SF Bay Area Large Format Photography Group Message Board › Axioms for Reading the Landscape

Axioms for Reading the Landscape

Tomas
user 4048518
Fremont, CA
Post #: 13
Hi everyone, during the last meetup out at Pierce Point Ranch, we got into a discussion about capturing landscape images and some of the photographer's difficulties in revealing something new from a scene that has been previously overrun with eager enthusiasts who all had the same inspiration.

I just completed an architectural landscape class in my major program and we leaned a bit into Peirce K Lewis's Axioms as a guide to reading, understanding and therefore photographing the cultural landscape.
I thought I would post a few musings from his paper here and we could dialogue on some of them, versus just point people to the online repository for his work. So if this is OK, I would be happy if you all would join me in polite discussion and practical implementation in our outings...shock

Tomas
user 4048518
Fremont, CA
Post #: 14
Landscape as a common verb, to " Landscape" means to "prettify"
Landscape as a noun evokes images of snow-capped mountains and waves beating on a rock-bound coast
Mae Thielgaard Watts has remarked, that we can "read the landscape" as we might read a book. Our human landscape is our unwitting autobiography, reflecting our tastes, our values, our aspirations and even our fears, in tangible , visible form. We rarely think of landscape in that way, and so the cultural record we have "written" in the landscape is liable to be more truthful than most autobiographies because we are less self-conscious about how we describe ourselves. - biggrin
Does this register with anyone? Has anyone shooting traditional landscape every stopped to consider the human autobiographical aspect? There are 7 Axioms and after I see what participation we have on this topic I will post 1 axiom a week for discussion.
Tomas
user 4048518
Fremont, CA
Post #: 15
#1 The Axiom of Landscape as a clue to culture -
The man-made landscape - the ordinary run-of-the-mill things that humans have created and put upon the earth - provides strong evidence of the kind of people we are, and were, and are in the process of becoming. In other words, the culture of any nation is unintentionally reflected in its ordinary vernacular landscape.


  • THE COROLLARY OF CULTURAL CHANGE



  • CULTURAL CHANGE - the human landscape - our houses, roads, cities, farms etc, represent enormous investments of money, time, and emotions. If there is change in this landscape then there is heavy pressure to do so. We must conclude that if there is really major change in the look of the cultural landscape, then there is very likely a major change occurring in our national culture at the same time.


Are you all aware of any shifts in the cultural landscape today?
What links to national changes can be drawn?
How can you capture this in our area with the LF camera?

Tim S.
user 10961683
San Jose, CA
Post #: 41
"Reading the landscape", could be taken a few directions....

You could read at the geology of a place, or the natural history,
migration paths, guano mounds, the effects of water, snow and ice...

But, reading the language of the human effect on the landscape
is a mixed bag. Robert Adams did a lot of that, and won both
acclaim and disregard. I cannot count the times I have moved a
bit of human 'bric-a-brac' out of the scene in order to make it more
'pristine'. Even Ansel did this, and often, when I think of 'landscape'
photography, it is often this 'searching for eden' style of work I imagine.

When considering the human influence, personally, I look to people like
Walker Evans, who was always interested in how current things will look
as history... so, in his case, he was showing the demise of the rural
wooden houses, the tenant row-shacks, the stores, diners, etc.
communities changing because of the larger industrial and social
forces at work... in particular, he had a love of signs that showed
the current social landscape of movies, foods, prices, etc... His
work speaks to me, it begs the question of the times hinted at:
overheard conversations, headlines, songs in the radio. Is it
nostalgia? I don't think that was his point, I think he was trying
to show the larger forces at work, using small moments, scenes,
and looks. Could I talk about this all day? Yes :)
Tomas
user 4048518
Fremont, CA
Post #: 16
Tim, that's awesome that you have a handle on your vision of the landscape as it relates to what you see as "Eden". I don't see many contemporary photographers including an element of the sublime in their images whether portrait or landscape. In the landscape genre I think the sublime is utterly the entire narrative such as when Ansel Adams stakes out a particular place in every season and throughout the rotation of the clock to determine when the weather, light and atmosphere best narrates the sublime in its beauty and perfection. As I would probably lean toward and F64 approach to the notion of purity in "discovered" nature, there is still something to be said for inclusion and excluded in a scene and how aesthetically neutral one can really be. I think that maybe the junction where you consciously deliver your pawn ( camera and medium limitations) to the enemy (irony) and keep your inherent visual bias safe behind a castled rook. :)

I think on the cultural clue side of the house, purposefully looking for these clues on location should bring about a more ideal final image. Whether you find refuse, dying trees, fields of decay, or a lack of animal life. Something about the search for clues detailing our impact on nature should lead you to documenting what you find and what you don't. - your thoughts? :) biggrin
Tomas
user 4048518
Fremont, CA
Post #: 17
#2 The Axiom of cultural unity and landscape equality -
Nearly all items in human landscape reflect culture in some way. There are almost no exceptions. Furthermore, most items in the human landscape are no more and no less important than others items - in terms of the role as clues to culture.

Thus, the McDonald's hamburger stand is just as important a cultural symbol ( or clue) as the Empire State Building, and the change in design of McDonald's buildings may signal an important change in cultural attitudes, just as the rash of Seagram's "shoebox skyscrapers" around exurban freeway interchanges heralds the arrival of a new kind of American City - and a new variant of American culture.
The painted cement jockey-boy on the front lawn of the lower middle class suburbia is just as important as the Brooklyn bridge; The Coney Island roller rink is as important as the Washington Monument - no more, no less.
" No matter how ordinary it may seem, there is no such thing as a culturally uninteresting landscape"



  • If an item is really unique ( like the only elephant-shaped hotel south of the 40th parallel, located in Margate, New Jersey), it may not seem to mean much, except that it's creator was rich and crazy.
  • One should not be too hasty in judging something "unique". Ridicule or deprecation cannot dismiss the persistent, nagging and fascinating question: what do these ordinary things tell us about American culture?
  • The fact that all items are equally important emphatically does not mean that they are easy to study and understand. Sometimes the commonest things are the hardest to study

Tomas
user 4048518
Fremont, CA
Post #: 18

When considering the human influence, personally, I look to people like
Walker Evans, who was always interested in how current things will look
as history... so, in his case, he was showing the demise of the rural
wooden houses, the tenant row-shacks, the stores, diners, etc.
communities changing because of the larger industrial and social
forces at work... in particular, he had a love of signs that showed
the current social landscape of movies, foods, prices, etc... His
work speaks to me, it begs the question of the times hinted at:
overheard conversations, headlines, songs in the radio. Is it
nostalgia? I don't think that was his point, I think he was trying
to show the larger forces at work, using small moments, scenes,
and looks. Could I talk about this all day? Yes :)
Evans was also believed to have been influenced by the FSA work he did right? so maybe some shock value to the country as a hole ( which could elude to those larger forces you mentioned) that exposed what had not before been seen in economic disparity?
So what would be your take on this image from Evans ?

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