Michael's shots make me think, which, aside from making my head hurt, has helped me work through some aesthetic issues of my own.
Ansel Adams famously said something to the effect that he'd been lucky enough to have been certain places when God wanted a picture taken. I know what he means.
Here's the thing about Michael's photogaphy, from my point of view: He moves a lot. He goes to Asia and then to Iceland and then to the North Woods then out West. His photogaphy is exceptionally good -- he might be the best travel photographer around, because he combines landscape-photographer rigor with the travel -- but I haven't seen from him a masterpiece, like "Clearing Winter Storm" or "Running White Deer."
There are a couple of reasons for that. Most masterpieces come from establishing what the French call a 'motif,' a picture in your head, a potential masterpiece: but then, with photogaphy, you have to be there when God wants you to be. If Adams had been traveling through the Sierra two days before the winter storm cleared, then there wouldn't have been a masterpiece. So I think masterpieces come from people who tend to cover a restricted amount of ground: they are there day after day afer day, and year after year, and when they know the ground better than anyone, and have developed an idea of what the masterpiece will look like -- what the weather will be like, what the light will be like, the foliage, etc. -- they then manage to be there when it happens. And that doesn't happen often. Adams made maybe -- maybe -- a dozen real masterpieces in his life, and he lived a long time, and did only photogaphy.
There's an additional problem here, that I and a lot of other people share with Michael: Can you make a real landscape masterpiece in Toronto (or in the U.S. west of the Appalachians and east of the Front Range?) Do you need magnificence in the landscape itself to make a masterpiece? The mid-continent landscape is subtle, to use one word...I think you can, though.
But the bigger question is, can Michael, travelling as he does, make a masterpiece when he doesn't know the ground, and really can't know it? I'd argue that one of the most revered American photograhers, Walker Evans, never really made the kind of iconic photogaph that is recognized as a masterpiece, and that college students would buy as posters to hang on their walls (as with Adams or Caponegro or others,) because he worked like Michael -- he moved all the time, and covered all kinds of different subjects.
In other words, I'm suggesting the Michael hasn't produced a masterpiece because, though he has the technique and vision, the way he works limits him. His body of work will eventually come to resemble that of, say, Peter Beard or Gordon Parks or the late stuff of John Szarkowski, rather than that of iconic landscape photographers.
If he wanted to make a masterpiece, and not move from Toronto, I would suggest that he could take a very long look at the paintings of Winslow Homer, and then find a landscape that he would like to know intimately, and start exploring it in microscopic detail. The problem with that, which is a problem that I share, is that travel becomes addictive. It's also destructive: If I go to Europe or the Middle East for a month, I have a hard time doing any serious work for a month after I get back, because I'm too cranked on the travel. And if you travel four times a year...