Translate

Friday, February 7, 2014

Landscape Porn

On the Road in Oaxaca
There is a call for an exhibit entitled Landscape at the Edge at the Hera Gallery. I just found out about this today and the work is due…today. I did start to wonder what I have taken that might be considered landscape which in turn caused me to feel wildly uncertain about what landscape is, something which I thought would have been fairly easy to identify.

I think when most people think of landscape photography, they think of Ansel Adams. In fact, I think when most people think of professional photography, they think of Ansel Adams. In a sense, he is to photography what Frank Lloyd Wright is to architecture, the default in the search for famous names. The similarity ends there though because Adams' work is expansive and elegant while Wright's work is exclusive and condescending… I think Adams' images were 
Laguna La Maria in Colima at Sunset
 
meant to show the beauty that is while Wright's was meant to enforce his idea of beauty on others. Don't get me started (oh wait, I guess I already did).

In any case, I'm no Ansel Adams and I haven't spent much time traveling to or capturing images of the type of natural landscape that is featured in many of his images. I must not have any landscape photographs then; no panoramas of the American West = no landscapes. I started looking more closely at Adams' work though and I realized that he doesn't always photograph expansive spaces, rather he creates the nobility and grandeur of the big vista within even his images of a small stand of birch trees. So, is that a landscape? How little of the world do you have to see before it stops being a landscape photo and starts being a…well, whatever that would be photo?

Talking to myself about this appeared to have come to a grinding halt and lest I be tempted to drop the subject and go back to looking for funny sloth jokes on Buzzfeed, I went to Google. 
A stark version of Monte Alban that has proven to be
one of my most popular photographs

"O, Almighty Google…" I began (note the use of the evocative form to give the power to my question that would be needed to summon the Google Gods), "what is…" but before I could finish, Google interrupted:

"what is my ip?"
"what is bitcoin?"
"what is thot?"
"what is obamacare?"

I struggled to maintain my focus and completed my initial question: "What is a landscape photograph?" This gave me nearly 28 million results the first of which was, of course, Wikipedia. I narrowly avoided the pits of Wikipedia (which are somewhat like the opium fields into which Dorothy was lured in the Wizard of Oz, if I try to cross any given Wikipedia page, I get slower and slower and slower and find myself wandering aimlessly until I fall into a peaceful sleep). 

A storm gathers on the road to the border
Instead, I visited the page of an Australian landscape photographer Andrew Carter who has apparently been asked this question a great number of times. It reminded me of the Infinite Monkey Theorem. Would one billion people with one billion cameras eventually produce landscape photography? The answer, happily, seems to be no. Just because someone has a camera and they take a picture of some place that is outside, it does not mean that that image is a landscape photograph. Instead, Carter argues, a landscape photograph is about more than the possibility of categorizing the subject as being outside. It must have a purpose, convey more than the viewer sees, and capture a feeling. It's not enough to reproduce the relative light reflections off of a set of proximate external objects, they must come together to be a whole. Finally, and this is my addition but is based on what I learned from Carter, the image is not just in the medium it created with the medium…it isn't just a picture, it is an experience. 
Sunset at the archeological site of Yagul

Then, it comes back to Potter Stewart's famous declaration about hard-core pornography: I know it when I see it. If, instead of hard-core pornography, we were talking about landscape photography. I'm not really sure that helps clarify my position, but I bet it will get me a lot of accidental traffic from a group of very disappointed, but more landscape photography savvy, fans of porn.