rationality in Nature and Landscape Photography
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by Yan Zhang
In the 2017 New Year, John Fan and I, together with other 4Aperture members, attended the opening ceremony of the 4Aperture 1st International Photography Exhibition at the Shanghai World Trade Centre. Due to jet lag, John and I woke up very early each morning and had breakfast together during those days. This gave us a good opportunity to discuss a number of topics in detail: current photography trends, our professional learning curves and the experiences we each had accumulated over the years.
My meeting with John in the 2017 New Year provided a good juncture for me to conduct this interview.
One thing John and I talked a lot about during this time was an old topic: why do we take pictures? The advent of digital photography and social media has changed the way we take and view pictures. Nowadays, we have seen that popularity and social media exposure are becoming the primary goal for many photographers, which, in one way or another, is weakening our fundamental aesthetic concepts and values in photography.
Like many forms of art, nature and landscape photography has its own unique characteristics. John is one of the photographers I know who reflects seriously on the essence of photography, and persistently strives to capture such essence in his works. As I read from his book “Spirit of Rationality”, photography is part of John’s life journey, and reflects his feeling toward nature and his own life.
At a recent seminar event, people asked me why I climbed mountains to take photographs. My answer was simple: because I loved mountains. To me, mountains are a land-form where I can get close to nature and my photographs express my feelings towards mountains. I think for both John and I, we place great value on nature and the universe and we express our gratitude towards them through our photography.
In this interview, our 1X audiences will learn more about John’s photography, his personal background and philosophy, his recently published photography book and his involvement in the 1X curating process. I believe people will appreciate and be greatly inspired by John’s stories and experiences regarding nature and landscape photography.
Hi John, I was very glad to finally meet you face to face in Patagonia early last year, after many years of correspondence through the Internet, as well as our very recent meeting in Shanghai during the exhibition. Also thanks for agreeing to have this interview with 1X. I believe many 1X audiences are quite familiar with you as a member of the 1X curator team as well as your stunning works published in the 1X gallery.
A camera can objectively record what is in front of our eyes. However, we only see what our brains tell us to see, which makes a camera not only an extension of our visions but also an extension of our minds. In addition to the technical expertise of photo making, a photographer must also learn to listen to his heart before pressing the shutter release.
This book is written concisely (which I like). It focuses on three key areas: Composition and Idea; Space and Time; and Emotion and Expression.
I remembered that we joined the 1X community at a similar time, and since then, I have been following your works.
I took this picture during a trip to Upper Michigan with another well-known 1X.com photographer, Yiming Hu. We drove over 1000 kilometres in the forests to search for a perfect spot to photograph fall colour. Then we arrived at a small lake that was surrounded by an array of brilliant foliage. The temperature was fairly warm during the day, but the weather forecast said it would drop to a near freeze temperature overnight. Years of outdoor experience told us there was a good chance it would be foggy in the morning as the warm water evaporates quickly in the cold air.
This is an interesting topic. Many times, I was asked by photography friends that how to get a photograph published on 1X. To be honest, I could not answer this question confidently because I do not exactly know how the curating process works on 1X. And ironically, from time to time, I also got my submitted images rejected, even if they received high scores from people’s votes.
1X operates in a way that every image published is curated by a group of curators. It is a mountainous amount of work to curate every image, but this is what makes 1X unique. Curators are all accomplished photographers and have diverse backgrounds. Now, instead of trying to impress the average viewers to become popular, one has to impress the curators to get the images published. Popularity on 1X does little to get an image published.
How to impress the curators? Curators are similar to other viewers when they look at an image, except they look at hundreds of excellent images a day. An eye catching but cliché image that attracts an average viewer’s attention might appear boring to curators. On the other hand, a creative image that is unpopular might look refreshing to them and therefore draw their attention. If there were one thing I could suggest, it would be creativity. Creativity is the heart and soul of any visual art. Creative images generate lasting interest.
I know photography is your passion but not your full-time occupation. I am in the same position as you. Personally, I enjoy the lifestyle combining both science and art – scientific research make me happy as much as photography does.
Finally, as an established photographer, what advice would you provide if someone asked you for advice in photography?
Thanks very much John, today’s interview is really interesting. I am sure our audiences will be inspired by your story and images. I wish you all the best in your photography.
John Fan is the co-founder of the 4Aperture photography group. He has grew up in China and lived in the United States for over 30 years. He has a PhD in physics and he is an expert in radiation oncology, serving as the president of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine Midwest Chapter. John has been an editor and curator for 1x.com and a judge in numerous international competitions. He has travelled around the world seeking inspiration from nature and discovering nature’s beauty unseen by others. His works have won many prestigious international awards and have been published in numerous magazines. He is the author of the recently published photography book “Spirit of Rationality – Voices from Nature”.
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