I moved to Salt Lake just under a month ago. Naturally, in my research I found two iconic photographs of the city that people seem to like taking. This is my version of one of them. It’s shot from the northern end of the city on a neighborhood road, through a fence pointing south, with the Utah State Capitol Building and State Street extending behind it down the valley. It’s a really nice view of the city. I like how State Street is so clearly highlighted, and I also like how prominent the Wasatch mountain range appears on the left, so close to the bustling city.

I love shooting iconic photographs. Tunnel View in Yosemite is one of my favorites. Same with the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston. Last year on a camping trip in Yosemite, I kept nudging our group to build our schedule around finding photography spots that I could take advantage of. My brother, Eric, having a schedule of his own, challenged my desire to shoot these iconic landscape photos. He told me it doesn’t seem creative at all if you’re just going to the same spot other people have gone, pressing a button, and coming up with the same exact image, just on a different day with different weather.

I didn’t have a great answer for him. I tried to explain that researching and hunting down your spot, positioning yourself with the right natural light, dialing in camera settings, choosing the right frame, and post-processing the image are all part of this highly creative process, and it all leads up to one single intimate moment that you, and only you, share with that place. But he wasn’t totally convinced. And to be honest, I wasn’t quite convinced either. Yes, those things require creativity. Everyone has his own style, and each moment tells a different story. But what exactly separates a truly iconic, truly original photograph from a decent, properly exposed, technically sound one of the same exact view?

I’m still not sure. But ever since that conversation, I haven’t been satisfied with simply snapping the iconic photo and moving on.

So when I found this spot and got my first image, I wasn’t finished. I came back the next day and hiked down a nearby hill, searching a better vantage point. That one was worse than the first try one. The next day I came back for a 3rd time and found what I thought was the best spot, behind the fence I mentioned in the first paragraph. After getting the framing right, I had this vision in my head of a timelapse starting in the daylight, going through sunset, and watching the city light up as darkness sweeps over it.

So I came back again on another day to attempt my timelapse. The sunset was locked behind the clouds and showed no color, so I tried again and again. On the third try, I finally got the timelapse I was looking for.

But I didn’t feel like stopping. I don’t know what it was exactly. The iconic image didn’t satisfy me. The iconic image turned into a timelapse didn’t satisfy me. That night, on my drive home, I passed another view of State street extending into the valley from beyond the Capitol building. A vision slowly started unfolding in my imagination, and before I knew it, I was shooting another timelapse. I came back about 5 more times after that before I had all the shots I needed to complete my vision.

Chasing that one iconic photograph turned into a month-long personal project where I came up with something that I think is pretty original and new. I’ve never done anything like it, and I sure haven’t found anyone else who shot this spot the way I did. I was forced to learn some new techniques in After Effects, and the whole journey pulled my creativity into a place I didn’t know it could go.

And maybe that’s the answer to Eric’s question. What makes shooting an iconic photograph truly original? It depends on what happened in the pursuit of the photograph. Did the artist change and evolve along the journey? Did they come out of the process with something more than just that iconic photograph? Can you see parts of that story inside the piece?

What do you think?

Here’s the full project, by the way: https://www.facebook.com/realsimonfraser/videos/10221399200360303/

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