LANDMARK – landscape photography @ Somerset House, London

children playing among the fountains outside Somerset House

children playing among the fountains outside Somerset House

I could not let this exhibition slip by without visiting. While there is as yet no catalogue to accompany it, one is due to be published later in the year by Positive View Foundation who were the organisers of this exhibition as well as “Cartier-Bresson: a question of colour” and are due to deliver a number of other similar photographic exhibitions. The was however a flyer which explained the various headings for different sections of the exhibition alongside a map of the 17  rooms in which it was housed.

On the cover of the flyer was a photograph of a red river running through a desolate landscape. The suggestion is of pollution and one presumes this image has been used because the red colour immediately draws the attention of the viewer. Later, I learn that the original photograph is by Ed Burtynsky whose work stands out as some of the best in the exhibition; previously I had seen his “Oil” exhibition.

The following quote is displayed prominently at the entrance to the exhibition.”Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.” Arthur Schopenhauer

The press download that comes with this exhibition informs me that the exhibition is in two parts namely fact and fiction; I am not aware of this as I work through the various rooms of the exhibition which have their own subject titles. What is more obvious is that while landscape was once considered “to show what was beautiful in the world, a way for photographers to capture things people don’t always get to visit but want to see” while nowadays the emphasis in landscape has moved away from romanticism  to more realistic interpretations in which buildings and even people may feature prominently.

a photograph I made recently in Donana Natural Park that would most likely come under the landscape genre

a photograph I made recently in Donana Natural Park that these days would most likely come under the landscape genre

The first section of the exhibition was titled “Sublime” which is understood to be majestic yet also contain awe. My personal understanding would also include the “transcendent” but this is a quality that might well apply elsewhere. Photographs I saw here were Baltic Sea, Rugen (1996) by Hiroshi Sugimoto which was a large canvas mostly monotone but did have some detail at the bottom that suggested water; a photogram by Susan Derges made in 1997 of a close-up of a small section of shoreline; there is a black and white print of crashing waves with foam by Dodo Jin Ming; Canal Estuary,Padstow, Cornwall by Simon Roberts made in 2007 as well as a multi-image piece of the Grand Canyon by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe which contains a black and white inkjet of an Ansel Adams view which they are extending – it is an interesting piece that addresses the development of photography (see below) …


In the next section, entitled Pastoral, Simon Roberts has a few more pieces, a reminder that the divisions created for this exhibition are arbitrary. Pastoral is defined as relating to the country or countryside and suggests the idyllic.

from "We English" by Simon Roberts

from “We English” by Simon Roberts

There is a large photograph by Elger Esser of the Sacramento River, USA (2007) in which the colours are distorted giving a rather too yellow hue; this reminds me too much of typical over processing and I can not like it. I do however like the black and white work of John Davies whose excellently printed photographs are of Easington Colliery both in 1983 and 2004, the latter showing no signs of a colliery at all but a green space; they are presumably made from the same point.

John Davies also spills over into the next section with a photograph of the Trafford Centre in Manchester, UK made in 2005. This section is titled Witness which refers to the ability of photography to be a witness to a an event or situation.Robert Bourdeau has photographed a couple of industrial towers (the work of the Bechers is apparently being referenced here) behind which trees stand (a narrower example of landscape) while there is a partial view of a landscape by Stephane Courturier as the photographer makes an image of a ruined house in which there are gaping windows. Mark Power has photographed a couple hugging on a beach beside what looks like some kind of look out tower and yet looks somewhat absurd standing on the beach. The image is from Poland and leaves one wondering as to it’s meaning.

The next section is called Landmark, a term that implies a reference point that gives one a sense of the surrounding environment; Landmark is a term the photography critic Liz Wells has used to denote landscape in general. Here, theimages are largely cityscapes and include a black and white photo, looking down on the Gherkin, which appears white rather than dark, looming out from the maze of buildings that surround it. Called “Site_Specific_London 12 2012” it is by Olivio Barbieri.

Nadav Kander has 2 prints; one of a flyover being constructed and the other of a partially destroyed military housing area. There is also a well known image by Mitch Epstein of the BP Carson Refinery, California, 2007 which includes a giant image of the American flag; I have seen this somewhat humdrum image in other galleries (such as OPen Eye in Liverpool and The Saatchi Gallery in London) and although it is full of import, I do not find it does much for me other than communicate an idea of what American power might be.

The next section is called “Scar” which implies some kind of blemish or obvious mark on a landscape. The first image that strikes me in this section is of a slum in Mumbai by Robert Polidari; in a way, it is rather a stereo-typed view of Indian povert that one might expect from a foreigner to the country yet it is an original representation, apparently made by stitching a number of images together which results in an awkward, uneven edge to the frame. There is also an image by Ed Burtynsky here which to me is perhaps the most brilliant piece in the whole exhibition. Composed of warm mostly reddish hues, it is called Pivot Irrigation 15 and is an aerial view that makes the landscape look like an intricate pattern worthy of a piece of modern art; the viewer may pause for awhile as they try and work out the actual meaning of the image. This section also contains the dyptych by Burtynsky, part of which is used to advertise the exhibition.

poster for the Landmark exhibition @ Somerset House

poster for the Landmark exhibition @ Somerset House

Other work includes two contrasty colour images by Michael Light and the imaginative views of David Maisel from his Lake Project series.

from The Lake Project (part of Black Maps, a larger body of work)

David Maisel from The Lake Project (part of Black Maps, a larger body of work)

David Maisel’s work is “straight” in the sense that his approach is that of an aerial cartographer; he does not seek to manipulate his photographs. The following is from the press release about this exhibition … “An interesting point which comes out of Maisers work is that he is creating a map from numerous vantage points, piecing together the human impacted world using cartography techniques. From

the air, his photographic maps do not look like the earth, they looks more like nerve endings , veins. disturbing pools of blood. It’s very abstract and many people do not believe that the work is real. However Maisel never uses post-production; what is seen in the photographs is actually there. Maisel has said that falsifying does not interest him and he fully trusts the photographic medium to reveal the truth.”

One can’t help wonder though what makes the colours in the image above the way they are!

Olaf Otto Becker presents an Arctic View of Greenland, a soft and dreamy image from his series “Above Zero” is of a melting glacier made with a long exposure: the Polar regions feature quite often in this exhibition being an environment that is deteriorating owing to climate change.

Amazon 10 (2000) by Daniel Beltra is an aerial view of destruction being wrought on forests in the Amazon – the trees that can be seen are blackened shells, mere marks on the photograph.

half of the dyptych by Ed Burtynsky

half of the dyptych by Ed Burtynsky

This section also contains the image by Ed Burtynsky used to advertise the exhibiton which is in fact the left hand side of a diptych.It was made in 1996 of an area in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada and the red river is a result of mining; it runs through a blackened landscape. There is little beauty here, the red river rather ripping through the desolate landscape.

In a small room, there is a video installation at this point which lasts over 50 hours (more than 2 days). The scene is a slowly moving river running through a late autumnal forest. I watch for 5 minutes and enjoy the tranquil scene. It was made by Jeffrey Blondes and is entitled Etang de Pezieres (2011)

The next section is called Datum and does not contain such attractive or appealing images. There is work by Dan Holdsworth; black and white images of sand dunes revealing their infinite variety of forms,aesthetically appealing and intriguing yet with a tendency to dullness. Other work by Holdsworth seems to be made by reversing negatives and using infra red. Luca Campigotto has made an image from “Likir, Leh, Ladakh, India (2007)” which is of a moonlike landscape with a lot of contrasty and unnatural tones; it is not easy to see what the photographer’s intention is here.

“Martian Landforms” by Laurent Cocket is an image from NASA of Mars, one of a number of purely mechanically produced images (there was no one looking through the lens at the time and hence no moment or view was chosen). A photograph of a man in the middle of a vast garbage dump with a river and township in the background is a triptych forming a panoramic view; it is a largely colourless view of desolation from Ghana and is by Pieter Hugo, a South African photographer.

After the datum section, I needed a break and took a bowl of soup at the Somerset House deli, reflecting a little on what I had seen but also glad of a break. One can get “imaged out”!!

The next section is called Control; this exhibition does not get any easier and a reminder of the many ways that landscape can be interpreted these days.

Atmos 2003 by Naoyo Hatakeyama is an image of billowing clouds yet the suggestion is of some kind of deadly emission. There is another image by Olaf Otto Becker, a photographer based in Iceland, of a vast concrete shute in Iceland that hangs over a cavernous gorge. A fence gives one the sense of scale that makes this photograph so striking along with the sense of the unusual. Toshio Shibata has contributed 2 black and white prints made in different places in Japan. They are somewhat abstract, it being difficult to determine the exact meaning. There is also a colour print which is clearer.

There is also another image by Ed Burtynsky which is another brilliant design as well as a photograph; this use of “lines” within the image to make something more than just an image is surely what photography is about.

The next section is “Delusion” which represents the use or overuse of colour to make defining statements. Thomas Struth features here with a view of El Capitain, Yosemite National Park, California made in 2009. The image looks slightly over-exposed and hence hazy; also included in the view is the road and the many other people looking at the great mass of rock. Photographing people looking is a theme in the photography of Struth. Robert Vout shows C prints from his series “New Trees” with the coloration boosted; the trees are shown in relation to man made constructions. There is an extraordinary image from Mark Power made in Japan in 2000; it features pink boats on Lake Mike from a series called Miyazaki.

The next stage is called “Hallucination” where there is evidence of Photoshop. “Orogenesis: Derain, 2004” is by Joan Fontcuberta and mirrored with a fridge magnet sized painting below. “Nasdaq_80-09” by Michael Najjer reveals a peak that has presumably been photoshopped as it looks like a man made instrument. Another image shows the remains of a house, now lying upturned in snow along with various other objects such as a car while more can be seen floating in a nearby lake; the scene is otherwise supremely peaceful yet the image servees to remind us that such peace can be violently shattered. There are 3 black and white images from Matthieu Bernard-Raymond’s “Monuments” series which although being archival pigment prints have been manipulated in some way.

The next section “Reverie” (I think of Debussy and would love to hear some music to help me on my way through this vast exhibition) contains a photo-book called “Sky Fallen” of which only 5 copies have been made; it contains 8 exhibition sized prints of landscape with 8 smaller prints of flora from them that run alongside. This book is connected to the recent James Bond film, Skyfall, and was made at the behest of the film’s producer. There are reflections of vegetation in water in Alex Hutte’s   photograph from Venezuela made in 2008. There is a man photographed floating in a pond in Leonora Hamill’s “Simone”. photos in this section tend towards abstraction and hence have meanings not easy to determine. “Lost City” by Yang Yongling looks like a traditional Chinese landscape print; 4 black and white photographs are used to create the effect with red stamps used to further emphasise the traditional theme.

Pierre Radisic shows 18 photographs of his own shadow falling on a variety of “landscape” backgrounds; they are interesting studies in the way the shadow changes size and perspective, changes brought about not just by the photographer varying his position and presumably use of lens but also by varying backgrounds.


photograph of suns taken from Flickr

photograph of suns taken from Flickr

There is a large mural (see above) of 1024 setting/rising suns appropriated from the internet site Flickr by Penelope Umbrico.

There is an amusing photograph of what appears to be the cross between a mountain peak and a carbon pencil with Swiss Made stamped on it; this image by Jory Brockmann and Nicholas Poulin was made as an advertising poster for Carane D”Ache.

Just as there was a quote on the wall at the beginning of the exhibition, there is a quote on the wall at the end, this time by Guillame Apollinaire …

Without artists, without poets, men would soon wary of nature’s monotony. The sublime idea men have of the universe would collapse with dizzying speed …

This exhibition leaves me feeling somewhat dizzy at the sheer size of it; there is so much to consider and so many works to take on board, to enjoy for their visual insight and also their meanings which need much longer to absorb. Since this exhibition contains a video 54 hours long, one can not claim to have seen it all.




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