Photoscapes is a selection of works presenting various approaches to contemporary landscape photography, including traditional documentation, digital alteration, constructed tableaus and video.
Since its inception, and from Daguerreotype to digital, photography has focused on the world around us. It has been used to capture, present and preserve images of places we know and have never known. Landscape has been a genre of its own since the backgrounds of allegorical paintings came to the fore in the 17th century. Landscape photography followed in the paths of painting, and for the longest time, as it often still does, succumbed to the Romantic sublime of the vista, as indicated in the naming and framing of the "viewfinder" and then notion of the "Picturesque".
Those behind the camera foresaw and froze what we wished to see with subtle poetry and great awe. Some were objective documentary recorders, and others visionary interpreters. While perhaps there was always the science, as well as the art of photography, it was only relatively of late that some practitioners were considered fine Artists. The narrowly defined difference between "photographer" and "artist" continues to diminish, as well as the division between photography galleries and art galleries, which poses the question that, besides intention and purpose, whether it is more the medium, the message or the context that separates them.
In America, Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) was an award-winning pioneer in capturing the beauty of the Western wilderness, but died in relative obscurity. Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946) brought the impressions and expressions of photography into the urbane salon of galleries and collectability.
From National Geographic and Sierra Club calendars we saw pictures of our environs and environment. However, by the 1970's, with the everyday vernacular of the "Kodak Moment" and with the influence of new color, new work and the extraordinary of the ordinary, landscapes, cityscapes and all the in-between-scapes began to depict more of the social landscape--a cultural psychology of place. It is in the landscape as metaphor that we can see reflections of ourselves.
If with a wave of the hand or the magic of chemistry, what we see in a photograph has always been manipulated from behind a curtain, and often the scene is staged to begin with. The objectivity of the lens and integrity of the print has always been mediated by the eye and craft of the photographer. Now, with high definition clarity and digital dexterity, one can Photoshop each pixel to blur what is real and what is not. Photography and new media processes will continue to guide and define our perceptions of what we see and know.
DOUG HALL (b. 1944, lives/works San Francisco) was first recognized as an influential video and video installation artist with works in important museum collections. Since the late 1980's Hall has concentrated on large-scale photography investigating the visual structure of how we experience spaces and the cultural conditioning of how we understand places. Hall's seductive photographs address how pictorial strategies can affect the way we see and perceive ourselves in the world. Along with his German peers, Hall was early in digitally manipulating work. He is not at all hesitant to use new technology as an extension of the camera and to acknowledge as such. The works from his dramatic Public Places series in this exhibition are carefully considered and laboriously rendered composites of several photographs in order to better present what Hall sees and wants us to experience.
KIM KEEVER's (b. 1955, lives/works in New York City) mysterious and painterly photographs represent a continuation of the landscape tradition, as well as an evolution of the genre. Referencing the Romanticism of the Hudson River School and 19th-century photography of the American West, they are imbued with a sense of the sublime; however, they also show a subversive side that deliberately acknowledges their contemporary contrivance and conceptual artifice. Keever creates his universes and controls their fictitious environments by constructing miniature topographies in a 200-gallon glass tank, which is then filled with water. These dream-like worlds are brought to life with colored lights and the dispersal of pigment, producing ephemeral atmospheres that he must quickly photograph with his large-format camera.
FRANK BREUER (b. 1963, lives/works Cologne) photographs the formal relationships of industrial, commercial and urban spaces. His modest-sized photographs provide a carefully composed look at our banal built environment that may otherwise be easily overlooked. The photographs on view document phone poles and lines in small town America. Breuer typically produces works in a series of subjects, and studied under Bernd Becher in the mid-1990s who, along with his wife Hilla, are considered the "parents" of contemporary photographic typologies. His works are traditionally photographed and printed with the utmost attention to detail and consistency.
GREGORY CREWDSON (b. 1962, lives/works New York City) is internationally recognized for his staged photographs of noirish suburban scenes that combine a documentary style with the directorial sensibilities of movie making. He was one of the first artists to work with intricately made tableau models to create quasi-narrative film still-like scenarios. The works in the exhibition are from his early and pivotal Natural Wonder series, which were included in the landmark1991 exhibition "Pleasures and Terrors in Domestic Comfort" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. These works have a hyper-real artificiality and taxidermied theatricality and offer birds eyes views into the everyday, but dreamlike mysteries of nature that are always hidden nearby.
LYNN GEESAMAN (b. 1938, lives/works Minneapolis) has long been acclaimed for her highly formal landscape photographs of highly formal landscapes, or landscaping. Although much landscape photography seizes upon the untamed world of nature and the wild, the origins of the word "landscape" is the Dutch,landschap meaning a sheaf, a patch of cultivated ground. We have always tried to control and shape nature to conform to our sense of a manicured beauty, as long manifested in gardens and parks. Geesaman's graphic compositions of sculpted topiaries and groomed walkways are balanced by the softness and silence of her exquisite printing to make for a welcome escape into a utopia of orderly calm and tranquility.
MICHAEL KENNA (b.1953, lives/works Seattle) is a widely accomplished photographer whose intimate and spare black & white landscapes with an ethereal light are often achieved by photographing at dawn or at night with exposures of up to 10 hours. Steeped in the traditions of subject, composition and printing, Keena's poetic images offer a refined Zen-like balance of dark and light, detail and atmosphere to achieve the true beauty of the photographic medium.
JEFF CHIEN-HSING LIAO (b. 1977, Taiwan, lives/works New York City) makes panoramic overviews of neighborhoods in the borough of Queens, as connected via the #7 train. They are composites of multiple shots made at the same location and taken over a period of time that are then seamed together with digital technology. "By joining the pieces together in post-production," Liao says, "I can best represent the atmosphere of time and give both panoramic and detailed representation of the environment." It is with this approach that he exposes the cultural landscape and diversity of life in the city.
JOHN PFAHL (b. 1939, lives/works Buffalo) is a long established and respected photographer who was included in the influential 1984 book "New Color/New Work". Pfahl knows well and appreciates the history of landscape art. His photographs reference 19th century aesthetics and its influence on the way the landscape is apprehended today. Pfahl pays particular homage to American landscape painters and photographers, especially the Hudson River School and the Luminists, even visiting and portraying some of the same sites. Though his pictures may include cities in the distance or even nuclear plants on the horizon, he embraces a timelessness, a stillness and a transcendental sense of the Arcadian.
JEM SOUTHAM (b. 1950, lives/works Exeter, England) is one of the UK's leading photographers, renowned for his highly detailed color landscapes. His trademark is the patient observation of changes at a single location over many months or years. He observes the balance between nature and man's intervention. The Pond at Upton Pyne series charts the fate of a village pond transformed by successive periods of neglect and attempts at landscaping. These countryside images reveal the vestigial attempts in maintaining the bucolic and pastoral in our modern day lives.
ROGER WELCH (b. 1946, lives/works New York City) is considered a pioneer conceptual, multi-media and installation artists and has shown in museums worldwide. His work often focuses on time, memory, and universal personal experiences. One from a recent series of videoscapes, his "Hudson River", 2005-06, on view was videotaped on the bank of the river in upstate New York just north of Olana, the former home of painter Frederic Church. Presented on a wall-mounted flat screen, his slowly repeating footage of a day of the river as seen (and heard) from its shore seamlessly conflates morning into night to make it appear that time stands still in this moving picture of majestic simplicity.