PART 4: LANDSCAPE AND IDENTITY

Exercise 4.4:

Read Deborah Bright’s essay ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’ http://www.deborahbright.net/PDF/Bright-Marlboro.pdf

As well as writing widely on photography, Bright is also an established practitioner. This text was written in 1985, and some of the things Bright argues for have been achieved. The text provides a contextual insight (particularly in relation to American photography) and an interesting sense of the climate from which much critical practice has emerged. Read the essay, noting key points of interest and your personal reflections in your learning log. (Alexander: 133, 2013)

Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’: An inquiry into the cultural meanings of landscape Photography

Key points of interest:

  • Images of landscape shouldn’t just be an antidote to politics or for aesthetic pleasure, as they are also a “selected and constructed text” bearing the imprint of its cultural pedigree; a record of human values and actions imposed on the land which the photographer plays a large part in constructing.
  • Need to look beyond formal and technical intentions to the cultural meaning of landscapes, whose interests they are conceived in, why they are made and consumed, as well as why landscape photography is so identified with a male eye.
  • Bright highlights the historical mechanical representations of tourist landscapes for their spectacular, expression of freedom and art.
  • She discusses the new topographic photographer’s landscapes as despite generally being thought to be devoid of style actually containing meaning and information from identities and histories of their photographers
  • Apparently Robert Adams suggests that the art market generates a feedback loop to the photographer who then defines their practice by their terms.
  • Bright also points out the dominance of male photographers in landscape photography.
  • She asks and list some examples of what can landscapes tell us about how we construct our sense of world and its relations: romantic nostalgia, energy as natural, human exploitation of energy as necessary, fiascos of development of atomic energy, zoning, the workplace, security, neighbourhood, domestic and retail spaces.
  • Bright suggests that women might take back landscape photography as a response to its male preserve. She cites photographers such as Linda Conner and Gretchen Garner who have created women centred approaches with intimate and emotional relations rather than the male predator relationships with the environment “men choose to act upon nature and bend it to their will while women simply are nature and cannot separate themselves from it”.
  • Bright concludes that we must be more conscious of the ideological assumptions that structure our approaches to interpreting landscape photography. She also suggests that photographers should be wary of the art market repackaging their work as “autonomous aesthetic objects”. She argues that landscape photography shouldn’t be narrow and ideologically neutral but used to question assumptions about nature and culture, “it is a historical artefact that can be viewed as a record of the material facts of our social reality and what we have chosen to make of them”.

References:

Alexander, J. (2013) Photography 2: Landscape. Barnsley. Open College of the Arts

Bright-Marlboro.pdf (s.d.) At: http://www.deborahbright.net/PDF/Bright-Marlboro.pdf

Learning points:

  • To consider carefully beyond the formal and technical intentions of to the cultural and political messages within a landscape image constructed by the photographer.
  • Consider why these images are made, whose interests were in mind when constructed.
  • Be aware that art landscape photographers may have had their practice defined by the market rather than themselves.
  • Reflect on whether my response to the landscape is women centred (intimate and emotional).
  • Ensure I question any assumptions about images and am aware of imbedded messages within them left by the photographer whether implicit or explicit.

Next post: https://nkssite4.wordpress.com/category/coursework/part-4-landscape-and-identities/exercise-4-5-signifier-signified/