zedscape: a Case for Landscape Photography
Modern Landscape Art and Photography (con'd)
Geographical features are classic landscapes, and often sublime. Next to the plunge pool of Victoria Falls at night in a thunderstorm, where the rain is not felt and the thunder is not heard, would be sublime. Ironically, the image of this, as a picture or as writing, delivers sublimity, while real visitors rarely ‘tremble with a sensation like dread’ as noted by Nathaniel Hawthorne as he travelled to Niagara Falls in 1835. And although Victoria Falls would have been difficult to see and experience in 1853 from any other vantage point than the island in the middle of the falls itself, Livingstone’s report of it was reserved; but the ‘smoke that thunders’ continues to be among the greatest viewable natural phenomena in the world. It is rare to find picturesque pictures in serious landscape photography.
How about cities? They are, too, part of nature, so they cannot be excluded; and many have dark places. Land is contained by a view; mankind is contained by land; so, landscapes include mankind, animals, the sea, the sky, the mountains, cities, poverty ridden urban sprawls, waterfalls, subterranean caverns and let us say everything else except portraits and still-life in their most limited senses.
The importance of modern landscape art in the context of landscape photography is the concept of the picturesque and the sublime. Although realist paintings are an artist’s equivalent of the photographer’s decisive moment, great artists created paintings from their sketches, and not necessarily from the same vantage point. Linear and aerial perspectives, and chiaroscuro, are natural phenomena; they are captured by the camera and can then be manipulated by equipment, knowledge and processing, in the same way that a painter must have the necessary skills.
A case for landscape photography
In 2014, a reported 54 per cent of the global population lives in an urban environment, and 39 per cent did also in Zambia in 2011. Jean-François Millet (1814-75) and Courbet both painted realistic rural landscapes for their Parisian clientele that matched the romantic notions of rural living for the urban elite. Gainsborough’s clients wanted to see their estates in their family portraits and there are Turner’s watercolours of Petworth Park. Likewise, there are selfies taken on mobile phones in Zambia that show family members on their farms or in front of their houses and cars in Lusaka, intentionally showing their possessions.
The converse of this is that, migration to urban centres being a social and economic fact, it is likely that rural communities like to see images of urban centres, but for different reasons, leading to an hypothesis that there is increasing duality in demand for landscape imagery arising from the burgeoning middle class: the romantically minded urban elite still wants picturesque images of their estates, but, also, rural communities want real information about urban centres, where many of their relatives are living, often in foreign countries.
Photography has always been a means to record events for prosperity, and remains so despite valid efforts to call the reliability of photographs into question. If the assertions of climate change damaging environments are correct, then it is urgent to record those environments in which we live to demonstrate the damage. Floods, tsunamis, thunderstorms, landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are all images of the sublime, during and after the events.