The geography approach is typified by the work of Timothy O’ Sullivan, Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson where they were employed to record previously uncharted landscapes often in the context of major infrastructure projects such as the Union Pacific Railroad. They were primarily interested in the topography of the site although Timothy O’Sullivan, it is argued, often pursued a narrative about the inhospitable and vastness of the landscape.
Looking at my photography in this context I have made a clear choice to record the landscape of a part of Scotland that I love and like O’Sullivan and later Ansel Adams I do sometimes take an aggressive compositional style. When working in this style I often use a long lens to focus on a small part of the landscape to emphasise scale and the vulnerability of man especially against the jagged Cuillin Hills of the Isle of Skye. In this context a number of my images use the technique of placing a small and insignificant man-made object such as a house, camper van or derelict manse in the frame which emphasises the scale and, at many times of the year, this inhospitable nature of the place.
However, even in this type of landscape photography Adams freely admits that there is a photographer behind the lens. They have chosen which scene to take from the landscape in front of them, what lens to use, what moment to press the shutter and so on.
Adams argues that the autobiographic element in landscape photography tells us “as much about who is behind the camera as about what is in front of it”, and continues by saying that “only the artist’s presence in the work [the photograph] can convince us that its affirmation results from and has been tested by human experience”.
This clarification from Adams brings me into the fold as a landscape photographer although I don’t necessarily see myself as such.
The background story to my work of laying the ghosts to rest from my early photographic career, recording disturbing scenes, clearly has an autobiographic aspect and relevance to my Research Project on The Road to Elgol. I very much subscribe to the view that “the camera looks both ways” and it is my experience of the road that I wish to record in my imagery and share with my viewer. I hope that my life story and life world, my emotions as I take the chosen part of the landscape and my personal photographic style are starting to come through in the end result. My motivation is that a part of Alison is present and clear in my imagery.
Adams argues that landscape imagery can also have a metaphoric message either in an individual image or through a series of images with a particular narrative.
For me, my latest Work in Progress Portfolio for Surfaces and Strategies has a clear metaphoric message through providing juxtaposed images showing both the sublime landscape of Skye on the one hand and the dark face of mass tourism on the other.
Matt Dallos argues that a successful landscape image should have elements of all three of Adams’ categories. Furthermore, he suggests that those only drawing upon one of the elements will be simplistic and shallow. The debate is widened out by Dallos as applying to the acts of looking and seeing too.
“When geography, autobiography, and metaphor form a complex web in a landscape photograph, the complexity of landscape is presented and accessible to the audience.
Beyond looking at a photograph, I believe this experience is applicable to the perception of a landscape in person, and I believe the simultaneous layering of geography, autobiography, and metaphor elevates a person’s landscape experience from looking to seeing.”
This is fascinating to me and will provide me with a model to have in mind when making my images as well as an additional framework by which I judge images for inclusion in future portfolios.
Alexander, J A P, (2015) Perspectives on Place – Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography, Fairchild Books, London
Dallos, M, (2014) Seeing landscape: geography, autobiography, and metaphor, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 34:2, 146-150, DOI:10.1080/14601176.2013.830424