This first exercise is notionally very simple: write 300 words that explore what the term ‘ landscape’ means to you.LP&E, p.26
● What does it immediately evoke?
● What sort of images and ideas come to mind?
● Are there certain sorts of landscapes that you have a preference for?
● Which landscapes do you feel an urge to photograph?
Post the results on your blog and come back to them when you’ve completed the course, and reflect on whether what you’ve written still holds true. Consider what might have influenced your current understanding of landscape, place and environment. Also, write a few lines on why you chose to study this course and what you hope to learn from it.
The purpose of this activity is to get you thinking about traditions and conventions within landscape practice, and encourage you to consider why (and indeed whether) they exist. It will also serve as an interesting reference point when you come to the end of the course.
[24Sep21] The terms Landscape and Portrait each have two immediate photographic meanings — subject and format — which are functionally bound together.
For centuries, up to the late nineteenth, two-dimensional visual art (if we exclude religious themes) has comprised two main subject types, portraits and landscapes, with still lifes a distant third.
Portraits are best suited to a vertical, rectangular presentation format because people are usually larger vertically than horizontally whether standing or sitting. With landscapes the imperative is less clear but a simple empirical enquiry (a Google search on “landscape painting”) suggests that a horizontal rectangular format is favoured, see figure A1.
A second factor is the shape of paper. Rectangular pages are easier to use than square, both to write on and to read in book form and so the standard paper sizes, both metric and imperial are rectangular. (I have read online today that rectangular picture frames are more stable mechanically than square frames but no evidence was provided and I have no experience to back that up).
When photography was being developed in the first half of the nineteenth century, then, the landscape and portrait traditions of subject and format were strong. Given the slow lenses and particularly the slow emulsion speeds that could only cope with unmoving objects, rural and urban landscapes, human portraits (with aids to stillness) and still lifes were the natural subject matter for the new medium. The subjects inherited their preferred format from painting and coated paper was used in many of the early photographic processes and so rectangular photographs were the natural outcome.
The final factor in this argument is that a key motivation in the medium’s invention was Fox Talbot’s shortcomings at sketching using a camera lucida optical aid,
how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paperMalcolm Daniel (2004) quoting William Henry Fox Talbot
Turning now to the matter of personal preferences, what applies to old photographic processes can apply, for entirely different (in some ways, antithetical) reasons to old digital photographers. As both my eyesight and my mobility are compromised, photographing immobile landscapes is ideally suited to my speed of life. And I favour the urban landscape — photographs and for
that matter paintings seldom capture the nature of rural landscapes. It is a common thought that snapshots of vales and hills are almost invariably a disappointment (not so daffodils, to continue Wordsworth’s sentiment c. 1804, thus still lifes are also in my repertoire, see fig. B1). I first remember thinking this after a family boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads in the early 1960s, the first outing for a Zorki 4k, bought with pay for a paper round: the photographs in towns were more interesting than the others, albeit Norfolk is rather flat (Noel Coward, Private Lives, 1930). My views have not changed a great deal since. Admittedly I admire much of Ansel Adams’ work, both technically and æsthetically: he is one of the few exceptions to my general view on photographs of non-urban landscapes. In addition, my access to any remote yet physically interesting rural landscapes is limited and so urban it will be. A return to The Barbican is not unlikely (fig. C1).
Word count 601
[16Nov] More succinctly, Andrews (1999, p.126), in his chapter Framing the view, decribes landscape as,
that which lies outside our familiar domestic living spacesAndrews, 1999, p.126
[25Sep] To Brighton today to observe Labour’s Conference (fig. D1) and this raised two further points to make on my approach to photography in general and the urban landscape in particular. Firstly, I like to examine architectural detail and secondly I almost invariably crop to squarish, so my output would often be a single establishing shot † at 12×7 if width is necessary and the detail at 6×7, see figures E1-3. I am not sure how suited this is to a year on landscape and it might need to change.
Brighton’s West Pier might be the object of one of my LPE Assignments, perhaps Asg.1. As a general principle, I avoid photographing cliché subjects such as the West Pier, but I have been photographing this one for 50 years, since before it became a cliché
† Paul Graham said in a 2011 Guardian interview, “I gave a talk to photography students at Newport College of Art in 1985,” he says, ruefully, “and one of the tutors described Beyond Caring as ‘poisonous’. By that, I think he meant that it was poisonous to the established order of working, which was to use a Leica, shoot in black and white, and always have an establishing shot.” Paul Graham in The Guardian, 11 April 2011.
Research not used –
Early photographic equipment, because of the slow lenses and particularly the slow emulsion speeds, suited still objects and so rural and urban landscapes, human portraits (with aids to stillness) and still lifes were the natural subject matter.
Consideration of the standardisation of emulsion formats is outside the scope of this essay, but Alan Greene (2013, pp. 4-6) quotes an 1844 catalogue from Charles Chevalier, offering whole-plate (6 7/16th in. x 8 1/2 in.), half-plate (4 3/4 in. x 6 3/8 in.) and other fractions of Daguerre plates for sale.
LPE Exc 1.1 References
Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Andrews, M. (1999) Landscape and western art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chevalier, C. (1844) Mélanges photographiques. Paris: self-published.
Daniel, M. (2004) William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) and the Invention of Photography [online]. metmuseum.org. Available from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tlbt/hd_tlbt.htm [Accessed 24 September 2021].
Greene, A. (2013) Primitive Photography: A Guide to Making Cameras, Lenses, and Calotypes. London: CRC Press.