The concept of ‘identity’ is central to most landscape photography – the cultural, historical, ecological and industrial factors shaping identities of people and places and the ways in which the two interact. ‘Identity’ is however not fixed. Individuals and groups of people are continually trying to reconcile multiple and changing identities as a means of making sense of their place in the world. Identities are constantly manipulated and contested by others in political processes. In the same way, meanings of ‘landscape’ and symbolic associations of places are also multi-layered, changing and often manipulated in attempts to shape power relationships between people and groups of people and peoples’ control over and use of ‘nature’ and other resources.
In deciding how to portray particular landscape/s key considerations are:
- Who created, owns, uses and changes this landscape? How do these people relate to each other?
- How is this ‘landscape’ distinguished from other similar places (who decides what is and what is not similar? by what criteria? why are those criteria important?)?
- How do (different) users and inhabitants of a place feel towards (different aspects of) the landscape (pride, indifference, disrespect, fear of loss)?
- What attitudes do (which) outsiders have towards it?
Underlying all these considerations must also be a consideration of:
- How are these feelings, identities and relationships manipulated, why and by whom? (See Part 3 landscape as political text)
- Self-awareness on the part of the photographer of their own identity/ies and assumptions and power/desire (or lack of it) to manipulate and change things.
‘British-ness’, collective identities and the countryside
“The concept of the countryside is a significant element of the British identity. All countries have rural areas, but Britain’s is one of its ‘unique selling points’.” (Alexander p119)
Attitudes towards social issues like renewable energy or housing policy are often polarised by ‘Not in My Back Yard’ ‘visual impact’ on the land according to rather idealised ‘picturesque’ notions of what the landscape used to/should look like.
Personal identities and multiculturalism
British photographers have questioned established and stereotyped images of the British landscape and its heritage. Photographers like Godwin and Darwell manipulate aesthetics of the image, beauty in texture, pattern and atmosphere to keep the viewer’s attention – then guide it to pose more challenging and shocking questions about the landscape and peoples’ relationship to it. The effort of extracting meaning in this way also makes the images more memorable. See posts:
- Immigration and race: Ingrid Pollard and Simon Roberts.
- Access to the countryside: Fay Godwin
- Environmental pollution and degradation: John Darwell Dark Days (2001 Foot and Mouth Outbreak).
- Relationship with animals: Clive Landen: sharp documentary style and brutal but images of death in Abyss (2001 Foot and Mouth Outbreak) and Familiar British Wildlife (series on roadkills).