LANDSCAPE AND PLACE: AN ASPECT OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Introduced by Peter Miller, Bath Spa University College, on 8 February 1999

Peter Miller spoke with insight and clarity in the course of showing over 50 slides of photographs by established landscape photographers, dating from 1870 to the present day. While early landscape photography in Britain was used to pursue much the same ends as painting, in the USA a number of

Photograph by Peter Miller
photographs were taken as part of surveys of new territory; while these were mainly to convey information, they also conveyed feelings of space, nature and transcendence with an appeal which was strongly abstract. There developed in the US a confidence about using photography to make art; a photographer could express an emotional state, shown in the work of Alfred Steiglitz and others, as opposed to following in the wake of 19th century fine art.

Peter Miller showed examples of work by more modern photographers: a raw open landscape by Bill Brandt, influenced by developments in art in the 1930s; a superb composition made of casually planted posts, signs and a concrete box, found somewhere in the country by Raymond Moore; a remarkable abstract pattern of strips and interruptions (actually an aerial view of soil erosion
photographic era could be said to have lasted about 140 years.

In discussion, it was indicated that the particular photographs shown by Peter Miller are nowadays more likely to be seen as art: everyday work will more commonly be digital, but that would not exclude production of art digitally. Some concern was expressed that digital manipulation could well undermine, intentionally or otherwise, any sense of reality in superficially realistic images, and the consequences aroused some apprehension. Those present went away with much to think about.

Peter Miller offered the following general statement about landscape photography:

The photograph can record more than that remembered or seen by the eye at the time the original exposure was made. The way in which we experience things uses more senses than that of sight alone and our visual experience is always moving on by the second, like a film. The still photograph, however, holds a particular subject, a moment that can be returned to in a print, book or other form.

As a medium, photography is particularly suited to landscape and it could be argued that it superseded other forms of two-dimensional art in this particular respect, and created a new one. As well as recording detail, tone and colour, the lens does not exclude any part of the subject and although this might seem to hinder the process of selection it also gives the particular quality to document and include the incidental which was not apparent in eighteenth and nineteenth century ideas about the "Prospect" or "View". Photographers and artists who use the medium are selective and bring their own particular interpretation, which, given the relatively fixed nature of the photographic processes involved, requires a special awareness of their subjects. In the process of being on land, the camera accompanies the user - its use is not a primary experience. The particular environment and circumstances at the time are the first experience and this is clearly the case with landscape in which the individual has to arrive, study and view, walk and travel through, and generally relate to its nature as a phenomenon as well as making photographs.

Being there, in an involved way, is a prerequisite to the use of the camera. The photograph can become a metaphor for these experiences and include the individual's perception and intentions at the time. It can also transcend its subject and make other references as well.'

John Coates