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
England


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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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
Sweden

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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Winter sunrise, the Highlands, Scotland. This is the view from a place called Old Man of Storr, a rocky hill on the Trotternish Peninsula of the Isle of Skye.

Maciej Duczynski
Poland

I think landscape photography is more appreciated in the U.S. than in Europe. It’s not so easy here to exhibit in good galleries. My color landscapes here in Poland are considered trash, not art. In Eastern Europe, it’s hardly possible to live from landscape photography. No one is interested in buying it. This makes our life a bit more complicated.

In much of Eastern Europe, we’re surrounded by rather ugly and dull landscapes. As a landscape photographer here, you have two choices: You can travel to more beautiful places or you can stay and try to show these places in an interesting way. This is, of course, difficult, but not impossible. Many of our photographers take this challenge.


Skógafoss is one of the most spectacular Icelandic waterfalls. Situated in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline, with a drop of 60 meters, it’s also one of the highest. Due to the amount of spray, most of the time you can see a rainbow here.

Almost all of Europe is highly populated. Fortunately, it’s still possible to find beautiful nature, pristine landscapes and wilderness. As a photographer, I spend most of my time searching for this kind of location, but I try to not limit my photography just to classical, wild places. One of my favorite pictures shows a tulip field near Amsterdam just after sunrise. In fact, this is a manufactured landscape, created by humans, but still a beautiful landscape that tells a story.

In my portfolio, you’ll find many wild landscapes, but if you look closer, in most of them, you’ll find some elements of humankind. This is one of the things I want to show in my landscape photography—how the human can coexist in a good way with nature. You can see small figures of mountain climbers in Iceland, rowboats on a Norwegian lake, a small footpath in the Polish Tatra Mountains, a road crossing the Icelandic interior, a man-made lake in the Alps in Switzerland, a barley field in Tuscany, beautiful yellow grape fields in Slovakia….


Landmannalaugar Mountains in the southern interior of Iceland. For Duczynski, this is the most amazing place in Iceland, full of colors, rhyolite mountains and expansive lava fields.

Europe is small and diverse. This is a big advantage for landscape photographers. If you live in the middle of Europe, you can take your car; one day driving will reach most of the places. If you go south, you can catch the view of the Bardenas Reales desert in Spain or Tuscan fields in Italy; if you go north, you can photograph amazing fjords in Norway; if you go west, you’ll see beautiful sunsets at the cliffs of Normandy in France; if you go east, you can hike and shoot in the Carpathian Mountains in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania. You don’t want to go that far? Then stay in the Alps in the center of Europe, located on the border between five countries—France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany.

My favorite countries are Norway and Iceland. The nature there is really amazing. The population is rather small, so it’s easy to find magnificent wilderness. Both countries are very different. Norway, with its beautiful fjords, mountains and glaciers, is beautiful in a very classical way. Iceland is a rather new land. Its lava fields, volcanoes and geysers give the unique possibility to see what I call a “lunar landscape.”

See more of Maciej Duczynski’s photography at www.lonelywolf.pl


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And Suddenly, Winter. Valtournenche, Valle d’Aosta, Italy. Lago Bleu is a small lake lying at the base of The Cervino (better known as the Matterhorn outside Italy). De Faveri noticed the clouds were moving fast, so he opted for a very long exposure (80 sec.) to produce the beautiful motion blur in the sky.

Paolo De Faveri
Italy

Europe lacks the vastness of the wild areas of the American West. In North America, the Rocky Mountains are thousands of miles long and hundreds of miles wide, while in Europe, the Alps and the Pyrenees are only a small portion of that.

Perhaps the biggest difference lies in what an American and a European mean with the word “landscape.” For Americans, I guess the expression “landscape photography” evokes, almost exclusively, the vastness of the untouched wild areas of the west and north of their continent. I suppose also that the exciting concepts of frontier, of adventure, of moving forward within unexplored territories is strongly connected to—and still very well represented in—the landscape photography produced in the U.S. and Canada.

In Europe, we don’t have such concepts. While Americans can still think of their wilderness as something to explore—an environment capable to still offer the thrill of adventure and new discoveries in the future—for Europeans, photographing the landscape is much more about mapping the already well-known world.


La Manneporte. Étretat, Upper Normandy, France. This moody representation with an approaching storm in the background shows part of the rocky coast surrounding the small town of Étretat.

I’m speaking on behalf of many when I say that we Europeans are envious, in a certain sense, of the vastness and sheer beauty of the North American landscapes. Here, there’s really nothing comparable to the forests of British Columbia, the deserts in Arizona or the canyons in Colorado. Nevertheless, I strongly believe, for direct, personal experience, Europe is actually very rich with opportunities for a landscaper looking for pristine sceneries and untouched wild areas.

If you ask Americans—as well as Germans or Spanish—what they know of Italy, well, they will answer Rome, Venice, Naples.… Those with a twist for the landscape will think of the amazing, but strongly humanized, rural sceneries of Tuscany. Many less of them will tell you something about the Alps, the Mont Blanc or Matterhorn, or the Dolomites. Nonetheless, Europe is incredibly rich with fantastic natural beauty. The coasts of Normandy, Brittany and Cornwall represent a patrimony of incomparable beauty. And Finland with its uncountable lakes surrounded by wild forests of conifers, or Sweden with the thousand and more fjords, or the forests of central and eastern Europe.…


Where Eagles Dare. Grand Canyon portion of the Gorges du Verdon, Alpes des Haute Provence, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France. The Verdon River canyon is a must-visit place. It’s 60 kilometers long and 700 to 800 meters deep, with huge vertical sandstone and limestone walls and fantastic spots at every corner. This image is stitched together from seven vertical takes.

There’s a part of my photographic work that I could refer to as “missionary,” where the mission consists of contributing to improving the awareness of the great variety of natural beauties Italy and other European countries have to offer. It’s really funny and rewarding when someone looking at my pictures comments, a bit surprised: “Italy? I thought it was Canada!”

My favourite places to photograph are in the western Alps, primarily because I know them very well. I was born at their feet and spent every single moment I could up there since I was a child. The Alps are really a world apart, with their woods, lakes, glaciers and majestic peaks. I never get tired of hiking up there. At every corner, there’s something new to be discovered. It’s a kind of physical need for me, being up there and just living in communion with nature.

See more of Paolo De Faveri’s photography at www.paolodefaveri.com

12 Comments

    Great article! It’s is so true that Europeans don’t appreciate landscape photography very high. Althought there are many great photographers out there in Europe too.. as you can see =)

    Last summer I met a group of young campers from The Netherlands in Nova Scotia. They had been traveling through New England and the Canadian Atlantic Maritimes. They were amazed at the vast stretches of uncultivated land that was so much in contrast with their homeland. In North America, we are so fortunate to have so much subject matter with which to work. Dewitt Jones tells us to look for the beauty everywhere, even is the smallest places.

    “The grass is always greener on the other side…” Living in Arizona’s desert and mountain regions, I never tire of photographing landscape and like to include lots of wildlife–javelina, rattlesnakes, coyotes, buzzards–because we have an abundance. But I am intrigued by locations in Europe. To me, it matters not that the scene may have been captured by hundreds before me; it SEEMS like I’m the first at the time I take the photo. It’s unique to me and I hope I convey that in my photographs.

    Good article.

    I think this is a really helpful article. I’m from Arizona but have spent about half my time in Europe the last two years and I resonate with the observations of the European photographers. There are many beautiful area, but the scale and nature are just different. I love Arizona but I also love Europe and especially the interaction of the people and the landscape. So thanks for the article.

    I have to agree that this is a great article. I am also intrigued by some of the comments about scale. Whilst this is true I don?۪t believe it?۪s the reason for the success or otherwise of Landscape Photography in Europe. Landscape is possibly the most popular subject choice of UK photographers in my experience. There is regular demand for me to give talks on Landscape as a subject from the Camera Clubs in my region of the UK and I suspect this is reflected elsewhere also. I believe the reason you don?۪t see many European Landscape Photographers is that there is no significant demand to generate income so it isn?۪t a viable route.

    If you have never experienced the Lake District in the North West of England or the Highlands of Scotland then you haven?۪t lived as a Landscape Photographer.

    Great to see an article dedicated to European landscape photography, sad to see it in an American magazine. I really miss this kind of articles in Dutch/Belgian photography magazins and in my experience it is a less appreciated form of photography as an art form ( “anyone can do it” mentality). In my opinion scale is certainly not the decisive factor in landscape photography – too big and the landscape is just so overwhelming you’ll be really hard pressed to capture it in a picture. You jsut have to try to keep looking with fresh eyes, even when you visit a spot for the umteenth time.

    Really enjoyed looking through this article, picked it up from the forums on ephotozine.com

    There’s no doubt that scale does play a big part in our work over here in the UK, it’d be interesting to see some more work featured from other landscapers from Europe and to read other users opinions on it.

    jk

    It’s nice to see some coverage of the European photography scene within a US magazine. I think in recent years, since the explosion of internet base photo forums, there has been a greater appreciation on both sides of the pond of each others works. I myself am a great admirer of David Wards work, and was lucky enough a year to spend a day with him on a small workshop run from, another fine UK photographers gallery in Oban, called Richard Childs, & on that course I learned more in a few hours than I did with months or years pouring over books. Maybe our transatlantic tastes in photography are like our differing tastes in music 😉 and as long as you have a wide appreciation of both, our photography will be all the better for that.

    Thankyou for the infomation on high ISOs. I have always been afraid to go to high because of grain or flat color, but now I have more trust and will try to use them when needed

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