Thursday, 12 January 2012


Well, the previous post was a little unkind to much landscape photography and the inherent dangers of chasing 'beauty' as an end in itself. Although, it certainly holds true on trawling through a google image search for 'landscape'. I also include a few of mine to illustrate these cliches, although I do feel slightly uncomfortable with them now:

And I took loads of images that, looking back, were inherently 'empty' of meaning or intention other than capturing the maximum 'beauty' of a place. They were, I suppose, 'bland' as described in the previous post extract. When I became aware of the tedium of chasing forecasts, I embarked on this journey with OCA, but it is only now I am addressing the 'landscape' issue head on.

Now turning my attention to contemporary landscape photography which in many ways represents the other end of the aesthetic spectrum.  And interestingly, it is certainly not without its own cliches. This, I think, is important to bear in mind looking ahead as it is not something I have considered before.

Forgive me for my flippancy here. However, to offer a balanced view I wish to illustrate a point. was a misty day today, no sunrise or care-bear cloud in I decided it was a perfect 'contemporary landscape photography' day. In my view, so many images that resist the aesthetic route are equally riddled with 'rebellious' cliches...can you spot them?

But before you do, let me superimpose an artist statement along the lines of:
whilst absent, the landscape is the geographic canvas shaped by humans and overlaid by our cultural sensibilities. In this series of images, the photographer challenges the viewer to respond to this unease and reflect on the interwoven metaphors embedded in our relationship with the land. Convincing enough?

Sorry, I know I am being facetious but bear with me...can you see my point?

Strangely, now I see them altogether they look sort of a set...damn, I quite like them! Ha, that backfired!! But more seriously, one could suggest that much contemporary landscape photography is indeed a reaction to the cliches borne out of the Romantics, which focusses primarily on the aesthetics. And as such, much of the contemporary photography is in danger of being cliche itself. I am probably oversimplifying it, but there is certainly a different visual language at work with much (not all) contemporary photography which is common to itself and I'm wondering whether there is an underlying antithesis to the 'sublime' - 'dour realism' perhaps you could call it, that is indicative of and inherent in this particular age of photography.

Another thought occurs to me, my aversion to creating yet more 'sublime' images of the Lakes because I think there is nothing new to contribute, could be applied to contemporary photography too. There is a danger of me 'trying to make my work look like the contemporary work out there so I can call my work contemporary too'. Tail wagging the dog!

So my next question is can you be inspired by eras from the past such as the surrealist painters, the sculptors, the American photographers create something of your own and call it current...or is that harking back to eras from the past and merely recycling? I guess I'm just challenging the notion of what 'contemporary' is in my own mind...

And then I think what is the new modern, new post-modern, the new contemporary...the new whatever it can our work inform or contribute to the field of landscape photography? And that I guess is a more important question to answer than any as it is less about conforming to any style or technique and more about what is being communicated by us, as individuals.  

There you go...clear as mud!!


  1. Liz Wells comes up with a definition for "sublime", something along the lines of it being dangerous (assuming I read it correctly, not an absolute certainty), so the second set of images is "sublime". Yes.

    As for being contemporary for contemporary's sake, yeah, I'm also wary of the danger of this, but it is human nature to be informed by what has gone before. I'll admit, I could've taken the second set of images myself...

  2. And just to add something else...

    The Bechers were known for doing things their way, but I've seen a photograph by a Japanese studio taken in 1909 that looks very "Becher" - I'm sure an Becher expert would notice it being different in some way or another, but to me... The Japanese were influenced by Neue Sachlichkeit, which is post this image too, was Neue Sachlichkeit influenced by the Japanese in the first place?

    I'm not sure what I'm trying to say, do what feels right, and don't worry about where your influences come from, just acknowledge this is the case in your artists statement...

  3. Hi is a fantastic book isn't it! Do you mean the first set are sublime? The second set weren't meant to be!! Yes, the second set have grown on me too. Interesting what you say about the Bechers...everything comes out of something all evolves I suppose.

    After a number of discussions on here today I'm coming to the conclusion, as you have said, of just producing work that feels right...

    I'm probably guilty of over-thinking and over-complicating things...

  4. I am glad that you are moving towards making your own work Penny.

    I agree with you and Rob that it is hard to come up with any subject or even idea that hasn't been tried before. Just yesterday I found a set of pictures in B&W Photography that are horribly like a series I've been working on for a few months. I had an initial panic, thinking 'should I give up?' and 'is all that wasted?'. But on a more mature reflection can see differences between the two works. And then started to think that thousands of portraits are taken every minute but that doesn't stop us making new ones. In any event I took my pictures because I found them compelling - to a large extent they took me - so I feel that I have to continue to see where this leads.

    I suspect that the way to move towards your unique vision isn't, for most people, primarily to sit in a room and look at what others have done, but to start making work that speaks to you. To begin with it will be quite derivative, but hopefully over time less so. My experience to date is that progress really starts when you do some work, and it spurs other work, and that spurs other work, and then over time you get to make things that are more yours.

    I am really keen to seeing what you do next - I have a feeling that it will be very interest work.

    My not so inner pedant compels me to say that the sublime, in artistic terms, is about the quality of grandeur and greatness in nature, as opposed to more domestic qualities. Think the high Alps in a storm - or the wilder shores of the Lake District. Romanticism and the search for the sublime are quite different drivers from aestheticism and the pictorial.

  5. Funny, I have had that feeling too where I have seen some work and felt territorial over the idea...however, as you say, no work is the same and the emphasis can be quite different even if subtlely. I just recall with one of my first assignments (although I suspect this has occurred with all my assignments), my tutor highlighted to me work of other artists that he felt my work reminded him of...I guess to help me contextualise my own work. But because of this, I am aware even as I prepare a piece of work who might be doing what.

    I find your last paragraph particularly you've probably noticed I interchange the use of all the words at the moment, so it is interesting and helpful that you define a difference between the two. I will certainly try and get a better understanding of each of those terms and try to clarify what it is or isn't that I am trying to achieve. Funnily enough, today has been just the most beautiful day of the winter...on a fell run this morning with camera in rucksack (two very compatible hobbies I am finding), I felt so glad to be alive and was captivated by the whole glory of the was truly stunning....and then I, like many a tourist, felt compelled to record its beauty, it's difficult not to. So I have a wonderful stream of chocolate box scenes to upload, lol!

    But importantly, I am taking photos, which as you say will evolve in to something else no doubt. And once the ball is rolling, it is important to keep up momentum...

  6. Ask not what labels can do for you, rather what you can do for labels.
    The notion that because a photograph is taken now that is has to reflect a “contemporaneous” version of contemporary is surely as false as Ansel Adams suggesting that the American idyll needs to be preserved as his 10” X 8” defined it as, or more pertinently, was? Surely it is what the photographer wants to say, what inspires them to record what is displayed in the viewfinder as an expression of the ideas and motivations from within, that is relevant?
    If you see a picture through someone else’s lens, you will undoubtedly capture a cliché, certainly one in your own mind. But do you not need to travel through that gate to find personal perspectives? It is hard to envisage any artist, let alone a student, being able to give birth to a fully formed intellectual proposition without going through growth pains of self-discovery. The recognition of the need to find your own voice must surely indicate, in the very least a nascent vocabulary, but by the look of your “contemporary set” one already imbued with a sophisticated language.

    I’m still very new to all this but you say ..

    “And then I think what is the new modern, new post-modern, the new contemporary...the new whatever it can our work inform or contribute to the field of landscape photography?

    I am probably still under the (mis?)understanding that the generic genre – say of landscape - is primarily a vehicle to delineate our artistic voice? What I mean is that I never expected that completing this course would make me a better photographer per se, rather that it would possibly make me a more thoughtful photographer. Of course I appreciate that considering the technicalities of the process of photographing will make me both more aware of the process of photography and therefore more predictably proficient. And whilst I do think I will be a better photographer, if that was all I wanted I could have continued with Kelby, which I found to be generally technically quite good, engaging but, in the end, vacuous.

    It must therefore be largely down to truth. If you were Lord Astor, for example, Master of the Berkshire Hunt, then your truth of the landscape has a certain hue, preserved by Stubbs and to a similar extent by Fenton. However if your name is Mandy and you worked on the Sunbridge Road in Bradford your view of landscape is probably somewhat removed from Cameron’s father in law. Both would maintain they hold the truth. But what truth do you want to portray in landscape, what view of landscape portrays your view of the truth?

  7. Why not be greedy and have both? Or, to put it another way - "my intuitive, holistic approach enables me to view each scene as if for the first time, and compose images which portray a wide variety of mood, movement, colour, light and tone". . From what I understand so far of postmodernism anything goes and you can borrow anything from anywhere so long as you add your own creative vision. I'm looking forward to seeing how you resolve the dilemma. I just had a thought as well about your comment, 'felt compelled to record its beauty'. I often feel the same and so I keep creating the same images. It's as if I'm paying homage to what's around me and can never get enough of it.

  8. Blimey, my head is hurting with all this thinking...'nascent', great new word for me! Thank you all for's certainly clarified some thoughts for me, I hope it has for others too!

    Hello, Catherine, your quote about the holistic approach is a valuable mantra to learn from...but I find trying to see a view for the first time really tricky to do...I end up not seeing it anymore when I see it so often. And then when I am required to respond to it, it's difficult to see it afresh. I can totally relate to paying homage to what's around you too...showing my husband my images from today...he loves the chocolate box images!! It's so difficult to keep pushing and finding new ways of seeing things!

    John, you would have thought 'expression through ideas and motivations from within' would be the most instinctive approach for any artist...I am sure you will achieve what you are hoping for from the course giving your photography purpose in the long run. And I'm sure technically we will all improve. Even though we're mere babies in this process, I still don't see any harm in discussing and making ourselves aware of the issues - providing us with the discipline and ways of working that we can apply at a later date.

    Just to respond to your second para and play devils advocate briefly, if we take every new generation of teenagers, they dye their hair, pierce their noses, play loud music, rebel against parents and make a big effort to be different. They are in fact behaving typically and predictably for their age. In trying to be different, they are being very much the same. Can the same apply with artists, as they/we reflect and communicate the feelings and emotions of our time...cumulatively will we therefore have a unified trying to create something different or new to the previous generation, we're infact all behaving the same way and are typical of our time? Losing my way here a bit....need to think it through a little more.

    Anyway, I think your concluding thoughts on 'truth' John sum it brilliantly! Wish I'd thought of that!! lol

    Right, I don't know about you, but time for a glass of wine!!!

  9. and from the Talmud:
    “We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

    Just thought I'd throw that in...

  10. Not thought of it like that before, but I would agree with that Rob...its quite telling when you look at your own photography with that sentiment in mind.

  11. Penny, to respond to your question I would say yes. I instinctively "know" that I have to go through the process (or that infernal word "journey") to get the miles on the clock. To stay with the metaphor it is about not looking in the rear view mirror until the first service is due and I see that at about the end of level 2? Before YoP? Lots to think about and good input to think about from all.

  12. End of level two sounds about right as up until then, no marks count so there is plenty of scope to experiment and play.