4: Landscape Identities Documentary Landscape Review

Landscape and Identity

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.

See posts:

Dana Lixenberg’s:  Last Days of Shishmaref
Jacob Aue Sobol’s work Sabine (2004)

‘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)

 4.2: The British landscape during World War II

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).

4.3 A subjective voice

4: Landscape Identities

Simon Roberts


Simon Roberts (b.1974) is a British photographic artist whose work deals with our relationship to landscape and notions of identity and belonging. His large format photographs are taken with great technical precision, often from elevated positions. The distanced vantage point allows the relationship of individual bodies and groups to the landscape to be clearly observed, and echoes the visual language of history painting.

He has exhibited widely and his photographs reside in major public and private collections, including the George Eastman House, Deutsche Börse Art Collection and Wilson Centre for Photography. In 2010 he was commissioned as the official Election Artist by the House of Commons Works of Art Committee to produce a record of the General Election on behalf of the UK Parliamentary Art Collection. In 2012 he was granted access by the International Olympic Committee to photograph the London Olympics and most recently was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

He has published three monographs;

Motherland (Chris Boot, 2007)  from a journey around Russia.

We English (Chris Boot, 2009) – voted as one of the best photography books of the past decade

Pierdom (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2013).

Simon is a patron of Photofusion (see a video interview here), an advisor to Fotodocument and a member of the European photographic collective POC.

2: Landscape as Journey 5: Resolution Inspiration

Nadav Kander

Kander’s website (flash based)

Nadav Kander (born December 1, 1961) is a London-based photographer, artist and director, known for his portraiture and landscapes.

Kander was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. His father flew Boeing 707s for El-Al but lost his eye and was unable to continue flying. His parents decided to start again in South Africa and moved to Johannesburg in 1963. Kander began taking pictures when he was 13 on a Pentax camera. He states the pictures that he took then and until he was 17, although unaccomplished, have the same sense of quiet and unease that is part of his work today. After being drafted into the South African Air Force, Kander worked in a darkroom printing aerial photographs. It was there he became certain he wanted to be a Photographer. He moved to London in 1986, where he still resides with his wife Nicole and their three children.

 Yangtze – The Long River (2010)

Kander is best known for his Yangtze – The Long River series, for which he earned the Prix Pictet Prize. See images

Kander uses the course of the Yangtze as a strategy to travel through the hugely diverse topography and geography of China. Kander made several voyages along the course of China’s Yangtze River, travelling upstream from mouth to source over a period of three years.

The actual river features prominently. Using the river as a metaphor the journey begins at the coastal estuary, where thousands of ships leave and enter each day, and moves past renowned suicide bridges, coal mines and the largest dam in the world – the Three Gorges Dam. Further inland we encounter Chongqing – the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet. Kander never photographed further than twenty miles from the river itself. In the shadow of epic construction projects we see workers, fishermen, swimmers and a man washing his motorbike in the river. Dense architecture gives way to mountains in the upper reaches towards the river’s Tibetan source – a sparsely populated area where the stream is mostly broken ice and just ankle deep. The photographs are dominated by immense architectural structures where humans are shown as small in their environment. Figures are dwarfed by landscapes of half completed bridges and colossal Western-style apartment blocks that are rapidly replacing traditional Chinese low-rise buildings and houseboats.

In Kander’s images, we are also confronted with a terrifying reality: this time it is not the feral landscape that startles us, but the bleak facts about man’s unstoppability. Kander manages to communicate a sense of its epic scale, and also the environmental impact the habitations along its banks are having upon the climate more generally. His murky, smog-filled scenes are unashamedly value-laden – to show how Kander feels China is losing its roots.

His working method: he does not plan everything in advance. But uses the photographic process as a means of discovering more and more what resonates with him. He went back to China 5 times, taking fewer but more focused pictures each time.

Other works

In 2010- 2012 Kander photographed a series of nudes – Bodies. 6 Women. 1 Man – in his London studio. Coated in white marble dust and set against the void of the photographer’s studio the subjects serve as a study of the human condition.

Rooted in an interest in the ‘aesthetics of destruction’ Kander’s most recent project Dust explores the vestiges of the Cold War through the radioactive ruins of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. Will Self has said These images do not make beautiful what is not, they ask of us that we repurpose ourselves to accept a new order of both the beautiful and the real.

On 18 January 2009 Kander had 52 full colour portraits published in one issue of The New York Times Magazine. These portraits were of the people surrounding US President Barack Obama, from Joe Biden (Vice President) toEugene Kang (Special Assistant to The President). This is the largest portfolio of work by the same photographer The New York Times Magazine has showcased in one single issue.[3]

In July 2012 Kander exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London with a series of portraits celebrating London’s hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2014 Nadav was among the 18 photographers chosen to be a part of Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age, an exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London, and toured, which explored the ability of architectural photography to reveal wider truths about our society.

Kander is a Trustee of the The Lowry. He is represented by Flowers Gallery – London, M97 Gallery – Shanghai, Blindspot Gallery – Hong Kong and Camera Work Photographie – Berlin.


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