When I started Landscape I had just finished my last Level 1 course “Context and Narrative” and I had the initial understanding that what was contained and being displayed in the scene was not always what you see. My knowledge of the background and history of Landscape imagery was limited to painters such as Turner and Constable and photographers such as Adams, Fenton and O’Sullivan. I was not yet aware that the subject of Landscape could be so multi-layered, with ideas such as semiotics, psychogeography, land management, and ownership.
During this course, I have come to understand that the landscape portrayed is not always what was being represented and that there are layers of influence, politics and personal view within each scene. A prime example of this is demonstrated in the “Hay wain” (Constable, 1821). The image shows an idyllic view of country life, whilst in the cities people were rioting due to job losses created by the industrial revolution. Full knowledge of the history and politics of the time pits Constable’s landscape, a peaceful and pleasant scene, against reality. Does this make Constable’s painting a propaganda piece? It can certainly be construed that way.
The rich and powerful who would commission and present such landscape certainly would not want to be touched by, or reminded of, the whirlwinds of unrest. They would have preferred the fixed representative view of the landscape, presenting their land as a wide uninterrupted expanse, which was normally done by the ha-ha, a physical barrier to prevent the field workers or livestock from intruding on the landscape. Landscape paintings demonstrated the wealth of the individual or family by portraying what they owned, people, buildings, trees, lakes and fields.
I have learned that the concept of landscape is more open to interpretation that I had first considered; the idea that the landscape is not only what people see but how they use it and how their use of the land changes the way in which it not only is interpreted and viewed, but also in how that view is reflected back into how the land is purposed, managed and represented. As Landscape painting became more popular, it started to represent aspirational ideas and memories of visits to locations. Representing the land as either a popular place to relax and see the land laid out in front of you or as a landscape that should be feared for it has yet to come under the yoke of humankind. Manifest destiny was certainly played out as part of the propaganda of the ‘taming of the west’ through painting and photography, as people moved into what they considered uncharted territory they painted and photographed the virgin land that they would then go on to plunder.
During the course I felt drawn to the representation of landscapes by the “New Topographics” group. This reinterpretation of the framework within what a landscape could be was eye opening to me; it broadened my concept of the formal landscape into a much wider knowledgebase. It was, for me, a completely different way to work and was very freeing, as it allowed me to re-evaluate what I know, how I represent what I see and what I want to represent within my work and the frame of landscape photography.
The ideas and concepts within “New Topographics” interlocked with some of the concepts of Braille within images I had started to use in “Context and Narrative”; I was aware of potential challenges with this landscape course in relation to my own physical difficulties (chronic illness and loss of vision) when gaining access to physical sites, and the concept that Landscape was not this formal frame within which everything had to fit, was a new concept within Landscape portrayal for me.
The idea of ownership and accessibility has driven my work on this course, interlocked with my own work on the representation of my personal vision loss. It gave me a lot to consider and evaluate; for example I grew up in a council house, which was built on land owned by the Church of Scotland, but the land itself is riddled with mineworks owned by the coal board. Suddenly the landscape became a large sandwich of ownership, all of which was interlaid with history as the land was the location of a battle.
During my research of lost history for the course I started to play with the new ideas which would have an influence on my work. These were represented in my work for Assignment 5 of the course.
Assignment 5 is my central work; a representation of lost history in the style of “New Topographics” following a 1937 survey of Doocots in East Lothian. The work represents the loss of rights to access by the public; the loss of actual historic buildings either through mismanagement, change in public attitude or change of purpose and the problems of accessibility for the disabled; and the idea of cataloguing historically mundane objects. Unlike Fenton who moved objects “Valley of the Shadow of Death” (Fenton, 1855) I refused to interfere with objects within the scene. I wanted to show an honest representation of these structures and their surroundings with as little interference or interpretation as possible, apart from adding braille markers within the images to allow vision impaired individuals a chance to interact and interpret the scenes.
This work has also led to my learning more about how to present my work in a physical format, from deciding on the correct paper to use and the best printing process to use to the new technology of 3D printing; which has allowed me to add another format to my exhibition proposal. I have submitted images from this project to Canmore /Historic Scotland enabling them to update their records of the doocots and their library of images. Through the use of computer applications, I can now present my images as lithophanes, a physical construct created through the FDM printing process. These physical constructs allow people to run their hands over the image and feel the image. As mentioned previously, I am keen to explore further the opportunities provided by new technologies to bring photographic landscape art to those with a range of impairments and look forward to seeing how these processes fit in with my future work.
Overall, this course has led me in many directions and has brought many new ideas to my work. I believe I have learnt a lot during this course and have come away more informed regarding the subject matter and how these many directions each have a different influence within a image or images.