The Paradox of Western Landscape

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Lenswork #69 arrived today, and as is so often the case, the cover was a photo of rocks — contrasty, windswept, Western rocks. Vasquez, Indian Head, Merrick Butte. The locations we've all had burned into our psyches as standard backdrops for John Ford and Tom Mix.

While these locations are dramatic in and of themselves, it's hard not to compare each new photo of them with the work of Carleton Watkins et al -- people who photographed these places (& on a grand scale) because the western landscape was unknown.

Today's shooters photograph with the opposite intent: the same locations precisely because they're well-known. When did this shift occur? The Kodak Brownie? Timothy O'Sullivan?

March 11, 2007

 

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Comments on "The Paradox of Western Landscape"

Jeff Alu
March 11, 2007 09:04 PM

Hmm, that's an interesting question! I usually try to avoid well known places just for that reason. Or at least try to taken them from a different point of view if possible...but it can be difficult not to take these shots over and over again becuase the locations always seem to new each time you see them!

james
March 12, 2007 01:54 AM

not unlike the recent blogging 'is there a photographic plagarism.' one wonders if not shanghai/global capitalism is not the new half dome/yosemite.

a lot has shifted. we worry, think, wonder so much the what and how the when and who of photography. photography was once, for good or bad, a verb. it deified, reified experience. it assumed the responsibility of making presence.

how to engage photography : make something new in relation to what has been done. with a 'new' as conflicted as it needs to be. beside movements, time, markets. to see, demarcate, make known. to mark time.

so lenswork has rocks. the rolling stones don't stop. rush co-opts.

we measure things generations. which, really, is neither here nor there.

Dirk
March 13, 2007 08:45 AM

I am very disappointed with this issue. Perhaps digital B/W really just does not work. I don't really mind the subject matter (although it is not terribly exciting), but the style - the darkened skies for one - is just getting over the top. Colour photos quickly look overly photoshopped. This is the B/W equivalent.

My growing criticism with LW, and perhaps Jensen, is that "fine art photography" (I hate that term) seems to require a certain look to qualify as such. In the past there were those burnt in skies, now the darkened skies and strange arbitrary tonal combinations. Style over substance.

I hate the line "it does not look like in the real world" as it is a conceptually invalid criticism. In these cases, however, it has been so far removed from life and the real world, that it is getting more and more difficult to relate to those photos as references of the world we live in. Not sure if that's a real requirement, but it sure helps enjoying the medium.

tim atherton
March 13, 2007 10:45 AM

"I am very disappointed with this issue. Perhaps digital B/W really just does not work. I don't really mind the subject matter (although it is not terribly exciting), but the style - the darkened skies for one - is just getting over the top. Colour photos quickly look overly photoshopped. This is the B/W equivalent."

Like these sort of ones you mean?:

www.hamiltonsgallery.com/photographers/mccullin/images/landscape/openskies8.jpg

www.hamiltonsgallery.com/photographers/mccullin/images/landscape/openskiessmall.jpg

www.photosapiens.com/IMG/jpg/brandt_02.jpg

Dirk
March 13, 2007 08:28 PM

Not sure what you're trying to say with those references. Have you actually seen the material in the magazine? Perhaps you should have read to the end of my comment where I say "In the past there were those burnt in skies, now the darkened skies and strange arbitrary tonal combinations."

jackf
March 14, 2007 01:37 AM

I'm not sure what you all are complaining about. I have seen a copy of the Lenswork #69 and think Mitch Dobrowner's images are terrific - and even inspirational. His vision is refreshing. I actually haven't seen those landscapes in that "light" before.

In regards to Lenswork, it is one of the few photographic publications with integrity. Brooks Jensen looks to be devoted to showing fine art black and white photography at its highst level. What others are that devoted to the art of photography, the ones with ads on every other page?

To me you sound like an old, jealous bunch.

So sorry if this comes off tough, as its not meant to. But the truth can hurt if minds aren't open. My suggestion is to stop being so judgemental, and lets how wonderful your work is.

Bjorke
March 14, 2007 07:11 PM

Jack, I don't think anyone was attacking Brooks's integrity nor even the photos -- though like Dirk I have a problem with the use (or over-use, which can sound overly self-conscious) of the "F.A.P." term. Speaking for myself, if I was such a hater I'd probably not have recently renewed my subscriptions both to Lenswork and Lenswork Extended.

I suggest you check out SHOTS magazine, as well as B&W, FOCUS, ei8ht, and PRIVATE. I suspect you will find pictures to like in all of them and a notable lack of camera ads.

jackf
March 14, 2007 08:30 PM

Hey Bjorke.. its all good. No animosity here.

But just some info on the publications you mentioned: last time I saw B&W there were tons of paid ads (photographers, galleries, etc). Nothing wrong with that, but they ARE paid ads. And though subjective, some of the work in the rag isn't my favorite. Sometimes I get tired of seeing "out of focus leaves or people" that the editors think make great images. But that is there choice and I buy it and support them, and give them credit for the hard work and dedication to producing the magazine.

Now Focus.... it has half the magazine filled with photographers that have paid upwards of $2,000. just to have 4 images placed in it. Its not obvious, so it can seem like a scamp to readers - as most likely these photographers are obviously wealthy or who can't get their images placed anyplace else. They call it the "Focus Gallery".

I'm not familiar with SHOTS, ei8ht or PRIVATE but I'll take a look.

 

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