Landscape Photography

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The definition of a landscape typically situates it’s subject matter in a natural setting. Certainly having land embedded in the term encourages us to take that view.  Yet as we approach the details, the definition becomes malleable, like a bowl of jelly, difficult to grasp and hold onto. In part, it is because as one looks closer, those settings that we would like to capture in an image, that appear natural, have been manipulated in some way by the hand of man. We face the question of whether landscape includes more than pure, natural settings.  For example, many will allow those pastoral scenes, depicted in so many famous English paintings, within the definition, and with that comes an acceptance of manipulated scenes. 

If we accept to include such scenes, then the manipulations become part of the narrative of the image. To appreciate the implications this choice, one must recall that manipulation of the land is usually done for some purpose, to the benefit of people (e.g., agriculture) and often reflects cultural markers (e.g., architecture). Manipulations come heavily loaded with meaning and inference. 

There might be a question whether there is a boundary: what is an acceptable amount of manipulation? An approach that limits manipulations would privilege the more natural settings; a more relaxed definition would widen the subject matter. The latter approach allows us to consider that Landscape could be seen as an umbrella term for a range of scenarios including cityscapes, seascapes, etc.  As we further widen the definition, “the landscape” could be interpreted as simply the environment around us, leaving us with a question of why not simply refer to this as environmental (photography)?

Mitchell offers a solution to what might otherwise become a circular argument: landscape art is a medium, not a genre. So rather than focus on the content, and become consumed by what physical objects may or may not be included in the image, think of it as a mechanism to communicate something.  Maybe we just shifted the bean using the discourse that is the shell game of critical analysis.  

Notwithstanding, for me, Mitchell’s premise opens a broader range of useable subject matter and shifts the focus more on the message, which I think is where I want to be. Put another way, it positions landscape as a mechanism for communication, yet the imagery remains situated in the “land” (however loosely).  By allowing images that include “the hand of man”, we enable the inclusion of the messages inferred by the manipulations such as culture, control over the environment and indeed, power. 

Rue Du Musée, Marseille. 

With no sight of land in the image above, most, if not all the elements captured within it are made of the land: the brick walls; the concrete surfaces; the tiles on the roofs; the metal of the aerials. The convergence of multiple time periods is represented through “ancient” architecture and modern satellite dishes, offering a window onto several cultural questions, such as trans generational cultural change, the cumulative nature of culture, things lost and gained, etc. 


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