Landscape Photography – Three Photographers, Three Visions


El bosque multiplicado #6 by Fernando Puche

(Puche, 2013b)

The landscape of nature is like the human figure – it is a subject with endless possibilities for expression. Photographs of the environment can be appreciated simply for their depiction of beauty; they can reveal truths about our relationship to nature and our understanding of wilderness; they can teach us the basic elements of design. Landscape photography can reveal as much about the photographer as it does about the meaning of the landscape, because their photographic treatment reveals their artistic vision.

In this essay, we will look at the design and meaning of an individual work from each of three landscape photographers, Fernando Puche, Jay Patel, and Cole Thompson who represent various directions in landscape photography.

Fernando Puche (http://www.fernandopuche.net/) is a Spanish photographer with many years of experience and significant public recognition for his work. He has published several books, including, Photography and nature: Beyond the light (2003), The Inner Landscape (2005), An Imaginary Journey (2007), Chronicles of a skeptical photographer (2009),How photographer Fernando Puche works (2009) and Diary of an amateur photographer (2012).

The work I’ve selected to look at for this essay translates as “Multiplied Forest #6” and is from a series of the same name where the photographer layers natural elements over each other to create an near-abstract image using multiple-exposure. He says of his this series:

This portfolio is an attempt to go beyond all those images which show the natural world as something beautiful and spectacular. A way to go beyond that “taste” of reality that exude my former images. The multiple exposures technique let me to create images standing between reality and fiction, so the resulting work is more abstract and much less “documentary”. (Puche, 2013c)

Many of the images take on a symmetrical composition, as it appears that he rotates the film (or sensor) holder in the 4 x 5 camera as each exposure is made. It seems clear that these works are still about what is “beautiful and spectacular” just as much as the photographer’s previous work, which consisted of images of nature a la Eliot Porter (an early pioneer of color landscape photography) – very tightly composed and subtly colored –  that depict sublime nature.

To depart briefly from the main topic to discuss what it means to make photographs of the sublime in nature, we can simply consider what other approaches there are. Other photographers make images that are about other aspects of nature beside the sublime: how we view nature, how we treat it, how we try to replicate it.

Japan. Miyasaki. The Artificial beach inside the Ocean Dome. 1996 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

(Parr, 1996)

It is the case that these new images are no longer about the sublime, because the photographer is paying less attention to the appearance of the elements in their natural state and instead using their form to create other textures, colors and shapes. In other words, a photographer interested in depicting a romantic view of nature will compose the image to only include those elements consistent with grandeur and rationale order, often excluding details to create the illusion of nature untouched by humans. Puche’s images are still very much about beauty, but in a different way:  they are carefully chosen elements that are delicately layered over each other to build intricate patterns and nuanced color.

Puche’s stated purpose is to use natural elements to create fictions of nature, but these images are as much fictions as the photographs in his portfolio which do not involve any obvious manipulation. In this older images, which Puche refers to as “documentary” he was also creating a fiction of nature, it was just a different story. For example, in the image below,  Puche has created a fiction about water flowing down a cascading waterfall. It is an aesthetically pleasing image using the technique of long exposure to give the water a misty smooth experience, which contrasts with the sharp edges of the shale and the texture of the leaves.

White National Forest, New Hampshire, by Fernando Puche

(Puche, 2013)

Water does not look like this in nature to the human eye – the image is a fiction about nature. This view of running water exists only because the photographer used a long exposure. It is as realistic a view of nature as water frozen in motion at a very high shutter speed – our eyes cannot perceive either end of the spectrum of motion. A photographer chooses this technique for a variety of reasons: it looks magical, soft and smooth; it creates an unexpected and pleasing texture; it cleans up any imperfections in the water; and it creates a spatial layer in the image. The story it tells is of the place; it is a story of the sound of the water as it rolls over the shale, the transparency of the water as it bends over the edge of the stone and the idea of an unending flow of water passing down the mountain into the valley.

When we talk about creating a fiction of nature, it is not to be critical, rather, is is simply important to acknowledge that the act of making a photograph is a complete fiction – the photographer starts changing reality the minute they frame the image, choose an exposure, select a shutter and aperture combination, among many other choices.

Are Puche’s new images between reality and fiction? This is not really their main topic. In other words, the technique the photographer uses extracts shapes and textures from the reality of nature and combines them in a manner not visible in nature, but this is exactly the same as use of long exposure.

My interpretation of these photographs is that they are still very much about place, but the photographer is acting more vigorously to tell that story. As we look at the image of the tree tops layered over each other in “Multipled Forests # 6”, it conveys the feeling of expansiveness, layered space, and even the dizziness resulting from  tilting your head back and looking at the tops of the trees. The layering of pattern that Puche builds his images with amplify the design of nature and convey the quality of the space and place.

Harbinger 1 by Cole Thompson

(Thompson, 2008)

Cole Thompson (http://colethompsonphotography.com/Portfolios.htm) is a versatile photographer with interests that span from documentary photography, portraiture, and landscape, but for the purpose of this essay we will focus on the Harbinger series. Many of his landscapes images are not about the landscape at all, rather, they are analogies of emotional or spiritual states. This is actually quite different than Patel and Puche, who both keep their work referenced to the subject itself. Thompson introduces us to his series using the definition of harbinger:

Harbinger:  \ˈhär-bən-jər\   noun

      1. one that goes ahead and makes known the approach of another; herald.

      2. anything that foreshadows a future event; omen; sign.

(Thompson, 2008)

Although this textual context is important to help the viewer have a point of departure to interpret the images, he does an effective job of getting this across in the image itself. Lets look at how he goes about this.

Thompson’s compositions have a minimalist style in this series – they only include the essential elements to make the visual statement. He uses framing and exposure to do so. Many of the images are low key, in other words the middle tones are darkened considerably, the shadows are exposed to be solid black, and the highlights shown are only those at the high end of the spectrum. It is likely that he uses filters or digital color conversion to achieve this effect.  The result is an image in which the sky is surrealistically dark, the landscape is reduced to limited detail and basic forms, while the light tones of the cloud are dramatically emphasized. The cloud as “harbinger” appears either as a menacing element or as an omen of good on the horizon, although centering the cloud in the frame leads to a more optimistic possibility. Cole Thompson’s photographs build expectation; the image is frozen, but a mysterious event is implied. His images are a visual representation of a foreshadowing.

The idea that photographs of elements in nature could refer to other possibilities was popularized by Alfred Stieglitz with his “Equivalents” series in 1926, so Thompson is building on an a tradition in photography as valid and as significant as landscape photography that is  completely self-referential

Photography by Jay Patel

Elowah Falls, Columbia River George, Oregon by Jay Patel

(Patel, 2012a)

Jay Patel (http://www.jaypatelphotography.com/)  is a meticulous landscape photographer who uses the latest developments in HDR techniques to present highly detailed, richly colored, and carefully crafted compositions of nature. His website describes the purpose of his work:

His photographs try to capture both the physical and emotional nature of light. “Light in nature takes on astonishingly diverse shapes, forms and colors that allow us to interact with the world around us…. He is well aware, however, that his photographs can convey only so much of the wonder as it is beyond his abilities to replicate the awe and magnificence of the natural world. (Patel, 2012b)

Jay Patel uses the highly controlled digital exposure and layering techniques he has developed to fill his shadows, midtones, and highlights with even more tonal detail than our eyes can perceive. His application of technique is directly related to his objective of exploring the way light describes elements of the landscape.

Although Patel describes his purpose as “replicating the awe and magnificence of the natural world” (it would be hard to describe the sublime in nature any more clearly),  I see Jay Patel’s work as being about abstraction even more than the work of Puche. Jay Patel’s work is unabashedly about the way he sees nature – about the beauty that he sees… and he has developed the visual and technical skills to really communicate this very effectively. The reason he can make such compelling images of nature is because he is able to abstract the essential design elements of the scene. He communicates his vision and feeling for the place by deconstructing the space into essential forms and carefully arranging his composition to build an image that communicates his vision.

For example, in “Elowah Falls”, Patel uses the same long exposure technique as Puche in White National Mountain Forest” to transform the waterfall into a misty stream of flowing white energy that creates a dominant vertical presence in the frame positioned right at the 2/3rds mark of a horizontal grid of the frame. The very diffuse light that describes the rest of the valley, which is dominated by large massive shapes in the form of moss covered boulders, creates soft undulations of green hues. The large shapes of the stones are broken up by the diagonals of fallen tree limbs which add more visual movement to the frame without disrupting the dominance of the waterfall. In order for Patel to compose this frame, he must look at it abstractly – he must move conceptually past the  moment and the physical three-dimensional reality and see it as form being shaped by light.

You can read more about this particular image and how he actually cropped it from his original exposure here. His crop removed an appearance of the mountain stream from the bottom of the frame, which improved the composition by providing a  stronger visual foundation to the image and gave the waterfall much more preeminence in the image.

If you were thinking that a good landscape photographer brings you a document of the landscape they photographed, think again, because what Puche and Patel reveal to us is that  good landscape photographers present us is with their coherent and striking vision of how they saw and experienced nature.

So how do we compare the three photographers? Jay Patel and Fernando Puche’s work depart from a similar premise – to share their vision of place – they speak to use about their subject, telling us stories of the design of nature and light. Cole Thompson uses the landscape to express a concept that is not related to the landscape at all, but rather is related to the human condition and our expectations in life. All three photographers create work that merits reflection and consideration.

References

Parr, Martin. (1996). Japan. Miyazki. The artifiical beach inside the Ocean Dome.   Retrieved 3/30, 2013, from http://mediastore2.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/Home1/e/8/7/c/LON14581.jpg

Patel, Jay. (2012)a. Elowah Falls, Columbia River George, Oregon.   Retrieved 3/29, 2013, from http://www.jaypatelphotography.com/photography/quick-tips/quick-tips-cropping

Patel, Jay. (2012)b. About.   Retrieved 3/29, 2013, from http://www.jaypatelphotography.com/jay

Puche, Fernando. (2013)a. White Mountains National Forest. The Charm of Fall.  Retrieved 3/29, 2013, from http://www.fernandopuche.net/Files/portfolio0201.html

Puche, Fernando. (2013)b. Multiplied Forest #6. The Multiplied Forest.  Retrieved 3/29, 2013, from http://www.fernandopuche.net/Files/portfolio0909.html

Puche, Fernando. (2013)c. Artist Statement. Retrieved 3/29, 2013, from http://www.fernandopuche.net/artiststatement.html

Thompson, Cole. (2008)b. Harbinger 1. Harbinger.  Retrieved 3/29, 2013, from http://colethompsonphotography.com/HarbingerImages.htm

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Cinema: Lore – The veracity of photography


Lore, a film by Cate Shortland. Based on the book “Lore” by Rachel Seiffert.

Photography plays a leading role in “Lore”, a film by Cate Shortland, as a key weapon used to  win the peace for the Allies in the aftermath of the Nazi demise in Germany. The same photographs make an appearance within the tender pages of a family album and on a city wall posting of death camp atrocities; photographs are also used to represent a co-opted identity and the  lives destroyed by the Nazi anti-semitic machine

Saskia Rosendahl plays Lore, a 14-year-old left in charge of her three young brothers and sister at the end of the second world war. Her parents have fled arrest for their involvement in the Nazi’s Final Solution. Lore makes her way across a conquered and divided Germany seeking the promised safety of her grandmother’s wealthy country estate. It is a journey where the children witness the death, degradation, and starvation of post-war Germany in graphic detail. The children encounter and are joined on their journey by a mysterious youth named Thomas who appears to be a jewish concentration camp survivor.

Photography is first introduced wistfully in the early stages of the film as ashes and remnants of burned images fall gently on the children while they play in an idealized sunlit German forest…except that… when the children snatch the charred remains from the air, the images are of death camp staff and even the führer himself. Someone is doing away with all the photographic evidence of their past. This photographic connection is further elaborated on when Lore discovers her mother stripping images from the family album to burn in the home fireplace. We see fragments of the images – her mother and father in uniform standing proudly – they are key moments in the parent’s rise, work, and involvement in the Nazi party.

This initial presentation of photography is striking because the images that once represented cherished moments preserved in a family album are transformed into photographic evidence that must be destroyed. It is a compelling presentation of how deeply entrenched anti-semitism was in Nazi Germany, but also how reality changing around the photographs changed the meaning of the images. The images preserved moments, events, and relationships that were once the proof of social ascension, but then became the links to a shameful past.

When the children abandon the home to begin their journey, one of the young boys sneaks a portrait from the album of his father in his SS uniform; on several occasions he will reiterate to strangers the heroic role of his father fighting on the front. All the children, including Lore, see their parents as heroes – a perception clearly depicted in the photographs, but  which slowly unravels as the film progresses.

In the film, the Allies have placed a large display of photographs from the death camps along the wall that people must file by in order to get their daily rations. Lore is shocked to find her father pictured in one image as the commander of one of the camps. She returns to the wall at night and rips down part the photograph and keeps it. Later she compares the image from the wall and the SS portrait  her brother lifted. Distressed by the clear similarity, she buries the images, one smashed on top of the other, in the mud by a riverbank. She tells her companion that she cannot get the images of the death camps out of her head.

Indeed, the published photographs of the death camps are a topic of constant conversation by the German public as the children travel from zone to zone. When they finally are able to get on a train, Lore overhears adults disparaging the authenticity of the photographs by saying that they were of the same dead people taken from different angles. It is an intriguing accusation, because on the one hand photographs are being burned because they document involvement, but other photographs of the same event are suspected of being manipulated in some way. To the public, the veracity of a photograph depended upon the source – the snapshots in the family album were more authentic than those made by the Nazis themselves or the Allies. Despite the believability associated with photography, people were suspicious that they had been manipulated and were familiar enough with the process to understand how.

The young man who adopts the traveling family is an enigma who seldom speaks and then only with a few words. He is holding identity papers – the documents that let the group pass through military checkpoints. The identity photograph and documents in the folder show the man as a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp. But Thomas is not who he appears to be. One of Lore’s young brothers steals his documents and Thomas is forced to flee the train when stopped for a surprise inspection. Lore’s brother reveals that Thomas had told him that the identity papers were actually stolen. The most important photographs and the ones that should be the most reliable –  the ones that were being used to identify who someone was – were in fact a complete misrepresentation. Thomas assumed the identify of someone who perished in the concentration camp by appropriating their photograph.

We still believe in photography as an accurate representation of human identity. Our “identity papers” have simply been downsized to a drivers license or passport. But we can adopt other identities through photography by the images we post to represent ourselves on the Internet. Thomas built a fantasy life around the wallet of identity papers, much the same way individuals build virtual identities.

As Lore peruses the contents of the wallet she finds a collection of family snapshots discreetly tucked away. The images show happy moments in the life of a young couple and their first child. The photographs that Lore discovers in the packet become the final piece of evidence that convinces Lore of the repulsiveness of her parent’s and family’s involvement in the Holocaust.

In the film, we begin with a family album of snapshots that are a facade of heroism that disguise the true horror of the parent’s role in the “Final Solution”. The film concludes by humanizing the piles of corpses in the propaganda photographs with more snapshots, but this time of the lives that once belonged to the victims. This film explores how the meaning of photographs can change as the reality that provides their context is transformed by circumstance and time.

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Critical Review: Maggie Taylor at Candela Gallery – “Subject to Change”


The burden of dreams, 2012 by Maggie Taylor,
ink jet print, Candela Gallery Exhibit 2013

The exhibit of Maggie Taylor’s work, “Subject to Change” at Candela Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, is an intriguing and fanciful collection of photographs that seem like artifacts unearthed from the Victorian era and re-assembled by a surrealist archaeologist. Taylor’s images are like a book covers – the viewer can imagine the story unfolding from the clues embedded in each image.

Maggie Taylor’s contemporary vision and digital imaging techniques brings together a combination of daguerrotype frames, 19th Century portraits, and a rich assortment trinkets, vegetation, clouds, and butterflies to create a fascinating portal into a magic reality. In Maggie Taylor’s world, men can tow clouds, pigs fly with delicate butterfly wings, and women stand stoically in front of their homes dressed in either ivy or field stones.

In one sense many of Taylor’s images appear to have fallen out of a scientist’s experiment logbook from another era.  In “The burden of dreams” (above), we seem to be looking at an English aristocrat through the porthole of his magic flying machine as he navigates far above the clouds – the wind ruffles through an impossibly complicated headdress with flowers, vines, insects, rabbits, and birds. In “The nest” a young woman calmly holds a hornet’s nest as she is fully protected by her aviator goggles and lavish dress. Many of her images have a subtle reference to scientific inquiry, but it is a magic science where human heads are exchanged for a fish heads or other animals; a Victorian child herds a zoo of exotic and common animals together in “But who has won?“.

The hornet’s nest is used in several images and perhaps it is a symbol for trouble as defined by the cliché. Either way, the characters in Maggie Taylors images have it under control!

The patient gardener, 2007, by Maggie Taylor, ink jet print

Woman in a stone skirt, 2005, by Maggie Taylor, ink jet print

 

Taylor’s work images our cultural myths about women, ruling over nature, and childhood innocence. In “The burden of dreams”, the male archetype is depicted as a confident explorer of the farthest reaches of the planet; given the cornucopia of exotic plants and animals flowing from his head, it is easy to imagine that he is on his way to a tropical rainforest to register great scientific discoveries.

In “The patient gardener” and “Woman in a stone skirt”, the female archetype is depicted in direct correlation to a symbolic home (represented by a small picturesque house), but in very different roles and with contrasting emotional qualities. In one image an ivy-clothed woman reveals one eye and and a breast while gracefully gesturing towards a glowing house; she is surrounded by magic blue butterflies that flit around the moonlight landscape. It appears that Home is the magical locus for sensual delight and the woman stands as a signpost showing the way.

The setting for “Woman in a stone skirt” seems to be an open prairie meadow where a buttoned-up woman, whose head is neatly severed and missing above the collar, is anchored to the landscape with a full skirt made of stones. Home, depicted as the same size and in the same relation to the woman in the frame, looks secure and safe, but a little lonely and certainly not glowing with mystical powers. A dog with an empty plate sits, waiting to be fed; the woman holds a serving cup, clearly in charge of the essential task of providing sustenance. Woman is again depicted as a signpost, but this time with a more dour appearance – the nurturer overseeing a stable household, but emotionally drained. Has her head become transformed into the cloud floating over the house? It is like security and stability have vaporized the woman’s intellect and desire.

Subject to Change” is well-curated and installed. The works follow a logical sequence and create connections for the viewer. Candela Books + Gallery is the best private photography exhibit space in the Richmond region and the Washington D.C. area. Additional publications  on Maggie Taylor’s work are available for  viewing and purchase at the gallery.

There are many more intriguing images in the exhibit, which is accessible for viewers of any age. Each of Maggie Taylor’s photographs are the start to a mesmerizing story that the viewer completes in their imagination.

_________

Gallery, Candela Books +. (2013). Maggie Taylor:  Subject to Change; March 1 – April 27, 2013.   Retrieved 3/17/2013, 2013, from https://candelabooks.com/gallery/

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Another Artist Banned for Exposing Body in Photographs


Another artist, Golshifteh Farahani was banned from Iran for posing nude in a series of published photographs. Repressive governments continue to be threatened by photographs of unclothed people.

Golshifteh Farahani as she appeared in Madame Le Figaro

The Iranian actress has said that her appearances were in protest of Iran’s restrictions on how women are allowed to appear in public, according to The Daily Beast.

See previous related article below.

Fotonotes

Two photographs published by artists of themselves have generated a great deal of controversy recently. The geographic and cultural distance between the two artists is worlds apart, but their response to repression through a photograph and it’s distribution through the Internet is remarkable. Photography and social media provided a unifying venue that transcended regional and cultural boundaries. Aliaa Magda Elmahdy (مذكرات ثائرة.), an Egyptian art student and Ai Weiwei  (Ai Weiwei investigated over nude art | Art and design | The Guardian) published portraits of themselves unclothed. Both artists revealed their bodies in photographs as statements against political and cultural repression; Elmahdy tells her society to”rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression”, Ai Weiwei uses his image, “One Tiger Eight Breasts”, to assert that nudity is not equivalent to pornography.

Although nudity…

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Portfolio Selections – States of Being


© Douglas Barkey 2011

In these photographs moments in time converge to create a window through which the invisible becomes visible; they attempt to reveal a contemplative space in between two layers of reality. See more >>

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Portfolio Selections – Sabal Rhapsis Rhythm


© Douglas Barkey 2011

From Light Gestures Palm Folio. See more….

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Portfolio Selections – Northern Light


© Douglas Barkey 2009

Landscapes of light from Maine. See more>>>

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Portfolio Selections – Eyepoems


© Douglas Barkey 2012

This is an ongoing project in which creative writing is embedded  into the photographic image.  See more…

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Getting the conversation going….


This article has been picked up and shared by several photographers, including Jay Patel and generated a good dialogue.  Click the link to follow and add your comments!

Fotonotes

Photography of nature is a popular past time for many. Although it isn’t necessarily easy to pull off nature photography well, it is a pretty easily accessible subject, often spectacular, and doesn’t talk back. There are no modeling fees involved, expensive studio lights, or even expensive cameras. Even HDR (High Dynamic Range) exposures once the domain of the technical elite are now available instantaneously (no tripod required) on the latest Iphone. And because people tend to look at the recognizable subject of the nature image and ascribe only the meaning of that object, it’s an easy win. A mountain is a mountain, a tree is a tree, a river is a river, right? It’s just that some people apply the magic of HDR to tweak the cliché in a spectacular way to a chorus of oohs and ahhs….and create a romantic fantasy of nature with incredible tonal range and saturated…

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Portfolio Selection – Passion


A series of work on passion…see more>>>

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