LP&E: Part 3 - Landscape as Political Text
Project 1 - Origins of the Picturesque
Project 3.1 Origins of the Picturesque -
Exc 3.1 -
Project 3.2 The Tourist Perspective -
Exc 3.2 -
Project 3.3 Marks of Conflict and ‘Late Photography’ -
Project 3.4 Landscape as a Call to Action -
Exc 3.3 -
Project 3.5 Post/Industrial Landscapes -
Exc 3.4 -
Project 3.6 Photography, Memory and Place -
Exc 3.5 -
Exc 3.6 -
An-My Lê -
Broomberg & Chanarin -
late photography -
[ spellchecked 7Nov
All photographs are fictions, to a far greater extent than we are able or willing to acknowledge. Yet most of them still pretend to a high degree of verisimilitude and transparency, to the impersonal neutrality of windows on the world.
A.D. Coleman, introduction to Arthur Tress, Theater of the Mind, 1967, pages unnumbered
1. [8Mar22] A book remains outstanding as a deliverable.
[ spellchecked 25 Jan
[20Jan22 p.95] The key quote for this section gives Assignment 3 its title,
Photographs slice space into place; land is framed as landscape.
Representation envelops reality; it becomes an act of colonisation.
Photography contributes to characterising sites as particular types of
places within the order of things.
Wells. L, L and Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity (2011) London: I.B.Tauris. Pg 56, quoted in LPE Part 3, p.96
Black Cañon, From Camp 8, Looking Above, 1871
I'm not sure that is true — I suggest that it's labels that turn spaces to places. O'Sullivan photographed Black Cañon and it is the name that provides its identity as a place. The photograph slices time to represent a version of a moment of its past.
(Sontag (On Photography) wrote of "slicing out [a] moment and freezing it", and Leibowitz is reported to have said, "A photograph is just a tiny slice of a subject. A piece of them in a moment." (azquotes.com).)
land is framed as (becomes) landscape — that sounds more accurate, and I think we return to this idea.
Representation envelops reality — wrong again, I'd say, a photograph, even if intended to be representational, can only offer a version of a piece of reality (that Leibowitz quote ends, "It seems presumptuous to think you can get more than that").
it (representation) becomes an act of colonisation — I don't really have a view on that phrase.
Photography contributes to characterising sites as particular types of places within the order of things — sometimes, yes.
Next W J T Mitchell's Landscape and Power (2002): I think the cmat. oversimplifies when it paraphrases Mitchell's introduction. For the 2nd edition (2002) Mitchell states that he thinks a better title for his book is Space, Place and Landscape and that while space and place have clear socio-geographic meanings (place has more specificity - that's my own oversimplification), landscape is more of a process applied to spaces and places - you look at a view, you paint (or photograph) a landscape.
The cmat. introduction ends,
Part Three looks at how practitioners – predominantly documentary
photographers – have related landscapes and other spaces to particular political ideologies and historical events, as well as to their personal experiences. For your third assignment, you’ll be asked to explore the reasons behind what makes a particular space a ‘place’.
Origins of the Picturesque
[24Jan p.98] The cmat. demonstrates that the term picturesque is still current by quoting a 2013 BBC news report on HS2 cutting "through picturesque countryside".
The chocolate box nature of the notion is skewered more incisively by Fay Godwin
I am wary of picturesque pictures. I get satiated with looking at
postcards in local newsagents and at the picture books that are on
sale, many of which don’t bear any relation to my own experience of
the place... The problem for me about these picturesque pictures,
which proliferate all over the place, is that they are a very soft warm
blanket of sentiment, which covers everybody’s idea about the
countryside... It idealises the country in a very unreal way.”
Fay Godwin, South Bank Show, produced and directed by Hilary Chadwick (1986) London Weekend Television, quoted in LPE, p.98.
Godwin can say and do no wrong as far as this writer is concerned, but optimistic, superficial postcard views are a traditional feature of British holiday culture and do no harm — in fact, they could be seen as the low water mark against which serious photography † is judged. In the same way, promotional photography, all advertising, but in this instance holiday and travel brochures are slick, professional, but vacuous and sterile, and just as "there can be no good without evil" (Hege, 2020, p.72), so the existence of photography as a medium will guarantee that the postcard views of Stonehenge and Chatsworth will coexist with Godwin's versions of them. The are the outcomes of markets and traditions.
Godwin goes on to suggest that harm is done by giving a false impression of the countryside and "exacerbat[ing] the polarisation between those living and working in the countryside and those who simply enjoy it for leisure" (LPE p.98), and that is a point of view to which she is entitled.
Looking at the origins of the term picturesque we turn to Andrews (1999) who isn't quoted directly except for the word "depoliticize". The full quote is,
The natural order and the social order
Various strategies evolved to depoliticize views of the natural world.
One of these was the Picturesque aesthetic which we have already encountered in other contexts. This might best be introduced by an
episode from Jane Austen's (1775-1817) Northanger Abbey (published in
1818) in which the naive heroine, on a walk in the countryside around
Bath, is being inducted into the mysteries of the Picturesque by the
more worldly Henry Tilney:
He talked of fore-grounds, distances, and second distances - side-screens and perspectives - lights and shades; - and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar, that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath, as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the inclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics was an easy step to silence.
Andrews, 1999, p.166 and Austen, J. (1818) Northanger Abbey, pp. 125-6 (Penguin English Library)
The Godwin and Andrews views combine to say that landscape should be serious, not twee. The view can be seen as snobbish and elitist but it's true - thought should be given to what is being photographed and why and what it is intended to demonstrate to whom. If the answer is "I can sell this image for a postcard or chocolate box", then that is a legitimate commercial purpose but that is not what we are here for (ditto babies and kittens).
The landscape and the countryside is political only in the way that every hamlet, village, town, city country and continent is political - i.e. all the time for those that live there and in an unimaginable variety of ways. For the superficial visitor to all those locations it is possible (and often their intention) to visit without confronting, getting involved in or even becoming aware of local issues, as can the hermit crofter visiting a local town for essential trade. And it is legitimate to visit on that basis - when mine- and millworkers were eventually and begrudgingly given holidays and the chance for an annual visit to Blackpool or wherever, they were entitled to not enquire about local politics.
The popularisation of the concept picturesque is attributed to William Gilpin in the 1780s, it is said, in "an attempt to straddle Edmund Burke’s ideas about the sublime and the beautiful" (p.99), the example given being Gilpin’s book on pretty bits of the Wye Valley and South Wales and the idea was taken up by wealthy tourists (all tourists were wealthy until relatively recently) in the UK, through Europe and worldwide. And they sketched in the days before cameras and postcards (including Fox Talbot, of course). And they developed the tourist gaze, the cmat. concludes,
personal visual records became synonymous with travel – a requisite of
affirming the experience. Susan Sontag describes this as ‘aesthetic consumerism’ (Sontag, 1977, p .24). The contemporary postcard, which continues to be consumed and collected, and to proliferate the myth of the picturesque, is an echo of Gilpin’s ideas.
† Developing a definition first mooted during EyV, a serious photographer is one that exhibits or seeks to exhibit their photographs to unknown viewers (though not only on social media)".
[spellchecked to here 24Jan].
Exercise 3.1 - Reflecting on the picturesque
This is shown on a separate page.
[25Jan] A picturesque approach to landscape can obscure reality and postcards are particularly in the dock for this.
LP&E Part 3 References
Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Andrews, M. (1999) Landscape and western art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Badger, G. (2010) The pleasures of good photographs. New York: Aperture Foundation.
Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida. London: Random House.
Brittain, D. (2008) An uncanny reality [online]. eyemagazine.com. Available from https://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/an-uncanny-reality [Accessed 21 February 2022].
Campany, D. (2003) Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problem of “Late Photography" in Green, D. (ed.) (2003) Where is the photograph? Brighton: Photoworks, pp.123-132.
Carey, J. (2022) Constable: A Portrait by James Hamilton review — an eye-opening biography of the artist [online]. thetimes.co.uk. Available from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/constable-a-portrait-by-james-hamilton-review-an-eye-opening-biography-of-the-artist-5qrvzgssz [Accessed 21 February 2022].
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Gilbreath, T. (2022) 15 Types of Photography: Photo Genres You Should Know [online]. petapixel.com. Available from https://petapixel.com/2022/02/23/types-of-photography-photo-genres-you-should-know/ [Accessed 28 February 2022].
Green, D. (ed.) (2003) Where is the photograph? Brighton: Photoworks.
Hamilton, J. (2022) Constable: A Portrait. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Hege, BAR., (2020) Faith, Doubt, and Reason. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Military History Now (2015) Famous Fakes – 10 Celebrated Wartime Photos That Were Staged, Altered or Fabricated [online]. militaryhistorynow.com. Available from https://militaryhistorynow.com/2015/09/25/famous-fakes-10-celebrated-wartime-photos-that-were-staged-edited-or-fabricated/ [Accessed 3 February 2022].
Mitchell, WJT, (ed) Landscape and Power (2nd ed) (2002) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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O'Hagan, S. (2012) Luc Delahaye wins the 2012 Prix Pictet award [online]. theguardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/oct/09/luc-delahaye-wins-2012-prix-pictet-award [Accessed 01 Mar 2022].
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Wordsworth, D. (2022) Late Capitalism. The Spectator. Vol. 348; no. 10,093, p.62.
Page created 20-Jan-2022 | Page updated 07-Nov-2022