Contemporary Landscapes

The exhibition Contemporary Landscape is an exhibition (at Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur) with the works of 12 Icelandic photographers focussing on Icelandic nature. Nature, which has been depicted in many different ways in Icelandic photography over the years. In the early days it was manifested mainly in the form of “postcard” views, showcasing wild and spectacular Icelandic landscapes. But in recent years different trends have emerged in the field, highlighting other factors, such as the role of man himself.

 ”In the middle ages, people were tourists because of their religion; today, they are tourists because tourism is their religion,” observed the Most Rev. Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1988. A quarter of a century on, his comment has lost none of its relevance. One could perhaps maintain that in past times, although man lived in closer proximity with nature, there was a clear distinction between the two, in that man was, in a sense, a visitor in the landscape. Travel was not for ordinary people, but a luxury that only a tiny wealthy elite could afford. Today things have changed, and travel and tourism are taken for granted. The perceived need to place our shared natural heritage on a pedestal is no longer so urgently felt. Many more people travel and see Icelandic nature for themselves, and so it is natural that other factors should feature in this field of photography.

Most of the photographs in the exhibition Contemporary Landscape illustrate these changing ideas. Weather, perceptions of time and space, and man in nature are the starting points, in combination with more traditional approaches, creating a fresh and diverse vision. The photographers turn their lenses on anything between heaven and earth – literally: the space between something and nothing in the landscape; memories and sensations; tourists in Icelandic nature; the feminine in the landscape; urban nature; landscape viewed through a car window, on a tour around Iceland.

When we take a photograph what do we possess?

Poster for exhibition

Sam Jones’ first solo exhibition took place at An Tobar, the Tobermory arts centre, between 2 May and 28 June 2013.   I was fortunate to be in Mull during June and so visited the exhibition.   The title of the exhibition poses an important question, not just for a landscape photographer, but for all photographers.   What is it that we are trying to “capture” or “take”?    Perhaps the capture is about freezing an emotional response to a subject.   The ambiguous term “possession” makes us question what possession of an image means.   More than a simple legal ownership issue, possession may be about the degree of control exercised by the photographer at the point of pressing the shutter.

Landscapes, landscapes, landscapes from three viewpoints

The search for the perfect landscape with your camera is an ever popular passtime if the current exhibitions in London are any indication.   Three large exhibitions major on this popular genre.   Viewing them all in one weekend is a visual challenge but is made digestable because they are far from “same, same”.

First is the Ansel Adams (1902-1984) collection “Photography from the Mountains to the Sea“.

©The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

His work is presented in a clear way that explains his move from traditional pictoralism through to more expressive work.   The sheer technical achievement is awesome.    This is very clearly evident in the three murals that are each over three metres high.   The quality is outstanding.   My favourite is the one shown above of the clearing storm in Yosemite.   This was taken using a 10×8 camera at f16, 1/5 of a second using 64 ASA film and printed using high contrast paper.

The photographs represent a lifetime’s work and show the development of photographic skill from the age of 13.

Second, Sebastião Salgado (Genesis) is a set of photographs taken in a relatively short (6 year) period with a specific set of intentions.   The photographer wishes us to reflect on our own lifestyles and the impact they have on the planet.   They are all black and white and mainly high contrast but that is the end to the similarities to the work of Ansel Adams.

There is an undeniable passion that is instantly communicated by his work.   These are not just asthetically pleasing images they are also emotionally charged images that remind us what diversity the earth holds.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Third, an eclectic collection “Landmark: The Fields of Photography” shows a series of images that prompts us to reflect on the purpose of an image.   Some are documentary, some activist, some experimental.   One set of images I did not expect to find were two by John Stezaker that I had previously thought of as portraits.   Favourite image has to be the one below because of the visual impact of seeing a river in an unatural colour and realising the impact of pollution.

Edward Burtynsky. ‘Nickel Tailings no.34’