2.1 Territorial Photography

Read Snyder’s essay ‘Territorial Photography’ from W.J.T Mitchell ed 2002 Landscape and Power. Summarise Snyder’s key points.

Snyder’s argument:

In the 1830s and 1840s photography was dominated by wealthy upper class photographers trained within a fine art tradition. Their work was personal and intended for a small audience as there were no means for mass production. It aimed to express the photographer’s feelings towards the landscape depicted.

But from the mid to late 1850s a growing middle class clientele created a large and definable market for landscape photographs. This coincided with/was a motor for development of mass production techniques. As the costs of photography reduced, the photographers themselves increasingly came from the middle classes. Prints were increasingly sold by print houses near to sites of tourist interest, and other commercial outlets.

This led to a change in the understanding and techniques of photography itself. Middle class clients were interested in technological progress and wanted photographs that looked machine made with high degree of detail. Tendency towards glossy sepia. Photographs are seen to be disinterested reports.

Issue: ‘how to make a picture that was resolutely photographic yet, at the same time, beautiful or stunning …but that nevertheless could be convincingly experienced as aconventional, a product of scientific laws and photographic craft.’ 

Carleton Watkins      Google Images

‘entrepreneur whose job was to record pre-existing scenes in a thoroughly disinterested manner’

Watkins seeks to harmonise landscape with industrial progress – grand, sublime and quiet – a West American Eden. He produced large 20″ x 24″ negatives of very detailed views of Yosemite Park, Pacific Coast and sparsely settled areas of Utah and Nevada. The images of Yosemite emphasise accessibility and grandeur. Those of the Pacific coast depict it as unspoiled and unspoilable. There is no questioning  of whose land it was, or what happened to the earlier native American settlers on the land.

William Henry Jackson  Google images

also picturesque-sublime. Reconfirm beliefs about America landscape as a ‘scene of potential habitations, acculturation and exploitation’.

Timothy O-Sullivan                               Google images

O’Sullivan was not subject to commercial pressures.  His pictures were antipicturesque showing the West as ‘a boundless place of isolation, of contrasts of blinding light and deep, impenetrable shadows’ – a ‘bleak, inhospitable land, god-foresaken, anaesthetising landscape’.  Despite their detail, his images are not primarily scientific and ‘objective’, but often carefully constructed eg recording his own foot prints and carefully selecting particular elements of a view. Figures are present but have no clear role. He was rejected in his time till rediscovered by Ansel Adams in 1939.

Next, find and evaluate two photographs by any of the photographers Snyder mentions, but not specific examples that he addresses in the essay. Your evaluation (up to 250 words for each) should reflect some of the points that Snyder makes, as well as any other references. (Both the images below are under Creative Commons license)

Watkins Evaluation of Cathedral Rocks

This image makes the tock fill the frame, placing it on the centre line and looking upwards. The light is soft and inviting to a gentle mysterious mistiness at the summit. Shadow lines are also soft – rather like an ancient bone that adds the mystery of weathered age. The trees are quite large and invite the viewer to look up – as if inviting to climb. The curve of the trees around the bottom of the image suggest possibilities of a hidden way up behind the mountain.

O’Sullivan  South Side of Inscription Rock

File:Timothy O'Sullivan, South side of Inscription Rock, New Mexico, 1873.jpg

This image of a similar subject is altogether more stark and forbidding. The rock is placed off-centre, showing the flat landscape beyond. The light is harsh with defined shadows to emphasise the sharp razor-like lines in the rock. It is absolutely clear there is no way up. The sky and sepia colour are burning hot – like a scene on the moon. The shrubs and small trees in the foreground are dwarfed – but note the semi-cropped larger tree on the left.

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