‘The more they [places] are photographed the more soul they seem to accumulate.’ I thought that this quote by John Pfahl (1997) – ‘Introductions to Permutations on the Picturesque’, was true about picturesque places in so much as: the more popular they become, the more vibrancy and character they begin to possess. However, I didn’t think this told the whole story, at least in some of the (very) popular places. My reasoning behind this was how these places’ landscapes have been and are being affected. Detrimentally, is one way to describe the large-scale erosion of footpaths and tourist ‘hotspots’ at some heavily frequented National Parks for example.
Maybe I could implement this in my own photography, where I could photograph this erosion as a form of (natural) land art. Here, composition would be key in getting a message across but the question for me and the eventual viewer perhaps, was: what message? It might be possible, through composition, to depict the landscape how the photographer wants it to be seen and to make certain statements about the place this way. The statement I would be attempting to make could be: are the effects on the landscape detrimentally affecting the beauty of tourist hotspots? Here, a conundrum could be in play; where if no tourists frequented these places, the places might lose their vibrancy and character (their ‘soul’) and monetary funds but become less worn down and retain their beauty. Coincidentally, not so many people would photograph them because they remain… Since photography is often full of conundrums, there could be a possibility for the photographs to mirror this conundrum.
This raises questions about whether the landscape or the photograph is more important… It seems to culminate in a debate over whether beauty (in the likes of picture-postcard places), affects art of those places, because of over saturation of the same kind of photograph being taken repeatedly.
If the landscape is changed by being picturesque, does it simultaneously lose some or all of its value? In my opinion, landscapes are more beautiful when they are pure and unadulterated in nature. By tourists and/or photographers taking photographs in multitude of these popular picturesque scenes, do the early photographs become less valuable through over saturation?
For me, there exist two stances on postcards’ place or value in today’s society. One is to carry over the legacy of the picturesque and idealisms of certain places, while the other is more to act as a way of documenting the ‘important’ and coincidentally desirable places of the world as known by people around it. What constitutes these places as important or desirable for a photographer however, is a good question and I would attempt to answer it in the following way.
When I first started the landscape part of the course, I imagined I would be taking these idealised, picturesque shots a lot and in the process come away with some beautiful and perhaps meaningful shots. I’ve since come to realise such shots would, typically, be your expected postcard type photographs. Moreover, these beautiful and popular photographs aren’t the only possibility when creating landscape photographs.
If I was to find hidden or less-obvious viewpoints, which were more subjective than a typical postcard view, then it might be possible to mitigate the fact I was a tourist/outsider to a place. Also, if I helped or was influential in creating the landscape in any way, then I would be even more of an ‘insider’; although this is often easier said than done. However, as Richard Long and his land art for example show, it is possible. Also, because the land art would intervene with the landscape, to some extent, this could be carried out in settings, which weren’t ‘typical postcard views’. What this might mean would be that these views could become more interesting than they were as well as having more meaning.
For photography not to turn up ‘late’ to a scene and simply record the ‘aftermath’, it should intervene at some point, with the landscape as it is being created. This would be different from photographing ‘action’ on the battlefield, as it happens, by photojournalists for example. The photojournalists would probably not be intervening beforehand or recording afterwards but rather documenting in the present, where their efforts might hopefully make a difference soon afterwards.
In so far as people, ‘photographers’ or not, over-photographing certain viewpoints, because they are beautiful spots, in my mind it creates a harsher landscape overall. However, without people photographing these beautiful places, there would be less documentation of how the place had changed; although you could argue it wouldn’t change but then how would you know!
Pfahl, J. (1997: n.p.). In. Wells, L. (2011). Land Matters – Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 6 Salem Road, London, W2 4BU, Page 60.