I think the distinction between "conceptual art" and "landscape" is, well, not necessarily false, but fuzzier than one might think offhand.
I have no interest in purist conceptual art, where the piece itself is largely irrelevant. My aim it produce an aesthetically appealing image (not necessarily attractive, but visually appealing) which communicates in some way. Landscape photography, at its best, does more than simply reproduce a beautiful landscape, it evokes the sensation of being there, or at least an emotional complex similar to being there.
Standing in Yosemite Valley seeing El Capitan for the first time, or the thousandth time, evokes a reaction of several kinds of awe in most people. It's a pretty incredible piece of rock. A good photograph of El Cap will be a nicely composed thing, with great detail in the rocks, dramatic light, and a well placed collection of trees and other foreground objects to contrast and balance the huge stone wall. I hate those photos. A great photo of El Cap will make me feel, in a smaller way, the same awe at the sheer majesty of the thing, and of nature, and the world that contains such a thing. I love those photos. Which are which? That will vary from person to person, to a degree. So, a photo of El Cap that I hate might be one that you love, for exactly the same philosophical reasons and that's ok.
An image that communicates nothing is not worthless, there are many roles these images can play. Decor, memory aids, stock photos, etc etc. I do not object to their existence. I simply don't want to make them, and I am not much interested in looking at them.
I am pleased that my reshoot is more effective than the original.
The leaves in the foreground serve, in my opinion, to place the viewer in the scene. The point of the leaves is to convert this from a photograph of a man walking away to a scene in which you, the viewer, are watching the man walk away. From an oddly low point of view, incidentally. They're not the only link from the viewer to the scene, the out of focus bricks on the left also server. Removing the leaves, I feel, makes looking at this photograph less personal, more formal.
That said, yeah, the leaves could definitely be handled better. Those are the leaves that are there, unfortunately, and pushing them much darker makes them start to look very strange.