Landscape Part 3 – Landscape as political text
Exercise 3.5: Local history
This project is designed to develop your research skills. If you haven’t yet begun to generate
some ideas for possible approaches to Assignment Three, then this exercise could be a good
Using the internet, local library, museum or any other resources at your disposal, conduct
a short investigation into a historical aspect of the area in which you live or are currently
based. This could relate to industry or other narratives in the distant past, or a more recent
event. Don’t spend more than half a day.
Gather some primary sources such as copies of photographs, illustrations, maps, written/oral
accounts, and write a brief account (around 300 words) describing what you’ve researched
and any ideas you have about how this subject might be photographed today in a project
such as Assignment Three.
I started my research looking at local visitor sites like Get-Surrey; In my head, I have been pondering assignment three, trying to decide what it meant to go from a space to a place. I had decided that often there are spaces that are not used for much and then something is built that turns it into a place, like a housing estate built on a field, my own house was part of construction built on an old swampy bit of ground before I was born. It occurred to me that parks and recreation grounds are often like this. My research ion all the local visitor sites kept turning up the Sculpture Park in Farnham. It is a large area with a lake in the middle that is filled with sculptures, most of which are for sale. This park has taken a portion of land and scattered it with sculptures making a wonderful place to visit even if you don’t want to buy any sculpture. It is also home to several active sculptors who generate much of the work shown. A great number of pieces come from all over the globe to rest here until sold, making it a very interesting place indeed. The following are the links to the sites I visited during the research:
https://www.thesculpturepark.com/ – The home page for the site
The national Open Garden Scheme
Exercise 3.4: A persuasive image
- Find three examples of landscape photographs (or the collective efforts of a set of
photographs) that are being used to assert a particular ideological point of view. Look
at images that have been used in advertising or other commercial applications, as well
as within fine art and documentary photography. This might be a very explicit message,
or something a lot subtler. If text is used, consider how this relates to the image. In
your learning log, make some brief comments (around 300 words) describing how the
photographer or designer used the photograph and how the image communicates its
- Consider an issue (social, political or environmental) that you feel strongly about.
Design an image that you think will have a persuasive effect upon a viewer. This
could be a deliberately rough photomontage or something more polished. You don’t
necessarily need to make the photograph or tableau; this is an exercise in generating
ideas, thinking about communicating an idea and taking an ideological standpoint.
Annotate sketches and any other work and enter it into your learning log.
If you’re struggling with this exercise, you may find it helpful to read ahead to the ‘Landscape
and advertising’ project in Part Four.
Looking for examples, I was reminded of some of the cigarette adverts of the ’70s which ended up being banned because they made outlandish claims like cool as a mountain stream for a twist of paper full of leaves that you set fire too. So I looked some of these out and found the following:
In all three images, the designer is using outdoors activities and idyllic landscape to add glamour to a product that is the opposite of the things portrayed. Tobacco companies needed to add glamour in their advertising because in reality, breathing the smoke from burning leaves is a senseless act. By adding rugged cowboys and tough men fishing and driving off-road vehicles as well as people hiking up a mountain stream, puffing on cigarettes made the act of smoking seem glamorous.
What I find quite perverse is that using the product will shorten your life and stop you doing all these things and yet for years phrases like Cool as a mountain stream did not strike the advertising standards council as wrong. It shows the power that was once wielded by the tobacco companies, a grip they lost by the demonisation of smoking, leaving them no longer commanding such respect.
In the UK we move closer and closer to a Nanny state which continues to wind me up, the height of this was for me the ruling that you may only buy Paracetamol in boxes of 16 and you may only buy two at a time because it is possible to eat dozens of them and kill yourself. This is something that is not prevented by the ruling as if anyone wants to kill themselves they can just buy lots two at a time and even go into several shops, the people who are genuinely hurt by this are people like myself and my late mother who take them quite legitimately once a day because they are in lots of pain. We have to keep running back and forth to the chemists to buy them. I can not begin to tell you how much this law PISSES ME OFF (rude words and capitals to make it seem like a cause that I am really into) so I have created an image using some rued montage to show how I think this campaign could be represented:
Exercise 3.3 ‘Late photography’
- Read David Campany’s essay ‘Safety in Numbness’ (see ‘Online learning materials and
student-led research’ at the start of this course guide). Summarise the key points of the
essay and note down your own observations on the points he raises.
- Look at some of Meyerowitz’s images available online from Aftermath: World Trade
Centre Archive (2006). Consider how these images differ from your own memories of
the news footage and other images of the time. Write a short response to the work
(around 300 words), noting what value you feel this ‘late’ approach has.
- That photography was assumed to be a better medium than television to record the aftermath of 9/11.
- That while the Meyrowittz images were ordered and held together in the exhibition and the book there is a likelihood that history will fragment this and they will find their own way of representing events and that the desired control of this will be lost to time.
- Photography is becoming used more often to document the aftermath of events.
- Photography has inherited a major role as an undertaker to events.
- Photography is assumed to be connected to memory which has developed from mass media using photography to freeze a moment.
- This has cemented the notion that photographs are a snapshot of an instant in history where film has come to represent the now of an event.
- From the 20’s photographers used the advance in technology to be in the moment of an event where the goal was to be in the right place at the right time as things happened. this lasted until the 1970’s when portable video took this mantel
- Today it is rare that photographs break the news, the newspaper is often the only a second wave of the news.
- Cinema developed an Idea of stillness in photography
- In the era of photojournalism the speedy compact camera and the the photographers quick reaction and ability to be in the right place at the right time gave rise to the “Decisive Moment”
- Videography took away this monopoly with stoppable repeatable cheap quick material.
- The announcement of the death of photojournalism he claims are premature as photography had to sketch out a new pace for itself
- He reflects over the history of photojournalism
- Vietnam is regarded as the last photographers war
- The Gulf War was described as the first war experienced by simulation using satellite images an missile cameras. Very few photographers covered this conflict.
- After the war lots of photographers went in to cover the aftermath.
- Photography discovered that the sombre quite reflective nature was somewhat seductive in its melancholy
- Today more than half of the photographs used are screen grabs from digital sources
- Two points from this 1. The lines between video and photography are more blurred 2. Photography is finding other roles to fulfil such as the aftermath.
- He reflects that Meyrowitz stated that he was performing an automatic process in which creativity is avoidable and notes that a man with his skill set has a second nature that can’t avoid making beautiful images.
- Late photography has become a vehicle for mass mourning or working through.
- He points out that this kind of mourning can get a bit aestheticized and indifferent.
- he concludes:
Certainly the late photograph is often used as a vehicle for mass mourning or working through (Meyerowitz’ Ground Zero project was produced primarily for New Yorkers). The danger is that it can also foster an indifference and political withdrawal that masquerades as concern. Mourning by association becomes merely an aestheticized response. There is a sense in which the late photograph in all its silence, can easily flatter the ideological paralysis of those who gaze at it with a lack of social or political will to make sense of its circumstance. In its apparent finitude and muteness it can leave us in permanent limbo, obliterating even the need for analysis and bolstering a kind of liberal melancholy that shuns political explanation like a vampire shuns garlic.
If the banal matter-of-factness of the late photograph can fill us with a sense of the sublime, it is imperative that we think through why this might be. There is a fine line between the banal and the sublime, and it is political. If an experience of the contemporary sublime derives from our being caught in a geo-political circumstance beyond our comprehension, then it is a politically reified as much as an aesthetically rarefied one.
Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ by David Campany
Exercise 3.2 Postcard views
- Gather a selection of postcards (6-12) that you’ve either bought yourself or received from other people. If you don’t have any, then try to borrow some from other people, or see what you can find on an internet search. Write a brief evaluation (around 300 words) of the merits of the images you find. Importantly, consider whether, as Fay Godwin remarked, these images bear any relation to your own experience of the places depicted in the postcards.
- Write a brief response (around 200 words) to Graham Clarke’s comments above. Do you think it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?
I managed to find ten postcards that had been sent to us over some time, I have been to all of the destinations except Sorento and Pompei. Of the places, I have been the images, on the whole, seem to me to represent the location all be it in the most appealing way. It is almost impossible to see the Trevi Fountain with no people swarming around it. When I went to photograph it myself, it was necessary to push to the edge of the water to take an image not blocked by the tourists. Likewise, the images of the Colosseum are free from tourists. The night shot of the Colosseum is also very over saturated and coloured and bears no real relationship with the real experience. I find the two images of Venice to remind me very strongly of the place the one of Grand Canal again does not reflect the colour as I remember it and looks a little bit like a painting. I do feel that postcards are taken to look appealing and to show the most romantic view of a place to convey the message don’t you wish you came here. I suppose they are designed by the tourism industry to encourage more people to come and spend their money. The image of Guildford though an old photo surprisingly still feels like the place though many of the shops have changed the felling is still the same. This may be amplified by the cobblestone high street still being in place making Guildford feel like an older town as in the picture. The Isle of Wight postcard is typical to me of those trashy seaside town memories, it does very little to depict the place but is exactly what you expect to find in a seaside shop.
In response to Graham Clarke
I do identify with Graham Clarke’s words, many of the postcards displayed here are taken from a privileged angle, at a time when there are no people, this fact alone makes the image seem privileged. However, A tourist would rarely be given this kind of privilege so rather than truly being the perspective of a tourist it would seem to reflect a level of privilege that could only be gained by someone with authority. The last part of the question gives me pause, “Do you think it is possible to not be a tourist or outsider as the maker of Landscape images?”. It strikes me that the act of going somewhere to find a view and document it with a camera, is the essence of tourism so I struggle to find a situation where I would say yes to this, other than when taking the image as part of the machine of tourism while holding a special privilege in terms of access. By nature, the latter is a form of tourism as it is done to stoke the machine of tourism. I do, however, leave my self ready to be contradicted if someone has an explanation that overrides my thoughts. I do wonder if the answer matters in the grand scheme of things other than as an academic debate for budding degree students.
Exercise 3.1: Reflecting on the picturesque
Write a short reflective account of your own views on the picturesque (around 300 words). Consider how the concept of the picturesque has influenced your own ideas about landscape art, and in particular your ideas about what constitutes an effective or successful landscape photograph.
When thinking about the picturesque, I usually think about the works of artists such as Constable and Turner. My interpretation is that of a scene that is peaceful and pretty, such as the rolling countryside or depictions of nature. I understand that the Picturesque is not limited to this, however, this is my mental image, of a picturesque scene.
While I enjoy such images, they are not my subject of choice, when creating my own art. I like many am guilty of letting the word picturesque influence my view on what constitutes a landscape image. This view is reinforced by the landscape view encapsulated by the Royal Photographic Society, the PAGB and other institutions that adjudicate photographic competitions that almost have a formula for a landscape.
I tend to think of a landscape as something broken into layers, with a strong foreground, and an epic middle, or far ground, epitomised by the work of photographers, like Ansel Adams. I feel that for a landscape to be successful it needs a subject, be it a landmark like a waterfall, river or mountain, or some other structure, like a bridge or building. I am not keen on landscape images that are just bands of light and colour, though I do appreciate the work. If I am honest, I enjoy a landscape with more detail, like a broken-down castle, old wall or a bridge. I probably like the cliché of a landscape; However, I do really enjoy images that divert wildly from these norms, and probably away from the picturesque. My personal preference, would be to create a landscape image with more of a fantasy feel, maybe even a dark overtone, rather than the pretty chocolate box covers that do so well in Camera Club Competitions.