PHO702 Contextual Research / MA Falmouth University
My photographic gaze is often directed at the landscape itself though it is through a set of filters, my race, class, sex, economic and political background. Though like much of the new topographic photographers my work has often tried to assert a objective point of view which has played into the modernist aesthetic of form and composition in my imagery. Forgetting the fact that my point of view is inherently biased and based upon my own beliefs.
As Deborah Bright says in her essay of Mother Nature and Marlborough Men ‘If we are to make photographs that raise questions or make assertions about what is in and around the picture, we must first be aware of what the ideological premises are that underlie our chosen mode(s) of representation. Such awareness will structure the aesthetic, editorial, and technical decisions that are made with the goal of communicating ideas in a provocative’ (Bright, 1985). Therefore the belief that we can just point the camera at a subject based upon form and aesthetics without being aware of our ideological premises does not say much other than this is the way the camera depicts this scene.
However it is almost impossible to make work without consideration, we try to make meaning and understanding of why we do so as there will always be a reason why we make the work, whether that is just to represent the beauty of what we see in front of us, though as Deborah argues ‘ whatever its aesthetic merits, every representation of landscape is also a record of human values and actions imposed on the land over time” (Bright, 1985). So as landscape photographers we have a stake in the representations of these space over time and we must consider that when we make the work as we are ethically responsible for telling the history of a landscape.
The new topographic as Bright points out are paradoxical that their work was regarded as moving beyond formalism to social critique, had more to do with the poor expectations of what passed for social criticism in art and by how far the artists are actually willing to criticise the landscape surrounding them.
My favourite photographer in the article was the work of Lisa Lewenz with her project Three Mile Island , a photo calendar of the domestic interior looking out to the nuclear power stations that crudely dominated the horizon. Her work instead of others topographic photographers in the same period as those of the likes of Stephen Shore ‘uncommon places’ did not just depict the subject and objectively identify it. It brought a social critique of the landscape in relation to the domestic interior and identified the clash of the male and female orientated landscape. The male landscape outside dominated the wild female outdoor space as well as the view or gaze of the women in the domestic interior. It spoke much more clearly about the social significance of the male constructed landscape.
As in John Berger’s way of seeing that we read this week “A man’s presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. If the promise is large and credible his presence is striking. If it is small or incredible, he is found to have little presence. The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual” (Berger, 2008) Hence the way we look at the landscape through the eyes of Lisa Lewenz, she directly compares the female and male gaze of the landscape through the interior and exterior of the photographs she takes in the calendar. The giant chimneys of the power stations embodying phallic shapes of male dominance and power over the landscape, while the domestic landscape stereotyped as the female gaze.
This idea of a male dominated and constructed landscape has impacted my thought process for future work i’ll make in the landscape and considerations as to how I can speak of the male dominated landscape. Ideas regarding what these spaces look like, the supermarket, shopping mall, kitchen who designs these spaces and who were they made for.
Figure 1: Stephen Shore, 1973. Uncommon Places. South of Klamath Falls, U.S. 97, Oregon, July 21, 1973 http://stephenshore.net/photographs/uncommon/index.php?page=3&menu=photographs
Figure 2: Lisa Lewenz (1984) Three Mile Island Image https://oregondigital.org/catalog/oregondigital:df70bt88v
BERGER, John. 2008. Ways of Seeing London: Penguin.
Bright, Deborah (1985) ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’ in Exposure Vol.23, No.1 (Winter 1985)