A Short History of the Landscape Photographer
What the Landscape Photographer Does
A Landscape Photographer portrays different spaces within the physical world (Wikipedia).
These spaces might be vast, seemingly unending. One might be a view of Death Valley. Another could be the Pacific receding from a rocky Central California coast. At other times the spaces and the subjects might be miniscule, almost microscopic. We might see a landscape of a single desert flower. The photographer might portray the patterns created by tiny fossils in the ancient rocks of a tide pool.
The landscape photographer typically captures the presence of nature. He or she usually avoids man-made objects. Anything made by man is often considered an obstruction. There are, of course, exceptions. Lighthouses are a particular favorite to include in a shorescape.
The landscape photographer wants to convey both a sense of place and a mood. The mood might be evoked by the place. It might be due to one or more elements of the scene. A rocky shore might convey a different emotion if the shore is depicted at sunrise or sunset rather than at mid-day. The feeling would be different on a foggy morning, or during a fierce storm.
History of Landscape Art prior to Photography
The conscious creation of the landscape as a work of art did not, of course, start with photography.
The ancient Greeks and Romans created wall paintings and gardenscapes. Livia, wife of the Roman emperor Augustus, had a summer villa north of Rome. In one semi-underground room, a fresco of a garden covered all four walls.
The garden was idealized rather than overly realistic. It depicted a flowering evergreen garden. Every element was artfully arranged. Different plants which bloom at different times of the year flowered simultaneously in this fresco. Birds in different poses were present throughout (Art of Fresco). See this YouTube clip on Livia’s villa.
Landscape painting fell into disrepute until the European Renaissance. It did not again become popular for homes until the early 1500s, beginning with the Dutch artists. They were followed by the French and Italian classical painters in the 1600s and 1700s.
Originally the painters depicted contrived scenes. Every rock, tree and other detail was carefully positioned for balance. The painters created a peaceful, idealized pastoral mood. (ref http://www.getty.edu/education/teachers/classroom_resources/curricula/landscapes/background1.html)
Toward the end of the 1700s, the historic landscape, based on real nature, gained some acceptance. But not until the late 19th century did the emphasis shift from an idealized version of nature to plein air painting. Here the art more realistically reflected the actual rather than an idealized scene.
Early Landscape Photography
The early landscape photographers followed the landscape painters. Some depicted isolated elements of nature. they might image the end of a row of shrubs, a stand of trees in isolation from its surroundings. Others sought to either realistically or romantically portray either small or large scenes.
In the late 19th century, tourism became a major industry. Landscape photographers throughout Europe, Great Britain and America catered to tourists with prints of local landscapes. The better photographers used light in the same way their counterparts in oil and watercolor did. They used light to create the illusion of depth. They consciously brought out graduated shades.
In the English upper classes, landscape photography grew in popularity during the second half of the 19th century. Landscape photographers worked in the warm, light months. They attended and participated in photography exhibitions in the winter months.
By the early to mid-20th century, landscape photographers became well known and respected as artists in the United States. They were influential in the creation of the national park system as we know it now.
Ansel Adams was an American photographer and environmentalist best known for his black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West. He is particularly admired for his portrayals of Yosemite National Park. Today’s visitor to Yosemite can find reproductions of his work and books featuring him in Yosemite’s bookstore. When I visited Yosemite a few year ago, I was delighted to be able to attend an outdoor biographical movie on Ansel Adams and his images.
Edward Weston was another landscape photographer who was extremely well regarded. He also featured other topics as well as landscapes. You can still purchase prints from his negatives. Prices range from $3,000 to $18,000. See http://www.edward-weston.com/edward_weston.htm.
Later on, landscape photographer Galen Rowell continued the tradition of creating stunningly beautiful and artistic landscape images. See http://www.mountainlight.com/.