About a month ago I lead a round table discussion at a meeting of the Film Photographers Association. Starting with an overview of the abuse of technique in photography, a presentation I made in Turkey we talked about the importance of technique and aesthetics in art and how in today’s digital photography world photographers are drawn to the tool and technique. Still on the subject of technique, I narrated one of the exhibits I saw in London at the beginning of June of this year: Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude. Claude Lorraine started painting landscapes for the sake of landscape and Turner followed on his footsteps almost a century later. They both possessed impeccable technique but what impressed the viewer was the painting and what it depicted. So, the technique was subservient to the vision and the art of the painter. I had the exhibit catalog shipped from Amazon instead of carrying it with me from London.
Following on the tradition of painting, landscape photography emerged with the invention of the medium we all so enjoy today. We talked about the evolution of the landscape photography starting with the early photographers, Sullivan, Watkins, and so on who tried to bring the remote parts of the country and even the world to those who could not travel to those places. The pictorialism movement gave us the works of Steichen, Stieglitz, and their contemporaries leading the way to the modernist movement of Weston, Adams, White, and so on. The discussion and conversation at the round table were quite engaged on this phase.
Then I mentioned another exhibit I was lucky enough to see in London, Oil by Edward Burtynsky. This was very different landscape photography focusing on mainly man-made, manufactured landscape all tied to the extraction, transportation, usage, and aftermath of oil. The exhibit was very striking with 4′ x 5′ prints with meticulous compositional structure and utmost attention to detail. I had ordered the book with the same title from Amazon and it arrived on the day of the round table discussion so I was able to share the contents with the participants. The transition from Turner to Burtynsky both tied the ends of the genre and created a huge scope of work that we call landscape. That was the main point I wanted to end with anyway.
Recently I bought another book, Landscape in Photographs from Getty Publications which specifically focuses on the latter part of our round table discussion. After an opening essay which traces the history of “landscape” in painting and photography, the book offers many examples of landscape photographs with occasional commentary in between some. Any photographer interested in landscape photography will likely benefit from the book. The genre clearly is not limited to the works of Ansel Adams and the photographs of John Shaw, Jack Dykinga, and the like, who tend to photograph “beautiful” and “pristine”, idealized landscapes. Whereas the humankind has been steadily altering the landscape and creating a different “scape” which we may call “manscape“. There is a documentary movie about Burtynsky’s work, Manufactured Landscapes which looks at this phenomenon.
I enjoyed this little book, which I bought at Amazon as a used book at a great price. Most of the photographs are highly enjoyable and informative but I would like to single out two. The first one is by Karen Halverson, Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Wyoming/Utah; and the second is by Andre Kertesz, Camera in Landscape. They both underline very strongly the idea that if there is a photograph, there is a photographer behind a camera taking it; and thus, the pristine landscape is not really that pristine after all.
Below: A Selection From Oil