1: Beauty and Sublime 4: Landscape Identities

John Pfahl


Power Places

1: Beauty and Sublime 3: Landscape as Political Text History Review Theory

Gilpin’s Theory of the Picturesque

Gilpin’s Essay on Prints (1768) defined picturesque as “a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture” (p. xii).  Gilpin began to expound his “principles of picturesque beauty”, based largely on his knowledge of landscape painting. During the late 1760s and 1770s Gilpin travelled extensively in the summer holidays and applied these principles to the landscapes he saw, committing his thoughts and spontaneous sketches to notebooks. William Gilpin’s work was a direct challenge to the ideology of the well established Grand Tour, showing how an exploration of rural Britain could compete with classically oriented tours of the Continent. The irregular, anti-classical, ruins became sought after sights.

Gilpin’s views were articulated particularly in his guide to Observations on the River Wye 1770:

“We travel for various purposes – to explore the culture of soils, to view the curiosities of art, to survey the beauties of nature, and to learn the manners of men, their different politics, and modes of life. The following little work proposes a new object of pursuit; that of examining the face of the country by the rules of picturesque beauty; opening the sources of those pleasures which are derived from the comparison.”introduction (Gilpin, [1782] 2005, p.17)

While Gilpin allowed that nature was good at producing textures and colours, it was rarely capable of creating the perfect composition. Some extra help from the artist, perhaps in the form of a carefully placed tree, was usually required.

‘Nature is always great in design; but unequal in composition…Nature gives us the material of landscape: woods, rivers, trees, lakes, ground, and mountains; but leaves us to work them up into pictures, as our fancy leads…I am so attached to my picturesque rules, that if nature gets it wrong, I cannot help putting her right…the picture is not so much the ultimate end, as it is the medium, through which the ravishing scenes of nature are excited in the imagination.’

Gilpin’s work on watercolour technique emphasised both texture and composition were important in a “correctly picturesque” scene:

  • The texture should be “rough”, “intricate”, “varied”, or “broken”, without obvious straight lines.
  • The composition should work as a unified whole, incorporating several elements: a dark “foreground” with a “front screen” or “side screens”, a brighter middle “distance”, and at least one further, less distinctly depicted, “distance”.
  • A ruined abbey or castle would add “consequence”.
  • A low viewpoint, which tended to emphasise the “sublime”, was always preferable to a prospect from on high.

In contrast to other contemporary travel writers, such as Thomas Pennant, Gilpin included little history, and few facts or anecdotes. He described ways that the scenes could be improved upon, according to his vision of picturesque beauty. He directed readers to the specific spots he believed would yield the most picturesque vantage point of a given location.

Although he came in for criticism and satire eg in Jane Austen, Gilpin’s views were very influential in painting and related media, and particularly  garden design, encouraging landscape architects to introduce more organic shapes to views and structures such as follies and grottos. Others, most notably Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price (1794  An Essay on the Picturesque as Compared with the Sublime and Beautiful) and Thomas Johnes, developed Gilpin’s ideas into more comprehensive theories of the picturesque and apply these more generally to landscape design and architecture.

Improved road communications and travel restrictions on continental Europe saw an explosion of British domestic tourism in the 1780s and 1790s. Many of these picturesque tourists were intent on sketching, or at least discussing what they saw in terms of landscape painting. Some sketched freehand the scenes Gilpin described, and others employed the camera lucida – the precursor to the compact camera – as an aid to responding visually to Gilpin’s picturesque descriptions.  Gilpin’s works were the ideal companions for this new generation of travellers; they were written specifically for that market and never intended as comprehensive travel guides.

Gilpin asked: “shall we suppose it a greater pleasure to the sportsman to pursue a trivial animal, than it is to the man of taste to pursue the beauties of nature?”. The little brown ‘viewpoints’ icons on Ordnance Survey maps are a legacy of Gilpin.

1: Beauty and Sublime 3: Landscape as Political Text History Inspiration Landscape Review Theory

Origins of the Picturesque and aesthetic consumerism

In the second half of the eighteenth century, definitions of types of landscape or view, seen from an aesthetic or artistic point of view distinguished between:

  • the sublime (awesome sights such as great mountains)
  • the beautiful, the most peaceful, even pretty sights.

See discussion in Part 1 Beauty and the Sublime

In between came the picturesque, views seen as being artistic but containing ‘pleasing’ elements of wildness or irregularity. Together with Gothic and Celticism it became part of the romantic aesthetic of the growing numbers of leisured middle classes.  Improved road communications and travel restrictions on continental Europe saw an explosion of British domestic tourism in the 1780s and 1790s. Many of these picturesque tourists who flooded areas like the Lake District sketched or painted using Claude Glasses  or used the camera lucida.

The word picturesque, meaning literally “in the manner of a picture; fit to be made into a picture”, was a word used as early as 1703 (Oxford English Dictionary), and derived from an Italian term pittoresco, “in the manner of a painter”. Prime examples are French landscape painters like Claude Lorrain. Gilpin’s Essay on Prints (1768) defined picturesque as “a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture” (p. xii) and proposed a number of “principles of picturesque beauty”. Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price (1794  An Essay on the Picturesque as Compared with the Sublime and Beautiful) and Thomas Johnes, developed Gilpin’s ideas into more comprehensive theories of the picturesque and apply these more generally to landscape design and architecture advocating more organic shapes to views and structures such as follies and grottos.

After 1815 when Europeans were able to travel again after the wars, Italy became a favourite destination for picturesque-hunters and artists. This reinforced ideas of the ‘picturesque’ in the sense of a view that has been ‘perfectly’ composed according to compositional and perspective theories (eg leading lines, golden mean) that were key developments in art in Renaissance Italy). Grand theories of wild natural beauty gave way to the tamer and more commercialised picturesque of the mid 19th century using these broad principles. These ideas also underlie standard compositional prescriptions in many books and magazine articles on techniques of landscape photography today.

See Posts:

Gilpin’s theory of the picturesque

Francis Frith’s poscards.

and weblinks:

Susan Sontag describes this commercialisation of the picturesque as ‘aesthetic consumerism’ (Sontag, 1977, p.24). As Malcolm Andrews (1999) remarks, there is “something of the big-game hunter in these tourists, boasting of their encounters with savage landscapes, ‘capturing’ wild scenes, and ‘fixing’ them as pictorial trophies in order to sell them or hang them up in frames on their drawing room walls”. They ignore the complex social, political and economic interests and conflicts between classes, conservation and industrialisation, commercial interests and local people, those living and working in the countryside and those who simply enjoy it for leisure or regard it as part of their heritage.

Fay Godwin suggests that ignoring the different interests and conflicts exacerbates polarisation of interests between users of the countryside: “I am wary of picturesque pictures. I get satiated with looking at postcards in local newsagents and at the picture books that are on sale, many of which don’t bear any relation to my own experience of the place… The problem for me about these picturesque pictures, which proliferate all over the place, is that they are a very soft warm blanket of sentiment, which covers everybody’s idea about the countryside… It idealises the country in a very unreal way.”
(Fay Godwin 1986 South Bank Show Produced and directed by Hilary Chadwick, London Weekend Television quoted Alexander 2013 p84.)

 3.1: Reflecting on the picturesque

Going beyond the picturesque requires thinking very carefully about what one is trying to say about ‘landscape’ and why. It also raises aesthetic challenges about how to communicate this in terms of following or subverting conventional theories of composition and the likely interpretation by different viewers.

1: Beauty and Sublime 3: Landscape as Political Text

Lake District photographers

Photographers found from a Google Search on Lake District Photography.

Brian Kerr

These ones are my favourites from the search. Particularly the misty lakes and sunsets are beautiful. Colours have been altered but not over contrasty or just standard use of warm up filters. The images are very sharp. Subjects are often placed centrally using wide angle lens, instead of conventionally on rule of thirds. Probably done with a medium or large format camera?

Matthew Priestley

A photographer from Manchester who goes out fell walking with colleagues a few times a year. He uses a digital compact because of its portability and processes in Photoshop and Lightroom. He produces images focusing particularly on plays of light. Some of the views are very appealing, but the images are less sharp and sometimes over-contrasty. Possibly because of the use of a compact camera.

Dave Lawrence

These are picturesque postcard images, rather than beautiful.   Slow shutter speed waterfalls. Zig zag compositions of walls on dale hillsides with sheep. Blue lilac colours, and free use of warm up filters. Pretty touristy and unnatural colours.

He is really strong on marketing with dowloadable screensavers. Photobox Pro Galleries. Zazzle for other merchandise eg mugs. Greetings Cards. Red Bubble for calendars etc.

Heart of the lakes photography holidays website has a lot of rather standard sunny, but rather washed out panoramas of Castlerigg and well-known vantage points.

1: Beauty and Sublime History Inspiration

Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), for example, was active in New York in the late 1890s and was
initially a practitioner in the ‘artistic’ sense of documentary photography, trying to emulate
or deliver what drawing and painting had been delivering. Photography was viewed as a
replacement for painting so the thinking was that the practices and values of art should be
subsumed within photography. However the new century, especially after World War I, saw a
growing respect for photography as an independent medium that could offer something different
and this was reflected in the work undertaken by Stieglitz in documenting the ephemeral nature
of everyday life.
In the image above, Stieglitz portrays the crudity of a fledgling transport system. The destination
board – Harlem – tells us that this is harsh winter weather in a poor area of the city. The image
shows how much effort the driver and horses have to put in to be able to operate under such
conditions – note the steam coming off the horses. Stieglitz was prepared to wait for four hours
to capture this image. He wanted something different and he got it.

Stieglitz was very concerned about the initial
treatment of immigrants arriving in large numbers
from Ireland and Europe, hoping for a warm
welcome but receiving the opposite. The authorities
were concerned about typhoid and other infectious
diseases and most immigrants were held in isolation
for weeks before being allowed into America.
For a biography of Steiglitz visit:
Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye (1999), a Masters of Photography documentary video about
the ‘new way of seeing’ that Stieglitz wanted to bring to American photography:

1: Beauty and Sublime 4: Landscape Identities

Ingrid Pollard


Through her practice, Guyanese-born artist Ingrid Pollard addresses her feelings towards the rural countryside as a non-white British subject, articulating her profound sense of being an outsider to these spaces. In some of her projects, Pollard hand tints black-and-white prints. This strategy has a dual purpose: firstly, it is a play on the idea of ‘colour’ in terms of race; and secondly, the use of this antiquated process immediately refers to nostalgic, romanticised ideals of the British landscape.

In Miss Pollard’s Party (1993), Pollard parodies the tourist postcard, placing her own hand-tinted images on a template depicting ‘Wordsworth Heritage’.

In Pastoral Interlude (1987) Pollard juxtaposes photographs of figures in the landscape (some of which are herself) with more subversive captions, such as: “It’s as if the Black experience is only lived within an urban environment. I thought I liked the Lake District; where I wandered lonely as a Black face in a sea of white. A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease; dread.”

Ingrid Pollard is unusual in that her practice addresses not only her sense of identity as a nonwhite British subject in the UK, but also her experience in relation to the countryside. What Pollard’s work also shows is that the concept of ‘environment’ in relation to the influence of a sense of place transcends geographical concerns alone. Whether a more deep-seated dichotomy exists between the interests of those from or living in the countryside and those in the towns is also a question that extends beyond UK borders.

Listen to Ingrid Pollard talking about her work and landscape

Source: Alexander p123

1: Beauty and Sublime 3: Landscape as Political Text 6: Transitions

Andreas Gursky

Andreas Gursky (born January 15, 1955) is a German photographer and Professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Germany. Gursky shares a studio with Laurenz Berges, Thomas Ruff and Axel Hutte on the Hansaallee, in Düsseldorf. The building, a former electricity station, was transformed into an artists studio and living quarters, in 2001, by architects Herzog & de Meuron, of Tate Modern fame. In 2010-11, the architects worked again on the building, designing a gallery in the basement.

He is known for his large format architecture and landscape colour photographs, often employing a high point of view. Before the 1990s, Gursky did not digitally manipulate his images. In the years since, Gursky has been frank about his reliance on computers to edit and enhance his pictures, creating an art of spaces larger than the subjects photographed.

The perspective in many of Gursky’s photographs is drawn from an elevated vantage point. This position enables the viewer to encounter scenes, encompassing both centre and periphery, which are ordinarily beyond reach. Visually, Gursky is drawn to large, anonymous, man-made spaces—high-rise facades at night, office lobbies, stock exchanges, the interiors of big box retailers (See his print 99 Cent II Diptychon).

Gursky’s style is enigmatic and deadpan. There is little to no explanation or manipulation on the works. His photography is straightforward.

Gursky’s Dance Valley festival photograph, taken near Amsterdam in 1995, depicts attendees facing a DJ stand in a large arena, beneath strobe lighting effects. The pouring smoke resembles a human hand, holding the crowd in stasis. After completing the print, Gursky explained the only music he now listens to is the anonymous, beat-heavy style known as Trance, as its symmetry and simplicity echoes his own work—while playing towards a deeper, more visceral emotion.

The photograph 99 Cent (1999) was taken at a 99 Cents Only store on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and depicts its interior as a stretched horizontal composition of parallel shelves, intersected by vertical white columns, in which the abundance of “neatly labeled packets are transformed into fields of colour, generated by endless arrays of identical products, reflecting off the shiny ceiling” (Wyatt Mason).

The Rhine II (1999), depicts a stretch of the river Rhine outside Düsseldorf, immediately legible as a view of a straight stretch of water, but also as an abstract configuration of horizontal bands of colour of varying widths.]

In his six-part series Ocean I-VI (2009-2010), Gursky used high-definition satellite photographs which he augmented from various picture sources on the Internet.



1: Beauty and Sublime

The Beautiful and the Sublime

“The Sublime” radio 4 podcast In our time

Concepts of beauty

“Beauty and art were once thought of as belonging together, with beauty as among art’s principle aims and art as beauty’s highest calling” Beech 2009 p12

“Why is form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life mat be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning” Adams 1996 p25

“The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case, the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it.” Edmund Burke 1757.

Beauty is very much an aspect of aesthetics or more simply our ‘senses’; sensuous music and sounds, textiles and textures, pleasant flavours and smells. There are essentially two perspectives:

1) beauty as  ‘objective’ universal within human nature. Mathematical and geometric evaluations of pieces of music, human features and pictorial composition have been used to support this view.

2) beauty as subjective ‘taste’  ‘beauty lies in the eye of the beholder’. As personal and/or a matter of cultural identity, what is beautiful to one group of people may be vulgar and repulsive to another.

Claude Lorrain (1600–1682), was regarded as the antithesis of sublime since it exemplified classical beauty through its formal harmony, elegance and subtle luminosity.

Modernist debates and Marxist critiques of beauty have made it a political matter – a bourgeois preoccupation and tool of repression.

Dadaists Otto Dix (1891-1969) satirised images of conventional, romantic notions of beauty and fascist ideals of perfection in his politically challenging paintings made around the dawn of the Second World War.

Conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp‘s urinal placed in gallery context.

 Concepts of the sublime

 “the sublime is associated with awe, danger and pain, with places where accidents happen, where things run beyond human control, where nature is untameable.”
Liz Wells

 Longinus (c300AD) passage about poetry and rhetoric in ‘The True Sublime’ in Book 7 of the Peri HypsousFor by some innate power the true sublime uplifts our souls; we are filled with a proud exaltation and a sense of vaunting joy; just as though we had ourselves produced what we had heard.

Kant, Hegel, johann sciller.

Etymology: 1580s, “expressing lofty ideas in an elevated manner,” from Middle French sublime (15c.), or directly from Latin sublimis “uplifted, high, borne aloft, lofty, exalted, eminent, distinguished,” possibly originally “sloping up to the lintel,” from sub “up to” + limen “lintel, threshold, sill” (see limit (n.)). The sublime (n.) “the sublime part of anything, that which is stately or imposing” is from 1670s.

British Art and the Sublime Christine Riding and Nigel Llewellyn

The English word derives from a conjunction of two Latin terms, the preposition sub, meaning below or up to and the noun limen, meaning limit, boundary or threshold. Limen is also the word for ‘lintel’, the heavy wooden or stone beam that holds the weight of a wall up above a doorway or a window. This sense of not only striving or pushing upwards but also against an overbearing force is an important connotation for the word sublime. By the seventeenth century, the word in English was in use both as an adjective and as a noun (the sublime) with many shades of meaning but invariably referring to things that are raised aloft, set high up and exalted, whether they be buildings, ideas, people, language, style or other aspects of or responses to art and nature.
By about 1700 an additional theme started to develop, which was that the sublime in writing, nature, art or human conduct was regarded as of such exalted status that it was beyond normal experience, perhaps even beyond the reach of human understanding. In its greatness or intensity and whether physical, metaphysical, moral, aesthetic or spiritual, by the time of the Enlightenment, the sublime was generally regarded as beyond comprehension and beyond measurement.

Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, published in 1757 broke the idea of the sublime down into seven aspects, all of which Burke argued were discernible in the natural world and in natural phenomena:

  • Darkness – which constrains the sense of sight (primary among the five senses)
  • Obscurity – which confuses judgement
  • Privation (or deprivation) – since pain is more powerful than pleasure
  • Vastness – which is beyond comprehension
  • Magnificence – in the face of which we are in awe
  • Loudness – which overwhelms us
  • Suddenness – which shocks our sensibilities to the point of disablement
The ‘romantic sublime’ was a particularly common theme throughout 18th and 19th century painting with religious and spiritual overtones. Sublime was a term that was used in art writing alongside adjectives such as ‘awful’, ‘dreadful’ and ‘terrible’, which today tend simply to denote ‘less than ideal’ but which in the 1700s were understood explicitly as expressions of awe, dread and terror, and were associated with the sublime as standard elements in aesthetic discourse. Sublime landscape painters, especially in the Romantic period, around 1800, tended to take subjects such as towering mountain ranges, deep chasms, violent storms, rough seas, volcanic eruptions or avalanches that, if actually experienced, would be dangerous and even life-threatening.

John Martin

JMW Turner

Caspar David Friedrich Wanderer above the sea of the fog / above the mist 1818 

James Ward:  Gordale Scar 1812-1814

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) defines the sublime as not just an aspect of aesthetics, but of psychoanalysis. He related it to his idea of ‘the uncanny’ which refers to a feeling of discomfort when seeing something that is simultaneously familiar and alien. ‘Das Unheimliche’ not just in terms of location, but in terms of identity. The un-settlement, or cognitive dissonance that can result from an encounter with the uncanny is what can stir the sense of the sublime.

So becomes something that occupies the imagination. Something that triggers a psychoactive response in an individual.

Philip Shaw ‘Modernism and the Sublime’

Lucio Fontana (1950s) punched holes (or buchi) through his canvases, the aim being literally to break through the surface of the work so that the viewer can perceive the space that lies beyond. Fontana regarded this gesture as a means of disclosing the unlimited space of the sublime, announcing ‘I have created an infinite dimension’. In some works slashes executed with a razor seem to erupt outwards, conveying the force of the original assault towards the viewer in a way that is both energetic and terrifying.

Mark Rothko   Robert Rosenblum in‘The Abstract Sublime’ (1961) writes: ‘the floating, horizontal tiers of veiled light in the Rothko seem to conceal a total, remote presence that we can only intuit and never fully grasp. These infinite, glowing voids carry us beyond reason to the Sublime; we can only submit to them in an act of faith and let ourselves be absorbed into their radiant depths’. Rothko’s biographer James Breslin writes: ‘Rothko … constantly felt the imminent danger of being ‘smothered’ by encroaching physical, social, or domestic circumstances. His new paintings created a breathing space. Yet these paintings do not seek simply to ‘transcend’ the walls of an unalterable external reality by soaring upward into either an untrammelled freedom or a vaporous mysticism. Rather, by (in Rothko’s words) pulverising the verge of dissolution – his works free us from the weight, solidity, and definition of a material existence, whose constricting pressures we still feel. Rothko combines freedom and constraint and if these paintings create ‘dramas’ with the shapes as the ‘performers’ they stage a struggle to be free.’

“in many cultures, a confrontation of the sublime is a requisite rite of passage. Within my project, Threshold Zone (2008) I explored and attempted to rationalise my own response to both man-made and naturally formed underground spaces. I felt curious, and was determined to make some work in these spaces, but I was also acutely phobic of being underground, particularly when working alone. These spaces were generally physically unfamiliar to me, yet my mind was filled with familiar fairytales and contemporary narratives relating to the dangers that lurk below ground in the darkness. I channelled these feelings into a creative strategy, in which I placed my camera in a space referred to as ‘twilight’ or ‘threshold zone’ of a cave that receives some daylight, and the ‘dark zone’ that receives none. The resulting, highly contrasting images which are presented as back-lit light-boxes, I hope illustrate my encounter with the sublime’ Jesse Alexander 2013 p 40.

The sublime radio 4 Podcast In our time

 Exercise 1.6 The contemporary abyss

Since the very beginning of photography, the city has provided opportunities for the photographer: landscape and other subject matter.

1: Beauty and Sublime Landscape Review To Do

Landscape and the City

!!To be developed with documentary

Since the very beginning of photography, the city has provided opportunities for the photographer: landscape and other subject matter.


Daguerre’s. ‘View boulevard du temple’. First example of photograph of a person. Only rendered because he must have remained relatively still to have his shoes shined.

Talbot’s views of Paris.

“The images of Paris remain passive and mute, and establish not so much the tourist eye-view, hungry for sights to record, as one that was looking for things to record… his London images, for example Nelson’s Column (1843), keep the city at a distance and follow the eye in its way within the urban world.”
(Clarke, 1997, p.77)

Eugene Atget

Social documentary

John Thomson Street Life in London

Jacob Riis How the other half lives.


Cities within cities

A recurring line of investigation is that of the city, not just as one complete interconnecting  unit, but layers of different cities within cities. Sometimes these elements are briefly exposed to one another, but often they are designed to restrain their inhabitants from uncomfortable contact with each other. Eg film In Time.

Paul Seawright.    Invisible Cities.


1.9: Visual research and analysis – social contrasts

1: Beauty and Sublime Review

Landscape Perspectives: pictorialism to modernism

 Landscape Art

Since the very beginnings of human art, artists have been concerned with the relationship between human beings and their environment. That relationship has been perceived and portrayed in different ways in different cultures, all of which have potential to inform current photographic images particularly with the advances and freedom offered by digital cameras and processing.

  • Cave paintings: many early cave paintings were an attempt to tame the human environment, and particularly the animals in them. Many of these paintings simplified form, captured movement and superimposed images over time in a way whose power can only really be appreciated when visiting these very first art galleries. These painting are in warm earth colours and black because those were the pigments available.
  • Chinese and Japanese landscape: show a diversity of approaches to the relationship between people and their environment. Some were produced for the elite, many by monks as part of their religious practice and combined with calligraphy. Confucianism stressed human ability to control the landscape in an ordered and hierarchical manner. Taoism sees human beings as part of the landscape, needing to bend and flow with forces of nature. Zen Buddhism depicted the solitary human being confronted with  unfathomable reality or flash of momentary enlightenment. Many of these images are black and white ink, others are in colours including blues and greens.
  • Indian and Persian miniatures : these were produced for a wealth elite showing the control over nature in gardens and idealised views. They are in full colour, including silver and gold.
  • Western landscape painting: in Western Art interest in landscape came quite late as the poor relation to religious and historical art. But from  18th century artists used the sophisticated techniques made possible by oil paint to depict dramatic plays of light on landscape backgrounds. Form the late 19th century landscape art, partly in reaction to the rise of photography, started to free itself from adherence to strict compositional rules and colour conventions and experiment with different ways of using paint to convey emotions and feelings.

See page on Landscape Art

Landscape photography

Landscape photography, much longer than fine art, has continued to be constrained in traditions, conventions and preconceptions mostly derived from 19th Century Western art. Many people have very particular ideas about what may or may not be considered a piece of landscape art and these ideas are reflected in much of the photographic establishment eg rules and assessment by judges in landscape photography competitions and Royal Photographic Association qualifications . These preconceptions include:

  • suitable subject matter: eg do we include or cut out evidence of human industrial activity?
  • composition: eg canvas ratio and orientation, compositional depth, use of leading lines, golden ratio or rule of thirds.
  • where and how we see images of the landscape: eg what is appropriate for large or small prints as fine art in galleries, illustration in books, advertising or on-line.

Exercise 1.1 Preconceptions 

Exercise 1.2 Photography in the museum or in the gallery

Early landscape photography

From Alexander 2013 OCA material pp 23-36. To be rewritten, properly integrated and linked and follow up on these photographers (work out how to deal with copyright issues in linking images)

Early photography was related closely to painting.

Camera lucida and camera obscura already used by artists like Vermeer to get ‘photographic realism’. Also popular with upper class Victorian travellers.

William Henry Fox Talbot’s (1800-1877) calotype process. frustration at being unable to draw or paint with any degree of accuracy that the positive-negative analogue process underpinning modern photography was conceived. While in Lake Como in Italy on his grand tour of Europe in 1833, Fox Talbot decided he would find a way to fix the image within the camera lucida. –  Calotype allowed mass production.

Niepce (1765-1833) and Daguerre (1787-1851)

Early photography was only accessible to those with quite specialist knowledge of optics and chemistry ( with the economic implications) and so was considered part of science. Fulfilled purpose of illustration, journalism, produce mementos, criminal mug shots and method of scientific inquiry eg eugenics.

Many painters made use of photography like Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Seurat. Also modern artists like Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Chuck Close and Gerhard Richter.

Eugene Atget (1857-1927) amassed an archive of many thousands of glass plate negatives with views of the street life and architecture of Paris.

Discussion of whether or not Atget’s photos merits a place in art galleries given he himself did not demonstrate artistic judgement in the wat he catalogued hos work see

Rosalind Krauss ‘Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View’. Vs To Papageorge in Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography 2011


“Pictorialism” is only an exaggeration of what the photograph thinks of itself. Barthes 1982 p31

Link to Wikipedia

Link to Google Images

The norm within pictorialism was, and remains, the production of singular, one-off pieces, designed to convey the maker’s mood at the moment it was made and to satisfy the eyes of the viewer.

Some early photographers believed that in addition to its practical applications as an objective recording or objects, photography also had potential as a means of expressing subjective  impressions – as pictures.

Brotherhood of the Linked Ring

founded by Henry Peach Robinson. Philosophy that a photographic print could be considered as a work of art, despite the need for some kind of camera and related chemistry.They split from the organisation that would become the Royal Photographic Society because the organisation was too preoccupied with the scientific rather than the artistic side. RPS then adopted pictorialism.

Printing process:  Instead of applying the photosensitive coatings to the surfaces of their prints as evenly and uniformly as possible to give continuous tones, pictorialists left visible brushstrokes and marks on the print surface. Bromoil, cyanotype and gum bichromate processes rendered images with less clarity and giving them more atmosphere like drawing, pastels and painting.

Multiple negatives and first photomontages:  allowed the production of images that, especially in early days, could not have been produced indoors in low light, and it also made possible the creation of highly dramatic images, often in imitation of allegorical paintings.

  • Oscar Rejlander (1857-75) painter who saw the potential offered by photography. The Two Ways of Life (1857) allegorical scenario on a grand scale
  • Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) Fading Away. (1858)  a typical sentimental narrative. Some of Robinson’s photographs were of twenty or more separate photographs combined to produce one image.

Modernist approaches

Wikipedia Modernism

Link to Google images

Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936) strongly believed in a purer way of seeing, more akin to human vision. He accumulated a large body of work on traditional rural practices around the Norfolk Broads. Emerson championed technical excellence whilst working from life, in the field. He departed from making softer, stylised photographs and began to make images that were sharply focused throughout the image. ‘Democracy’ of the frame, where all of the subjects are on an equal footing in terms of their relation to other elements in the picture, and in their importance to the formation and interpretation of the scene. MetMuseum images.

Photo-Secessionists. US ‘straight photography’

ambition for photography to ‘secede’ from previously accepted ideas about photography serving purely practical purposes. Chose impressionistic style. Challenged pictorialism. Radical shift towards celebrating photography for what it really was.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) became editor if American Amateur Photographer 1893 and set up Camera Work in 1902.

1912 The Steerage depicts with clear photographic realism a group of refused would-be immigrants boarding the SSKaiser Wilhelm II to return to Europe. Image encapsulated an abstract collection on forms and tones alongside a sense of emotional response he felt towards the scene he witnessed. It retained the pictorialsis’ desire to render an emotional response within a photograph, but Steiglitz believed he had achieved this by embracing photography’s unique ability to reproduce optical clarity captured in a split second.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)

Smaller apertures and visualisation.   F/64 group formalised 1932. Dispersed 1935. The name referred to the minimum aperture of the lens which yields the greatest depth of field and best optical quality throughout the image. Using a 10″ x 8″ large format cameras (sometimes called ‘plate cameras’ which take a single image at a time as opposed to being loaded with film on which multiple frames can be shot). Negatives ‘contact-printed’ onto a sheet of high-quality commercially available photographic paper. The contact print is a precise analogy of the negative as made by the photographer.

It is different from enlarging images taken in smaller formats by projecting the image onto paper, which allows for greater manipulation of the print.

for the f/64 photographers, mastering exposure in the camera was essential to the creative process. Real artistry in photographic technique and pre-visualisation of the image. This approach differs significantly from the idea of roaming eye fixed to a camera viewfinder, waiting for pctures to jump i to it.understanding of different lenses of different focal lengths.knowledge of exposure to manage the different tones in a scene,

Edward Weston (1886-1958) an aspiring artist who survived by taking portraits professionally and churning out unchallenging picturesque pictorial works. After a meeting with Steiglitz, Weston changed direction, he took to the precisely composed, sharp and very photographic aesthetic as a valid form of artistic expression, and brought it back home to California. Crops into image to make more abstract.

dunes, oceano (1936) image explores much more than simply the texture and form of the landscaoe.

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) best known for his landscapes of Yosemite National Park. Exceptional technical skill. But The formal elements (eg use of perspective and composition) are mostly an extension of painterly traditions.

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) natural forms but more experimental in use of photography. Expanded photographic way of seeing by further cropping into views to make a more abstract photograph.

Paul Strand (1890-1976)