Update 1: 20.02.17
Update 2: 16.03.17
Update 3: 30.04.17
Update 4: 14.05.17
In my essay, “The Provocative Landscape”, I have proposed that there could be three approaches to reading provocative landscape images: The controversial Image, The Dialectical Image and The Rhetorical Image. These approaches have been helpful in identify what landscape images can be considered provocative, though sometimes images do not fall into a single category. Thus, I have decided to use these following photographers’ works to further elaborate on my point.
Jerry Uelsmann is an American photographer and a creative genius with an extraordinary previsualization abilities in the analogue world. His composite images translate surrealistic vision onto photographs. Uelsmann’s art is about more than just putting pictures together. What I liked about his photographic practices is that his style is has been a mixture of playfulness, experimentation and a disregard for the intellectualization of and within his images. He takes a non-intellectual attitude toward using his camera to collect aspects of his environment that provide him with a base of materials that can be formed into his images. Uelsmann likes the fact that the viewer completes the image, that they find some personal basis that they can either pass over or they can relate to it. He does not have a hidden agenda that they have to have a specific response to.
His images are created with three distinctive parts: The first part is his collection of seemingly random items to be used in his images. Next, is forming the artwork by assembling ideas and items from his library of found and preconceived pictures. The assembly is where his vision and aesthetics, along with mastery of the alchemy, give the distinctive look to his images. These two parts of Uelsmann’s process are not that different from many photographers, but the third part differs from the way many conceive their images.
The third stage is the most interesting part of Uelsmann’s approach. While his images can be defined by their symbolism and subconscious overtones, these aren’t the critical factors. He leaves the important part of the functioning of the art to his audience. At a question-and-answer session, when asked what an image meant, Uelsmann said that he doesn’t try to answer questions of meaning with his images, but rather asks the audience to help him seek answers. The audience completes the image, not Uelsmann. This is why he doesn’t title many of his images. He doesn’t want the words in the title to interfere with the audience’s experience of his images at any level.
Uelsmann employs multiple enlargers to create multiple exposures in his photography works. For example, in the image of the house with the tree roots, the tree roots would be in one enlarger, the building in another. He does a crude drawing on a sheet of paper first before blendings them together. He would re-adjust and make larger prints if he really liked them.
In the case of the tree building, by knowing where the edge of the tree was and lining up with the edge of the building. Then he would dodge the one side so it gradually blends into the other. Because of his mastery of blending images seamlessly into new juxtapositions and photography’s acceptance as real by the audience, this adds to the reality that’s so important for the surreal images he creates. While his images may seem implausible, the reality created by his craft in the darkroom allows the viewer to see them as potentially real, if unlikely. In his iconic image of a house growing from tree roots, it’s clear that Uelsmann’s mastery of the way the two images come together allows the audience to interact with the concept of an abandoned and deteriorating house growing from the roots.
At first glance, Jerry Uelsmann’s landscape works seem to fall into the controversial image, because of his highly creative technique in combining multiple exposures into a single image. However, the ultimate goal Uelsmann’s images try to achieve is that dialectical approach that makes one question the reality of the subject and comes out with an answer what these visuals they see in the image really means to them.
UK Photographer Jem Southam is renowned for his series of colour landscape photographs whose trademark is the patient observation of changes at a single location over many months or years. Southam’s subjects are predominately situated in the South West of England where he lives and works. He observes the balance between nature and man’s intervention and traces cycles of decay and renewal. His work combines topographical observation with other references: personal, cultural, political, scientific, literary and psychological. Southam’s working method combines the predetermined and the intuitive. Seen together, his series suggest the forging of pathways towards visual and intellectual resolution.
Like the photographs in ‘The Painter’s Pool’ Jem Southam had created some wonderfully complex compositions, which cannot be deconstructed easily with a simple formula. He makes images from what must initially seem quite a chaotic subject matter with branches very close to his camera lens. Compared to a photographer, how does an artist who draws or paints deal with the extraordinary visual complexities presented when standing in the canopy of a wood? How can one possibly make a series of marks on the surface of a piece of paper when confronted say by the tens of thousands of twigs and leaves present, as one stands and contemplates such a view?
The series of pictures grew partly out of that motivation from these conversations he had with his colleague one day and he has continued to be fascinated by the challenges of making pictures in similar conditions; pictures that are complex and demand a patient attention. Working with a 10×8 and sheet film which dictates a slower, more thoughtful approach and requires tremendous effort from the photographer as the camera can often take minutes to set up before an image can be visualised and then it is upside down and back-to-front. A lot of Jem’s pictures require the use of a step ladder which he has to lug around with his heavy tripod and photography equipment.
Many of Jem Southam’s landscape works can be considered the dialectical image because his initial ideas had been informed by the questions he raised in which he tries to address them through his photographs. This, in turn, creates the response in the audience so as to ascertain whether they agreed with the image or not.
Richard Misrach is an American photographer who produces coloured photographs with large-format traditional cameras that meditate on human intervention in the landscape and probe the environmental impact of industry. Misrach’s images also convey concern with colour, light, and time. His best-known series, “Desert Cantos”, captures the awful beauty of human-wrought disasters in the desert; other subjects include the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and dramatic weather systems around the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The photographer divides his series into cantos. While cantos in literature are parts of a long song or a poem, the cantos in Misrach’s oeuvre are subsections of a large thematic series that embraces several years. If we speak of definitions, these cantos, which in their independence and uniqueness, provide a new dimension to understanding and defining the word “desert” by adding and expanding the whole theme. In Misrach’s “The Highway” and “The Terrain” cantos, we see highways and railroads. “The Flood” is about buildings, cars and gas stations flooded by the Salton Sea.
As it often happens when one theme evolves into the other, Richard Misrach’s works may touch upon a very essential aspect that moves further from the boundaries of his oeuvre. In recent years, having kept the meaning of its content, the terms “social landscape” and “altered landscape” have acquired some additional overtones thanks to the form of their presentation. The issue is the format of images.
There are many great images I am inspired by Richard Misrach. One those image which perhaps I felt most connected to was The Wall, Jacumba, California, an image Misrach captured in 2009 which depicts the U.S.-Mexico border often show a fence and desolation on either side. The clouds covering the mountain ridges suggests the scene with an ominous atmosphere. It has that depth which conveys the scale of the dessert terrain. It is not vividly coloured, but there are a lot of details hidden within the landscape which might provoke one’s response into thinking what is there within those vast spaces. Hence from this image, Richard Misrach’s works suggest a dialectical image.
Filip Dujardin is a Belgian photographer, famous for his unique architecture photography. Dujardin initially studied art history (specialisation architecture) and part-time art education photography. In 2008, he gained international fame with Fictions, a series of fictional structures created using a digital collaging technique from photographs of real buildings in and around Ghent, Belgium.
This is a very conceptual approach to architecture photography and pretty darn provocative because those intriguing buildings seem perfectly ordinary at first glance but it then reveals their fictional nature as the viewer registers missing or incongruous details.
Filip Dujardin architecture works definitely falls under the rhetorical image category because the focus was on the contextual response rather than the aesthetic response. It attempts to address issues and challenges the perception of the viewers by raising questions to prove its point, thus persuading them to acknowledge the photographer’s ideas.
Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs – The great Unreal
Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs had travelled through the United States for several months, working ‘on the road’ on the photo series The Great Unreal. The photographic work deals with reality and the fabrication of reality. The geography of America serves as both setting and fertile ground for the examination. Mysticism and demystification are important aspects in this process, as is working with a rich inventory of visual icons that can be continually deconstructed and manipulated. The working method of both photographers is based on interventions prescribed mostly by happenstance and change. Through repetition and associative placement, the sometimes crude, sometimes subtle interventions begin to link to one another, establishing an exciting transformation of reality that only hesitatingly reveals itself to the viewer.
Artists and photographers have engaged with a wide variety of techniques and continuously sought to evolve their photographic practices through time. Through this research, I have found that for some landscape photographers, it is not the technique that makes an image provocative, but the interaction between the image (how it was created) and the audience (what kind of emotion does it evoke) that makes the image provocative.