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Inspiration

The Palouse Effect

· 23.May.2020

Although I have spent the last few years capturing the light and visuals offered in the streets of world cities, there is one area in North America where I try to go every year. No, it is not another metropolis or even a town but an agricultural area in south-eastern Washington. The Palouse region is a land like no other which I believe every photographer should visit regardless of their interests.The Palouse is an agricultural region which produces mostly wheat and legumes. I couldn’t find the origin of the name “Palouse.” Some sources claim that the name comes from the Palus tribe, only later converted to Pelouse by the French-Canadian fur traders, which means “land with short thick grass.” Later the name was changed to the current Palouse.

The unconscious beauty of the land has captivated me since the first day. The abundance of shapes, patterns and colours produces dream-like visuals which might overwhelm your senses at first. However, if you cut yourself off from the noise of everyday life, turn off your cellphone, disconnect from the Internet and let your senses wander, you will find yourself in awe. Rolling green fields against the blue sky, whirling patterns of never-ending wheat and huge expanses of dune-like hills are all a feast for the eyes.

The most appealing feature of the region is, ironically, the lack of popular spots such as Half Dome in Yosemite or Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Yes, some people visit Steptoe Butte or Palouse Falls State Park but these are only dots in the vast landscape of visual opportunities. The Palouse is for each individual to unravel and photograph. Every corner, every dirt road hides a visual gem and some of them are visible only to you.

Wait a minute! Why would I bother to go to such a place if I am a portrait, commercial or street photographer? Let me explain.

One of the reasons why most of us have invested in the medium format system, film or digital, is because we live for photography or are so committed to the craft of seeing that we are willing to make sacrifices to get the best possible gear. There is no question that many of us medium format shooters are working professionals specializing in our own niche visual markets, whether it is commercial food photography, fashion or portraiture so we are focused, passionate and committed. In fact, many of us are so busy and fixated on what we do that we forget or refuse to look somewhere else for visual inspiration.

The Palouse region offers exactly that! Not only will such a trip break your visual routine but you will be exposed to massively different visual triggers. The portrait how-to or commercial work forces us to see, light and frame the shoot in a certain way. After all, we know what works or what doesn’t. What if your seeing was confronted by dream-like visuals, loud and colourful, but with a willing eye you turn them into pristine landscape? Landscape photography not your thing? Then think abstract, visual poetry or just simply inspiration of lines and shapes creating a pleasing whole.

What I’ve learnt over the years of taking photographs is that there is no such a thing as lost seeing. Each time you are exposed to a different and unexpected visual, your seeing is enriched. It is like writing. Some of us write because we have to, others are much more talented in this regard, and there are some who can arrange the words in a way we find unusually creative and harmonious. Exposing ourselves to a different visual environment is like adding new words to our vocabulary.

I am pretty sure you have seen plenty of luscious and colourful landscape shot in Palouse. Having said that, one of my favourite ways of priming my seeing in Palouse is to take those simple lines, curves and colour and create abstracts. It is an exercise like no other. The Palouse offers complexity and simplicity at the same time, unlike any other place I have visited. It is up to us to take it and add more words to our visual vocabulary. If you need visual inspiration or you are just tired of the demands of your commercial business, it might be time to pause and experience the Palouse Effect.

Olaf Sztaba

Olaf Sztaba

Olaf is founder and editor-in-chief of the Medium Format Magazine – #1 publication dedicated to film and digital medium and large format photography. He spends most of his time writing and photographing in the field, usually exploring the side streets in big cities and less-travelled roads. He is a sought-after speaker and educator, leading the Visual Poet Experience workshops around the world. He is currently working on a series of books about creativity and his personal approach to image creation. Olaf lives in Coquitlam, British Columbia with his wife Kasia, his son Olivier and their furry four-legged companion, Bailey.

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