A Comparison of Crafts

Virginia Parker Staat

Rocky Mountain Outdoor Writers and Photographers. How did these two separate crafts ever come together? A quick check with long-time members Don and Barb Laine and Jack Olson led me to discover that when RMOWP began in 1973, most members were writing and using their own photos to accompany their stories. They considered themselves outdoor communicators rather than purveyors of a specific craft.

Over the years, photography and writing diverged. Digital photography revolutionized the industry. Outdoor writing also changed direction with a rise in eco-defense writers, including Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez, and Peter Matthiessen. 

Fast forward to today, and we find ourselves once again blending these two artistic mediums with photo essays, narrative photography, photojournalism, and more. This re-convergence brings us full circle. But can we really compare photography to writing?

Brandon Trean believes the answer is yes. He says, “A writer is just a photographer of thoughts.”

In actuality, the two crafts are more similar than expected. As an example, whether we look through the lens of a camera or at a sheet of paper, each craft has boundaries that the artist must acknowledge. 

Each photograph or story must have a purpose. As photographers or writers, we focus on what we want our audience to see. 

Each art form has basic techniques that must be learned, whether it is camera operational knowledge or grammar and punctuation. We each have rules that must be followed and we must be comfortable enough with the process to know when those rules can be broken.

Each craft employs storytelling. And both must edit.

Australian photographer and writer Megan Kennedy takes the comparison of crafts even deeper, saying, “Both writing and photography rely on narrative and visual language to operate. Light and space are illuminating factors in both mediums too.”

The artist in each field has a personal voice. As an example, after my years with RMOWP, I can often pick out the photographer behind the Members Choice photos. Some of our photographers have specific subject matter while others saturate their photos in rich colors. A writer’s voice is the same. We each use a certain language style and rhythm when writing our stories.

For me, Brendan Van Son says it best, “I have found that I love photography for the exact same reason I love writing: it is an outlet of my vision of the world.” 

When I look at the future of RMOWP, I am excited. Together we can explore our respective crafts and find strength in each. When combining the two crafts of photography and writing, we can do something exceptional. If your vision of the world is best shown through the artistic expression of photography and/or writing, I invite you to join us at our RMOWP Alamogordo conference from October 5 through 8. See you there.