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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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Bracken And Snow. Photographers begin with the ultimate complexity of the world and try to distill some simplicity. This is one of Ward’s simplest images to date: a succinct description of bracken and delicate tones in the surrounding snowbank.
Beauty is something that I, too, seek to capture in my images, but I also endeavour to capture more than an anodyne attractive quality. I want the viewer to have to work a little harder to understand them, to find the image visually intriguing and, hopefully, a little mysterious.

It’s true that Western Europe doesn’t have vast tracts of wilderness comparable with those in the American Southwest, but we do still have pockets of wild land. Since my images are often intimate, rather than expansive, a “pocket” is usually plenty big enough to provide me with material! I should point out that I like wild places for the opportunities they provide to capture formal purity rather than as symbols of wildness—of nature separate from man. My photography is often more about an exploration of form and space than about describing subjects in a literal way.

Poverty Flats. The blue, negative space is as important as the positive space in this image.
My favourite place to photograph is the one with which I’m emotionally engaged at the time I’m making an image; all other locations pale at that moment. Having said that, there are obviously places I love to re-visit—the northwestern Highlands of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides, northern Norway, the Northumberland coast and Iceland. These places provide me with a wealth of my favourite raw materials: bare rock, weathered wood, flowing water, ice, snow and grasses. I feel that almost all my best images are of such anonymous details, fragments of a wider undescribed landscape. In fact, the lack of identifiable features in my images has led some people to question whether I’m a landscape photographer. This argument is easily dismissed, I feel, as the landscape is still the subject of my images.

See more of David Ward’s photography at www.into-the-light.com

Talking about the American versus the European appreciation of landscape imagery, Strand says, “I think Americans admire landscape photography in general more than Europeans do. This is because of the tradition. Photography has always been considered an art form, and a photographer is considered an artist. In Europe, you’re only considered an artist if you have the education for it, and very few nature photographers have an education in photography.” Above: Waterfall on Austfonna Glacier, Svalbard, Norway.
Hans Strand

In Europe, we landscape photographers have a pretty close relationship to each other, and we’re sometimes even going out shooting together, but we never take the same images. In the U.S., as I know it, professional photographers rarely go out together, but still shoot the same objects over and over again.

I was shocked when I visited Utah’s Delicate Arch in 1990. Arriving as a tourist, I had seen the arch in a brochure and I thought this would be an interesting spot to visit and perhaps take a shot of. When I arrived at the site, about 50 photographers were lined up to shoot the sunset light on the arch. I immediately realized the hopeless situation and how naive I had been. I went straight down the mountain without taking a single photograph. From then on, I’ve tried to find my own spots, where I can create my own compositions.

My style of taking pictures has changed over the years. In the beginning, I didn’t have any style; then I gradually started to shoot wide-angle landscapes with big foregrounds in the classical American style. Nowadays, I tend to go more abstract with my photography. My recent aerials from Iceland are an example of that style.

Aerial of Maelifell, Iceland.
When nature is too great, as it is in some of the places in the American Southwest, the photographer has very little to add. I find places like the Grand Canyon and Arches National Park being places more for contemplation and admiration rather than for photography.

In Europe, on the other hand, we’re not blessed with such a number of iconic landscapes. We simply have to look for other ways of taking pictures. Personally, I find great pleasure in shooting intimate landscapes. Wherever you are in the world, it’s possible to find magic in a few square meters. These intimate landscapes become your children, and you’re the sole maker of your compositions.

The northern tip of Sweden, Finland and Norway, the Arctic and Iceland [are my favorite destinations]—Iceland is the most fascinating place I’ve ever been. It’s actually very similar to the American Southwest, but much less photographed. Since 2000, I’ve been there every year to take pictures.

Dusk at the Kullen coastline, Sweden.
The losses of wild landscapes are in quick progress around the world, as in Europe. More and more densely populated as the world is getting, this problem just escalates. The wilderness around the corner virtually doesn’t exist anymore, and we simply have to travel to the fairly untouched spots to take our photos. The modern man seems to think that we have what we need in the cities and is forgetting that the wilderness is our cradle. Personally, it’s that feeling of origin which attracts me to nature.

See more of Hans Strand’s photography at www.hansstrand.com


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