Landscape photography has become big business with many of the competition winners running courses and location based workshops and generally cashing in on their status. It is a small world with only the best known ‘celebs’ getting the attention and the audiences they desire. ‘Doing landscapes’ has been taken over by the need to win, become a celeb and make money.
In previous posts I have asked what contemporary landscape photography is a about. [What is landscape photography? The wild, wilderness’ and pristine natural landscape Man altered landscape]
It has become very formulaic and it seems that people with cameras, I hesitate to call them photographers, have stopped looking at landscape as it is and see only potential competitions winners. They will not engage with their surroundings, see ‘nature’, feel it or connect with it because to them it is just a two-dimensional motif that is acceptable to the judges of competitions.
Popular and club photography is predicated on competitions and winning. Points are applauded, challenges to the accepted norms of what makes a point winning pic are denigrated. The pressure is to conform, to make images like everybody else or be a seen as a failure. Individual creativity is constrained within tightly prescribed rules. I wonder what the enjoyment is in constantly striving to play the game, to please judges, to be accepted and to win?
It is time we engaged fully with our landscape where we live and not run off to one of the ‘honey spots’ so accurately described in magazines. It is time to accept that landscape is not always pristine and natural, that it is made by humans, is sometimes dirty and ugly and that we own the landscape we make. Then we might produce images that say something about landscape rather than conform to a very narrow definition of what landscape photography should be.
The new landscape photography might even have room for the people who live and/or work in/on the land. Most of all photographers might start to enjoy a new kind of image making which is more relaxed, more creative, less competitive and more about their own ideas and feelings. I live in hope but cannot see the money in such a venture!
One thing about photography I cannot understand is the need to fly half-way around the world to make pics. For many landscape photographers, there is an all-encompassing need to get the best shot to win the next prize and for that you need to travel to certain ‘approved’ destinations. Top of the list are Iceland, Greenland and the Arctic.
The photographs are often accompanied by lyrical titles and comments about the magnificence of the landscape. What is not mentioned are the dire effects of climate change on the very areas being photographed. Of no concern is the contribution to greenhouse gases made by long haul flights. There appears to be no connection made between travel and the effects on the very landscape being photographed.
I have long argued that good photographers find subjects close to them eliminating the need for long distance travel. Stephen Shore summed this up perfectly when he said:
“To see something spectacular and recognise it as a photographic possibility is not making a very big leap. But to see something ordinary, you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that is what interests me.”
As photographers, we should have some awareness of the effects of our actions. To jet across the world to take pics because we want to shows no respect for the landscape or subjects being photographed. All our actions have an impact on the world in which we live and long haul flights contribute to climate change and ultimately the destruction of the very subject we want capture.
If you need convincing that climate change is happening now and ice is melting at an ever-increasing rate which will have profound effects on sea levels, see “Glacier Exit” https://vimeo.com/198306286 and the work of the Extreme Ice Survey http://extremeicesurvey.org
James Balog Birthday Canyon – Extreme Ice Survey
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” Gary Snyder.
That sums up exactly what I have been feeling for a long time. What does it mean about the way we think about and treat nature and ‘wilderness’? As photographers we can either see nature as out there, somewhere to be visited and photographed, as separate from life, distant, with no relevance other than to provide the perfect view, the perfect ‘masterpiece’.
The alternative is to explore our relationship with the land, the Earth. That might sound too abstract, too ‘touchy feely’ to some but it has a profound effect on the images produced. Look at photographers like Thomas Joshua Cooper, Jem Southam, John Blakemore, Alex Boyd and others who clearly relate to the land they photograph and are not just out to produce a technically perfect print to score points or win prizes.
For me photography is about expressing thoughts and feelings. I am not looking for any accolades it is just something I have to do. Over the years I have become more connected to the land and the consequences of how we treat it. To me it is crazy not to have a relationship with the very thing on which we depend on for our very survival.
Living in the Peak District National Park I am constantly reminded that the ‘views’ are stunning. Even a simple trip to the supermarket takes me through spectacular countryside. This is what the thousands of visitors come to see, pristine natural landscape in a national park. I have always wondered what they expect. This is where the problems start because if they assume that this is natural, wild, untamed land or wilderness – an inappropriate term imported from the US – then they could be disappointed.
The land around has been worked for centuries, it has been cultivated, mined, quarried and managed by the people who settled here. No part of it is untouched and no part of it is pristine or natural.
As Robert Macfarlane says:
“Thousands of years of human living and dying have destroyed the possibility of the pristine wild. Every islet and mountain-top, every secret valley or woodland, has been visited, dwelled in, worked, or marked at some point in the past five millennia. The human and the wild cannot be partitioned.”
Macfarlane, Robert (2009-10-01). The Wild Places (p. 125). Granta. Kindle Edition.
The other issue is the use of the word ‘park’. What does that mean to city dwellers? A publically accessible green space? But all the land in the National Park is owned by somebody. There are public footpaths which give a right of access, provided you stick to the path, and there is even some ‘access land’, but there is no universal right to stroll where you want and do what you want. Some of the ‘wild’ moorland is managed and used for very lucrative shoots and access is prohibited by land owners and game keepers. The word park is ambiguous.
Where does that leave us? With areas of land that are designated as national parks but do not include pristine, natural landscape because there is none and where access is restricted. Nice views though.