Re-Framing Landscape Photography

Landscape photography has come a long way.

I could appreciate the arc of landscape photography as it evolved through the 20th Century from the early plates of Matthew Brady and Timothy O’Sullivan to the majestic perfection of Ansel Adams to the experiments of Steiglitz, Minor White, and Aaron Siskind of nature as an allegorical path to spiritual rejuvenation.

Yosemite by Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams
to more playful explorations by John Pfahl, Jerry Uelsmann, and Andy Goldsworthy.
John Pfahl
Jerry Uelsmann
Andy Goldsworthy

To the somber aerial surveys by Emmet Gowin. Gowin’s book Changing the Earth was the first I had seen to serious look at the ways mankind was altering the landscape from an artists eye. The images are haunting duo-tone abstracts.

Emmet Gowin


Emmet Gowin
Emmet Gowin

It wasn’t long until I started to see similar work by other artists like Robert Polidori and Edward Burtynsky.

Edward Burtynsky, cover image to his collection
Manufactured Landscapes which is also an amazing documentary.
Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky
Robert Polidori images focuses on the spaces and impacts of civilization.
Polidori from After the Flood
from the Havana series
Polidori from Zones of Exclusion, photographed in the Chernobyl zone.

These images highlighted the perverse majesty of the destruction of the landscape by civilization.

by comparison, the spiritual experiments of Alfred Steiglitz, Minor White, and Aaron Siskind
also seem quaint.

One of Steiglitz’s Equivalent, which almost
echos the paintings of his wife Georgia O’keefe
Stieglitz emphasized pure abstraction, based on modern ideas of equivalence, that abstract forms, and color could represent inner emotional states and ideas.
One of Steiglitz’s pictorialist landscapes
Minor White
Minor White did his own series of Equivalents (inspired by Stieglitz)
White went on to found the Aperture Foundation.
Aaron Siskind focused on details in surfaces
Aaron Siskind
It was a short distance from these experiments to those Photographers in the New Topographics Exhibit in 1975, which essentially redefined the scope of the visual discussion of “landscape.”
from Wikipedia:
“The shift from craft or self-teaching to academia had somewhat been started by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Minor White, but the new generation was drastically turning away from the photographic tradition they stood for…
…The New Topographics chose as well as their commitment to casting a somewhat ironical or critical eye on what American society had become. They all depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach.”

I was stunned by the timing of the remounting of the New Topographics exhibit (see previous post) which framed the beginning of the discussion and exploration of what constitutes “landscape” and our place in it. Looking at those images from the mid seventies and then at contemporary images opens up a new horizon in landscape photogrpahy…

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