Landscape: Perspectives on place
Notes and reflections
I put together these notes to capture my thoughts after reading the introductory part of the OCA Landscape photography course materials.
What do we mean by a landscape?
- our environment
- place we inhabit
- space that surrounds us.
Questions to consider:
What is the relationship/ link/ connection between people and their surroundings?
What values do we place on the landscape?
What does it represent?
Representation vs interpretation: Does an image represent what is in front of the camera or interpret it?
What is behind the desire to ‘capture’ the landscape:
To tame it?
To claim ownership on it?
What are the existing traditions, conventions and preconceptions within the Western landscape practice and how do they differ from the Eastern tradition? Is it helpful to differentiate in this way?
I hope to explore these ideas further as I make my way through the course.
Early photography and painting
Notes and reflections
Early photography relate closely to painting practice but the OCA article includes many useful references to the mechanical and scientific origins of the early photographic process. Some early photographic experiments stemmed out of the desire to provide a perfect copying aid or tool for painters and artists, see for example, camera lucida and camera obscura.
The early pioneer whose work I hugely admire is William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 77). A compilations of articles published in 2013 by Yale University under the title ‘William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography’ (edited by M. Bruises, K. Dean and C. Ramalingham, 2013, Yale University) portrays Talbot as a Victorian intellectual and a scientist who embraced many fields of knowledge including mathematics, botany, optics, archaeology, and classical studies. A wonderful book to read!
Is Landscape a perception?
Notes and reflections
The Preconception exercise reminded me of some psychological personality tests based on interpreting and drawing visual images. To follow up, I searched for relevant links on internet. I found a lot of information dedicated to the Tree-House-Person drawing test. In addition, there were various research papers contributing to the discourse on visual perceptions of landscape and environment. My questions arising from these articles included the following:
It there a difference between ‘environment’ and ‘landscape’ or do these terms have the same meaning?
Does ‘landscape’ essentially represent how we perceive our surroundings or is it more than a perception, a mental picture of the outside world?
A. Maciá argued that “the environment is not landscape until people perceive it” (A. Maciá (1979) Visual Perception of Landscape: Sex and Personality Differences. [Online] Available from: http://ftp.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr035/psw_gtr035_05_macia.pdf).
Developing this point, A.Maciá concluded that “assessing landscape is a primordially subjective realization in which the perceiver’s point of view, as well as that of the ecology in which the landscape is inserted, must play a part.”
In other words, subjectivity and individual experiences of landscape need to be taken into consideration. John Wylie pointed out that the historic and material specifics of landscapes should be taken into account (John Wylie (2005) Landscape and phenomenology. In P. Howard (eds.) Routhledge Companion to Landscape Studies. London and New York: Routhledge).
Notes and reflections
Is Photography about an objective representation of reality? Does it have a potential to express subjective impressions?
The 1890s debate on this issue led to the split of the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring from the predecessor of the RPS. The members of the Brotherhood believed that a photograph could be seen as a work of art. They criticised the pure scientific approach to the medium. A new movement under the name of Pictorialism emerged out of this debate. It explored creative impressionist-style photographic processing techniques such as bromoil and cyanotype. I have a keen interest in (what we now call) the alternative processes and feel a certain degree of affiliation with this movement.
Just at the time when I read the course materials on the Project Pictorialism I also picked up an article on Peter Henry Emerson’s Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads. The article titled The Book of Life was published in the August edition of the RPS Journal. It describes Emerson’s first book as one of the most important photographic books of the 19th century. Relevant to the photography vs art debate, the book was a collaboration between Emerson and the naturalist painter TF Goodall. The book is a powerful showcase of the naturalistic technique striving to truthfully represent nature.
My own opinion is that there is a place for both approaches in photography as the style and method would usually depend on the subject matter and the purpose. In my own practice I have tried both methods.
Photography is an incredibly flexible and versatile medium. If we see this as its strength, the opportunities it offers become limitless.
Conventions in Visual Arts
Notes and reflections
Thinking about the meaning of conventions in visual arts, I found this ‘Field conventions for Visual Art Standard’ very useful (Online source. Available from: (http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/assets/qualifications-and-standards/qualifications/ncea/NCEA-subject-resources/Visual-Arts/Assesment-guidelines/2012-Pictorial-and-Technical-Conventions-for-Visual-Arts-Fields.pdf)
The article describes conventions as ‘the characteristics and constraints applicable, relevant and fitting to established practice within the fields of design, painting photography, printmaking and sculpture.’
There could be drawing, technical and conceptual conventions.
The approach described in the paper seems clear and logical and I intend to use it in my Establishing conventions exercise.
More on the modern Eastern perspective: selection of images
Following my work on the Eastern panel (the exercise above) I started looking for more contemporary examples of the Eastern perspective on landscape, beauty and the sublime.
I found some very interesting and inspiring examples that I would like to share here.
Franco Guidi http://leapintothevoid.co.uk/franco-guidi/
Notes and reflections
Emerson’s later view on the ‘democracy’ of the frame which put all subjects on equal footing “in terms of their relation to other elements in the picture, and their importance” (Alexander, J. (2013) p.30).
This was further developed by Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946, the editor of American Amateur Photographer and Camera Work. see also – 291 Gallery) and the Photo-Secessionists. The latter represented a growing movement aiming to ‘secede’ from the accepted idea about photography serving purely practical purposes.
I hugely admire the values and methods promoted by the f/64 group, including the 10 zone system and visualisation of the image. How many of the modern day photographers get their manual exposure right and go without any digital manipulation or adjustments?
Reading this article also prompted me to have another look at the work of Cunningham and Weston which was very helpful.
Alexander, J. (2013) Photography 2: Landscape. Barnsley: OCA.
More thoughts on the “Transitions” assignment
So far, my final choice of the setting for the Transitions assignment is shown in two images below. These two images are taken from the same spot by rotating the camera to the left and to the right.
My idea is to present them in a photo book titled Look Left, Look Right.
Each pair of images is presented as a page spread.
I look forward to my tutor’s feedback on the idea and whether it is worth exploring further.
Project The beautiful and the Sublime
Notes and reflections
Beauty and senses: How do we perceive beauty? Does beauty exist outside of our sensory world?
Two perspectives on beauty:
- something objective and universal within human nature
- subjective, ‘beauty lies in the eye of the beholder’
Beauty and cultural identity: What is beautiful and Who decides?
Beauty vs the notion of taste, flavours – ‘it’s not my taste,’ ‘sour temper’, ‘bitter expression.’
Beauty as a political matter: tool of repression? a bourgeois preoccupation? fascist ideas of perfection?
“Why is Form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.” (Adams, 1996, p.25. In Alexander, J. (2013) Photography 2: Landscape. Barnsley: OCA).
What do we experience when we face the Sublime:
Astonishment (E. Burke)
Awe, danger and pain (L. Wells)
‘the uncanny’ (S.Freud).
Notes and reflections on reading “Camera Lucida” by Roland Barthes
On “Photograph and what it represents”
“We might say that Photography is unclassifiable” (p.4)
“What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially…It is the absolute Particular, the sovereign Contingency,..the This,…the Occasion, the Encounter, the Real, in its indefatigable expression.” (p.4)
“…The Photograph is never anything but an anticipation of “Look”, “See”, “Here it is”; it points a finger at certain vis-a-vis, and cannot escape this pure deistic language. This is why, insofar as it is licit to speak of a photograph, it seemed to me just as improbable to speak of the Photograph.” (p.5)
“This fatality (no photograph without something or someone) involves Photography in the vast disorder of objects – of all the objects in the world: why choose (why photograph) this object, this moment, rather than some other?” (p.6)
“Photography is unclassifiable because there is no reason to mark this or that of its occurrences.” (p.6)
On ‘observed subject and the subject observing’
“…once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of ‘posing,’ I instantaneously make another body of myself, I transform myself in advance into an image. This transformation is an active one: I feel that the Photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice.” (p.10)
“I want a History of Looking. For the Photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity.” (p.12)
“in front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.” (p.13)
“The Photograph (the one I intend) represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object. I then experience a micro-version of death (of parenthesis): I am truly becoming a specter.” (p.14)
On ‘adventure’ and ‘animation’
“…internal agitation, an excitement, a certain labour too, the pressure of the unspeakable which wants to be spoken.” (p.19)
“In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction that makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated, but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure.” (p.20)
On ‘studium’ and ‘punctum’
“the extension of the field, which i receive quite familiarly as a consequence of my knowledge, my culture.”
“application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, but without special acuity.”
“It is culturally that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.”
“The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. …it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and perches me.”
“this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument…notion of punctuation.”
“sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s puncture is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” (p.27)
The studium is that every wide field of unconcerned desire, of various interest, of inconsequential taste: I like / I don’t like. The studium is of the order of liking, not of loving, it mobilises a half desire, a Demi-volition; it is the same sort of vague, slipPeru, irresponsible interest one takes in the people, the entertainments, the books, the clothes one find “all right”.
Photography has been, and is still, tormented by the ghost of Painting. P. 30
“Pictorialism” is only an exaggeration of what the Photograph thinks of itself.” P. 31
“Yet it is not by Painting that Photography touches art, but by Theater….but if Photography seems to me closer to the Theater, it is by way of a singular intermediary: by way of Death.” P. 31
“For me, photographs of landscape (urban or country) must be habitable, not visitable. The longing to inhabit …it is fantastic, deriving from a kind of second sight which seems to bear me forward to a utopian time, or to carry me back to somewhere in myself.” P.40
“looking at these landscapes of predilection, it is as if I were certain of having been there or of going there. Now Freud says of the maternal body that “there is no other place of which one can say with so much certainty that one has already been there. Such then would be the essence of the landscape (chosen by desire): heimlich, awakening in me the Mother (and never the disturbing Mother).” P.40
“A trick of vocabulary: we say “to develop a photograph”, but what the chemical action develops is undevelopable, an essence (of a wound), what cannot be transformed but only repeated under the instances of insistence ( of the insistent gaze). This brings the Photograph close to Haiku. For the notation of Haiku, too, is undevelopable: everything is given, without provoking the desire for even the possibility of a rhetorical expansion. ”
“I refuse to inherit anything from another eye than my own.” P.51
“the studium is ultimately always coded, the punctum is not.” P.51
“what I can name, can not really prick me. The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance.” P. 51
“Ultimately…in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes.” P. 53
“Kafka smiled and replied: “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” P. 53
“the photograph must be silent…: this is not a question of discretion, but of music. Absolute subjectivity is achieved only in a state, an effort, of silence (shutting your eyes is to are the image speak in silence).” P. 55
“Once there is a punctum, a blind field is created (is divined)..” P. 57
“Every photograph is a certificate of presence.” p. 87
“Perhaps ew have an invisible resistance to believing in the past, in History, except in the form of myth. The Photograph, for the first time, put an end to this resistance: henceforth the past is as certain as the present, what we see on paper is a certain as what we touch. It is the advent of the Photograph – ash not, as has been said, of the cinema – which divides the history of the world.” p.88
“In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder, like Winnicott’s psychotic patient, over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.” p.96
“…experience this vertigo of time defeated” p.97
“Photographs… are looked at when one is alone.” p.97
“…the Photograph has this power…of looking me straight in the eye.” p.111
“The nome of Photography is simple, banal; no depth: “that has been.” p.115
“The Photograph then becomes a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time…” p.115
“Mad or tame? Photography can be one or the other: tame if its realism remains relative, tempered by aesthetic or empirical habits; mad if this realism is absolute and, so to speak, original, obliging the loving and terrified consciousness to return to the very letter of Time.” p.119
Quick working notes from S. Morley “The Sublime”