Embrace the Panorama

This was supposed to be a quick post about the panoramas I took of the Tetons, quick because I am profoundly uncomfortable with panoramas as a genre.

This was supposed to take me five minutes to write, but IT IS NOW THREE HOURS LATER AND I’M HAVING A “BIT” OF A CRISIS



(a.k.a., I just turned 43–how the hell did THAT happen?).

But I’m getting ahead of myself and likely scaring you, so to calm us both down for a moment, I hope, here’s a panorama of the Tetons.


Now let me start again.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with panoramas. On the one hand, I think they are superawesomecool and really the only way to capture sweeping landscapes. Plus, I love the whole drama of the panorama process, waiting on the edge of my seat while Photoshop does its magic, wondering for those few seconds, “Ohmygod, will it work? How’s it going to look? Hurry, Photoshop, hurry! THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME!”

And yet even if everything goes right, the end product is always a disappointment. There are some practical reasons for this: panoramas don’t fit well on a computer screen, they’re a bitch to print and/or frame, and unless they’re like four feet tall, you lose all detail anyway.

But the real problem is that the reason I take a panorama in the first place is because I’ve become slack-jawed dumbstruck by a really beautiful place that gives me a really beautiful feeling inside and I would like that feeling to last forever and I know it can’t but I fool myself into thinking that if I just record the moment, then the record of the moment will act like some sort of wormhole that can magically transport me back to that time, that place, and that state of mind.

Like how I felt when I took these panoramas of the Tetons. Look! This one’s got horses in it.


And this one’s got a fence AND horses.


Panoramas epitomize the best and worst of landscape photography. They say, “I wish you were here” but also seem to relish pointing out just what you missed because you weren’t.

This might be my guilt talking.

I’ve been feeling lately that landscape photography is a really selfish endeavor. Or at least I feel that I am being selfish when I write blogs about the photographs I took. Perhaps if I kept it all to myself, it would seem less so. But to assume that where I went and what I saw is so important that you, Kind Reader, should give up your precious time to look at it? Isn’t that the height of narcissism? How am I any different from that person who invites you over for dinner but then insists that you look at all of the pictures from my recent vacation before I feed you?

Can a picture of a landscape really ever matter that much to anyone other than the photographer?

On that note, take a look at this panorama of the Tetons taken from Oxbow Bend.


Perhaps my guilt is less about feeling selfish than it is about feeling wasteful. Shouldn’t I be doing something more useful with my time, like making sure everyone is registered to vote or advocating that we all buy local so the whole freaking planet doesn’t melt?

Here’s a terrible confession: I would never buy a landscape photograph. If a friend had a show, then, yeah, I might make a purchase because my love for the person would invest the photograph with meaning. But I can’t imagine ever buying a random landscape photograph, no matter how beautiful. I would much rather try to take that photograph myself. In fact, sometimes I find myself looking at the magnificent framed art sold in those gift shops that are always attached to the visitor centers of national parks and wonder who they heck they think is going to buy that framed panorama of the Tetons covered in snow.

Please enjoy this panorama of the Tetons covered in clouds.


Photography is the only art form that I practice without also actively supporting it. Why is that? It’s not very nice. I like to write horror fiction, but if I suddenly started publishing horror novels left and right, I wouldn’t stop reading other people’s horror novels. In fact, I really despise the kind of writer who doesn’t pay attention to what other people are writing. I think artists should be both practitioners and patrons of whatever art they do.

So why, when it comes to photography, am I such a hypocrite?

Or maybe I’m not. I may not currently buy photography, but I probably would if I had the dough. I do spend a lot of time looking at other people’s photography and, when I can, I take the time to tell photographers that I looked and liked.

And perhaps all art is a bit “selfish” and “wasteful.” Perhaps it has to be. And perhaps if I just accepted that, I would be able to finally write the damn horror novel that is floating around in my head (tentatively titled The Peripherals). The problem I’m having is that I have a bunch of scary scenes in my head, but I know that a good horror novel is much more than a bunch of scary scenes strung together, so I’ve been trying to invent more complex backgrounds for my characters, whose names, by the way, are Amy, Jodie, and Alex. Amy is struggling with her unhappy marriage to Jack and with the fact that SHE KEEPS SEEING CREEPY SHAPES OUT OF THE CORNER OF HER EYES THAT DISAPPEAR WHEN SHE LOOKS AT THEM DIRECTLY BUT THEN SUDDENLY THEY DON’T–OH SHIT! Jodie has just discovered that her crush on her brother’s best friend actually runs deeper and that she might be truly in love with him and p.s. she keeps hearing someone humming and then whispering her name and then saying all sorts of terrible things to her OR MAYBE SHE IS IMAGINING THE WHOLE THING–OH SHIT! Alex is an eleven-year-old girl who sometimes wonders if she perhaps would rather be a boy because she likes so many boy things AND AT NIGHT SHE SOMETIMES SEES THE SILHOUETTE OF A MAN STANDING IN THE CORNER OF HER ROOM OR MAYBE SHE JUST MISSES HER FATHER–OH SHIT!

If you’re scared now, perhaps this panorama of the Tetons will make you feel better.


As you may have noticed, it is pretty hard for me to take the novel seriously. Before I even type a word, a voice in my head says, “Who the hell do you think you are making us all read your dumb words? Don’t you know how busy we are?” (This voice has changed over time. Once it sounded like Gwyneth Paltrow; lately, it has sounded like Donald Trump or at least has his disapproving eyebrows.)

But I guess the thing is that you don’t HAVE to look at my pictures or read my words unless you really want to, right? I’m not making you. So I suppose I should stop feeling guilty that you’re spending time on me because it’s not like I tricked you with promises of dinner (though if you know anything about my cooking skills, promises of dinner would probably not be a very successful ploy).

I suppose if you’re here, it’s because you wanted to be, either because you’re a lovely supportive person (thanks) or because you just had to see this panorama of Taggett Lake.


and this one of the fall foliage at Oxbow Bend.


Let’s all just embrace our panorama.


6 thoughts on “Embrace the Panorama

  1. I for one enjoy the conjunction of writing and photography that you present. The snark and gentle philosophy is strong in this one, and you bring out more personality in a photo when you discuss the drive behind it. I don’t think I’d call that selfish. I, for one, appreciate your ruminations on your art. It helps me to imagine the scenery outside the edges of the panorama if I know you trekked into the wilderness and stared down scoldy animals to get it.

    And how do you even manage to notice Trump’s eyebrows when you have every other feature of that man’s face calling to you? It’s a political cartoonist’s wet dream. (And now I’m picturing Gwyneth standing in the corner of my dark room and suddenly screaming, “Yuge!”)

      1. My dad used to take a sunset photograph from our driveway every day. He did this to show the variety of AZ sunsets to everyone of our snowbird visitors. He really got into it, often rushing meals and speeding home with a road rage cigarette clenched between his fingers like a vice, all to get the perfect cloud color combos.

        There’s a whole binder full of these print photos, and every once in a while when I pull it out for a family member I think two things: 1) How I’d mock him that sunrises were more difficult to capture, and 2) How for several years this pursuit possessed him.

        So even if art is selfish for the most part, is that really so bad?

        Commenting on your blog made me remember this, so that’s another unselfish reason for art.

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