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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Masters Of The European Landscape

On photography, wilderness and the differences between continents

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Budle Reflections. Ward spent a week in Northumberland and visited Budle Bay almost every evening, hoping to find some beautiful light. He was rewarded on his third visit with this tranquil scene.
These pages are regularly filled with the finest photographs from around the world. Foreign lands often are seen in wildlife images, but when it comes to landscapes, it’s the American places and American photographers who tend to dominate the conversation. Although Americans may have pioneered the form, landscape photography is alive and well across the globe. Even in places without an abundance of untamed wilderness, photographers continually create landscape images with the best of America’s best.

In an effort to showcase a different perspective, we now look to Europe. These masters of European landscape photography share with us not only their beautiful images, but also their thoughts on the state of landscape photography across the continent. In their own words, they provide revealing insights into the differences—and many similarities—between European landscape photography and its not-so-distant American cousin.

David Ward

Lael Flower. Wandering through the small forest garden at Lael, Ward was struck by the way these beech leaves trapped on the lip of a waterfall resembled a flower.
From a historical point of view, it’s undeniably true that American photographers laid the foundations for mainstream modern landscape photography, but I think that it would be a mistake to characterize landscape photography in the 21st century as an American art form—or even a Western one.

Over here, at least as much emphasis is placed on intimate landscapes as on the vista. I think that European landscape photographers also are more concerned with form, abstraction and simplicity—subjects that fascinated Edward Weston, but which seem to have fallen off the radar for most contemporary landscape photographers—less location-sensitive.

The European landscape photography that I admire is more focused on evocation than description, more concerned with an exploration of form and abstraction. The perspectives are less dramatic, the lighting more quiet. Of course, there are American photographers whose work is more abstract, more lyrical, more mystical and less overtly representative.

What fascinates me about photography is how an art form that is, on one level, the most perfectly descriptive, yet invented by man, can transcend the overwhelming weight of bald description to evoke something unexpected. I’m not interested in merely representing pristine landscapes; I want to explore the world photographically, to explore how landscape might be represented—to see, as Garry Winogrand said, “how it looks photographed.”


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