Beauty in Photography – Adams

One quote in this book by Robert Adams really stood out for me.

“Landscape pictures offer 3 verities:

  • Geography
  • Autobiography
  • Metaphor

Geography alone can be boring, autobiography alone can be trivial and metaphor sometimes dubious. But taken together in the best work, the three kinds of information strengthen and reinforce an affection for life”.

I found this fascinating, not just from the three aspects that make up a landscape image but also how each of these can individually be poor. It helps to explain why some landscapes just don’t seem to work, but that when all combine well then the result can be compelling.

I had often thought of landscape in terms of geography and even sometimes in terms of metaphor, but I hadn’t previously given any real consideration to landscape as biography. I need to start to think more about what I am trying to put into it rather than simply make a record of a scene.

There is an excellent review and summary of the book in The New York Times (Grundberg 1981).

ADAMS, R, (1996). Beauty in Photography. New York: Aperture.

GRUNDBERG, A., 1981. The Point of Photographs. New York Times Online. [Accessed 24/07/2017]

Exercise 1.6: The Contemporary Abyss

What is the “sublime”? Lucie-Smith (2003 p208) defines it as “connected with ideas of a limitlessness, extraordinariness, grandeur and sometimes terror”; Chilvers (2009 p609) considers it to be “associated with ideas of awe and vastness”. It is at this point (circa 18th century) that Morley (2010) starts his essay and continues to describe the sublime, and its changing definition. He then goes on to question just how relevant the original definitions are today.

He states that, due to a renewed interest in the sublime, “we now have a rather confusing number of uses of the word”. He believes that the contemporary definition of the sublime would be “mostly about immanent transcendence; that is, it is about a transformative experience, understood as occurring within the here and now”.

Towards the end of the essay, considering this new definition of the sublime, he says “it is not so much the desert, the stormy sea or the mountain range that serve as subject matter for a contemporary sublimity as the mind-boggling power of science and the infinite spaces created by digitalisation”.

This is reflected in an article by Smith (2003) who considers the writing of Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe who believes that “the sublime cannot exist in nature today, he claims that the sublime can only inhabit, or be expressed by, technology – as technology is limitless and yet to be apprehended”.

It seems to me that a contemporary view of the sublime has moved away from a traditional awe and vastness depicted in landscape painting and is now more concerned with the power of science and technology to create an “immanent transcendence”.


In terms of choosing a work that explores the changing nature of the sublime I’ve selected Sky Garden by Richard Rauschenberg from his Stoned Moon series. I think that this image not only meets the original criteria of sublime but that it is also consistent with the changing nature proposed by Morley.

The print is about technological achievement, the moon landings, but is more than just this. It incorporates elements of nature, technology, science and achievement. It is about an immense moment in human achievement, man’s voyage to the moon.

Coppel et al (2017 p72) quotes Rauschenberg’s words of 16 July 1969 when he witnessed the launch of the rocket that would put a man on the moon “POWER OVER POWER JOY PAIN ECSTASY, THERE WAS NO INSIDE, NO OUT. THEN BODILY TRANSCENDING A STATE OF ENERGY. APOLLO 11 WAS AIRBORNE”.

The words clearly convey the sense of the sublime that Rauschenberg witnessed at take-off. But does his print convey that sense? I would argue that it does for several reasons.

  • It was ground breaking work, at the time it was the largest hand-pulled lithograph ever made.
  • Rauschenberg combines the technical elements of the rockets design and construction with observations of the natural surroundings of Cape Kennedy at the time (trees, birds, et cetera)
  • the colours create a sense of reaching from the red-brown earth to the blue skies
  • faces emerge from the print, of technicians at Cape Kennedy, confirming the human achievement displayed
  • Coppell et al (2017 page 73) describe how “a bright white diagram of a Saturn V rocket is screen-printed over an explosive red blast of human faces, machine parts and brushwork”.


This series of 33 lithographs, of which Sky Garden is one, is called “Stoned Moon”,  Coppel et al (2017 p73) describe this as a title that is meant to evoke delirium.

I saw a copy of Sky Garden in the British Museum exhibition, the American Dream, Pop to the Present. It is a huge print, that draws you in, demanding you examine it carefully for all its constituent elements. One that, to me, meets both the traditional and the contemporary definitions of the sublime.

The image is subject to copyright restrictions, a copy can be seen here Sky Garden but, as with many artworks, it really needs to be seen full scale!





CHILVERS, I., 2009. The Oxford dictionary of art and artists. 4th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

COPPEL, S., DAUNT, C., TALLMAN, S., SELIGMAN, I., RAMKALAWON, J. and BRITISH MUSEUM, 2017. The American dream: pop to the present. London: Thames & Hudson, in collaboration with the British Museum.

LUCIE-SMITH, E., 2003. The Thames and Hudson dictionary of art terms. New edn. London: Thames & Hudson.

MORLEY, S., 2010 Staring into the contemporary abyss. Accessed [19/07/2017].

SMITH, L., 2003: Beautiful, Sublime [Homepage of University of Chicago], [Online]. Available:  Accessed [19/07/2017].

Exercise 1.5: Visualising Assignment Six: Transitions

I stated in an earlier post how I was intrigued by comments made by David Hockney about photography in general and landscape in particular.

In an article for The Guardian, he discusses with Martin Gayford what turns a picture into a masterpiece. The landscape painting they talk about is Monet’s Sunset on the Seine in Winter (1880).

Hockney says “When a human being is looking at a scene the questions are: What do I see first? What do I see second? What do I see third? A photograph sees it all at once – in one click of the lens from a single point of view – but we don’t. And it’s the fact that it takes us time to see it that makes the space.

Renaissance European perspective has a vanishing point, but it does not exist in Japanese and Chinese painting. And a view from sitting still, from a stationary point, is not the way you usually see landscape; you are always moving through it. If you put a vanishing point anywhere, it means you’ve stopped. In a way, you’re hardly there.”

This concept of always moving through a landscape started me thinking about what I would like to try for this assignment. It takes me back to the first exercise on what I think a landscape is, and where I gave what is a very traditional view and perspective. Is it a view from a particular point at a particular moment in time?

Hockney had tried to overcome some of the limitations of single point perspective with his collages, such as Pearblossom Highway, where the overall image is built up from many different photographs, all taken from a slightly different perspective. Many of his landscape paintings contain multiple perspectives on the scene.

But what about this concept of movement – do we only view a landscape from a single point, stop looking and then move on to another point take look from a different perspective. Or do we build up a picture of the landscape from a mass of different images, some close-up, others in the distance.

This made me think about how I would like to represent a local meadow in an image. It is an area I go to frequently when taking the dog for a walk. It is probably best described as an unremarkable scene, but is it a landscape and what makes it so? Surely landscape doesn’t have to be beautiful or sublime, but even the most ordinary can be interesting if you consider what is influencing your view. When on my dog walks I realised that would look at the overall scene, but that as I moved through the landscape my attention would be drawn to individual aspects in it. These would change over time and certainly be affected by the seasons.

So I thought how could I represent this? I thought initially of a montage ala Hockney but wasn’t sure that this would necessarily work so well, one of the essences of the success of works such as Pearblossom Highway is that it adds texture to a single scene and challenges your perspectival view of that scene. What I wanted to do was present an image that summed up the individual element that constituted a landscape to me at a particualr time as I moved around it.

I decided to try a collage of the scene, this is my first attempt.



It doesn’t fully work yet, I need to build it up into something more cohesive, but it is a start. I will definitely try to carry on working on the concept – but I will probably take some more ‘traditional’ landscape views as well as a back-up!



I have been looking for locations for the more ‘traditional’ view and I think I have discovered one near to where I live.


This view should allow me to show the seasons with the changing crops in the foreground as well as the foliage on the trees. The sky and lighting can be different.

This was just a preliminary exercise, what I need to do now is decide on the composition, focal length and time of day and weather conditions under which to take the photograph to show the changes over the year.


2nd EDIT

I have now tried taking the photograph from different angles with different focal lengths, but I’m now having second thoughts about this as a view – just how compelling is it?

If I do persist with this then I think that it needs the wider view, I don’t think that the first shot above really works. I might still try it and wait for the right lighting conditions or I may try elsewhere. This view has the advantage of being really close but I need to see how it will look when the light is right.

3rd EDIT

From the experience of undertaking Assignment 1 I realise a lot more planning is going to be needed for the final assignment, so I have established a separate post for Assignment 6 planning

Paul Nash exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre

I took the opportunity of the proximity of the Sainsbury Centre to visit the Paul Nash exhibition there. I was aware of his work although mainly the wartime landscape scenes, so I was keen to see the fall variety of his work. As this is landscape photography course, however,  I will concentrate here on the landscape paintings of Nash.

One of the first paintings to be seen within the exhibition is the Menin Road

© IWM (Art.IWM ART 2242)

Mark Hudson in the Telegraph (1) describes this painting as "undeniably evocative, with its tiny figures picking their way across a battle-ravaged wilderness, but it feels like a calculatedly monumental work, constructed from small details". 

The gallery notes explain how Nash "Uses geometric form to unify the composition” and “he discovered a new artistic language of powerfully simplified forms which both conveyed the appearance of ravaged landscapes and suggested violent emotional experiences".

I did find it a very moving work speaking of the futility and barbarism of war. But I found the ironically titled We are Making a New World even more evocative. 

© IWM (Art.IWM ART 2242)

Hudson describes this painting as one "in which the sun rises through red mist onto a starkly-patterned morass of shell-holes. Even in the midst of battle, Nash’s feel for the rhythms of landscape didn’t desert him”.

The gallery notes refer to the "disorienting effect of geometric shapes” and describe the painting as a  "powerfully symbolic statement about the impact of war. Rather than showing the catastrophic loss of human life, this is signified by the dead trees and shattered landscape illuminated by the sun rising over blood red clouds".

These were two paintings where the title landscape does not do full credit to what the artist is trying to achieve, in both of them whilst portraying a particular view at a particular time, in this case during the First World War, the paintings speak more about the futility and barbarism of armed conflict.

Nash’s most famous war painting is Totes Meer (Dead Sea)

Paul Nash, Totes Meer (Dead Sea),1940–1, Photo © Tate,
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
Original image can be seen at

where the smashed remains of German aeroplanes morph into waves beating against the beach. As Laura Cumming says in the Guardian (2) "They pack the painting like the icebergs of Scott’s doomed expedition to Antarctica, and yet they seem even older, appearing beneath the flight of an owl and a crescent moon. The picture was painted in 1940-1, but it could be set in a nuclear winter". 

What was particularly interesting here is that the curators had placed the painting next to a photograph, taken by Nash, of the aeroplanes at Cowley dump, so you could see the influence of this on the composition of his painting.

Paul Nash, Black and white negative, wrecked aircraft, Cowley Dump: 1940, Photo © Tate,
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
See image on the Tate website at:

But it was some of the other landscapes which caught my attention, in particular his seascapes As Michael Prodger says in the New Statesman (3) "His seaside was a haunting, stark place: the waves held back by the angular sea wall … suggested the trenches and no-man’s land, and in Winter Sea he painted the water as a mass of metallic shards in a green the colour of putrefaction. It is an image of utter desolation”.

One area which gave me cause to think about how I might represent such things in my photography was in The Dreaming Trees section of the exhibition where the gallery notes describe Nash’s earliest works where he "combined mysterious figures with landscape settings to evoke a supernatural world, and explored the dreamlike atmosphere of the moonlit night landscape ". Apparently Nash associated the landscape at night with visionary experiences. Elsewhere in the exhibition the gallery notes  describe "Many of the factors that characterise Nash’s symbolic approach to landscape … paths representing choices, trees that stand in for the human figure, and water for oblivion”.

In one of the later rooms “Unseen Landscapes” Nash is quoted as talking of "the landscapes I have in mind are not part of the unseen world in a psychic sense, nor are they part of the unconscious. They belong to the world that lies, visibly, about us. They are unseen merely because they are not perceived ". This was taken from Paul Nash "Unseen Landscapes" in country life magazine of May 1938 and there is more detail on The Tate Website.

I was particularly taken by Nash’s night-time landscapes with their menacing presences, such as The Cliff to the North, this is something that I would like to explore further as I make my way through this course.




What is Landscape?

This seems a very basic question and is something I thought a little about in the first exercise for the course – just what is a landscape?

Researching it a little further, the Encyclopaedia of Art History – – has a concise history of Landscape Art. It states that it was an established genre in Chinese art by the 4th century, but it wasn’t until after the Renaissance era that it became established in the west – prior to that it had just been a background to the main theme of the painting. “In simple terms, until the early/mid-sixteenth century, landscape was included in pictures purely as a setting for human activity”. Hall (2008) comments that “Italian Renaissance painting sometimes uses the landscape background to reinforce a moral allegory – e.g. dark clouds on one side of the painting, clear sky on the other representing good and evil.

Describing how landscape painting developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, the  Encyclopaedia of Art History article includes  states “the real distinction between landscape as ornament and landscape as an autonomous genre, is not the presence of absence of human figures, but rather their size and function. When foreground figures take up most of the picture surface the landscape is mere background”. It continues “In true landscape painting, human figures – whether dispersed or foreground – exist merely to indicate scale and evoke the viewers empathy”. It goes on to describe how landscape became popular in the 19th century, becoming “a major pictorial genre for artists, patrons and collectors”. The article continues with descriptions of the Classical and Dutch schools and the influence these had on English Landscape painting. The article contrasts the work of Constable and Turner and describes developments up to the modern day with the work of Ben Nicholson and David Hockney.

Harris (2006 p175) describes how, by the 18th century, Landscape painting had become “elevated into an art form regarded as capable of conveying, symbolically, important religious beliefs, social ideologies and aesthetic values”. It became more idealised making the scene “”fit an idea of what should be shown, and how it should be shown”.

Interestingly he then goes on to describe the changes that occurred in the 20th century when landscape “became conjoined with processes of abstraction and subjective expressiveness”.He cites as an example of this Rothko’s late pink paintings as “suggestive of moonscapes” and that the flat bands of colour have been read as “symbols for Rothko’s interior ‘mental landscape’”. The painting can be seen at

or at

Harris (2006 p176) concludes his article with consideration of works by Jeff Wall:

Dead Troops Talk (a vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986 from 1992 and also The Storyteller from 1986.

Dead Troops Talk can be seen at

The Storyteller can be seen at

Harris considers that Wall splices “a modern form of history painting with representations of ugly landscapes reminiscent of those found, for instance, in contemporary landfill sites or on the dreary suburban fringes of cities”.

My thoughts

The Encyclopaedia of Art History article was interesting and informative on the development of landscape painting. But it was the paragraph in Harris (2008) that gave me most food for thought. Would I describe a Rothko as a landscape painting, probably not (in fact I would likely have dismissed the idea out of hand before reading the article), and what about the concept of it being part of Rothko’s “interior mental landscape”? But what this does is challenge my view of what a landscape is and how it is formed.

I found the comments on Jeff Wall’s images equally stimulating, I think that The Storyteller can easily be placed within a landscape tradition, Dead Troops Talking less easily. But I find the concept of splicing “a modern form of history painting with representations of ugly landscapes” a fascinating one. Does this preclude it being described as a landscape, is it a ‘part-landscape image’, is there even such a thing.

What this has done is broaden my conception of what a landscape image can or should be. In an earlier post I described Hockney’s views on the limitations of photography for landscape work and said that I would be interested in exploring this further. This research has taken my interest in this to a new level.

HALL, J., 2008. Dictionary of subjects and symbols in art. 2nd edn. Boulder: Westview Press.

HARRIS, J., 2006. Art history : the key concepts. London: Routledge.


Exercise 1.4: What is a photographer?

Photography and  Photography and Artistic–Photography

De Zayas starts with a firm statement “Photography is not art. It is not even an art. Art is the expression of the conception of an idea. Photography is the plastic verification of a fact. The difference between Art and Photography is the essential difference which exists between the idea and nature”.

The essay is then divided into two parts – the first a discussion around the role of art “Art has abandoned its original purpose”. He considers the influence of art from other cultures on the modern artists of his day for example Picasso. He continues to state that “imaginative element has been eliminated from art” and that “all the elements for creative imagination have been exhausted”.
He developed his argument through a discussion of form and states “The reality of Form can only be transcribed through a mechanical process, in which the craftsmanship of man does not enter as the principal factor. There is no other process to accomplish this than photography.”

He then makes a distinction between art and photography “Art presents to us what we may call the emotional or intellectual truth; Photography the material truth. Art has taught us to feel emotions in the presence of a work that represents the emotions experienced by the artist. Photography teaches us to realise and feel our own emotions”.


De Zayas develops the second part of the essay with the statement “Photography is not Art,but photographs can be made to be Art”. And he then differentiates between what he defines as photography and artistic-photography “The difference between Photography and Artistic-Photography is that, in the former, man tries to get at that objectivity of Form which generates the different conceptions that man has of Form, while the second uses the objectivity of Form to express a preconceived idea in order to convey an emotion”.

He then makes what, to me, is a very contentious statement “Photography, and only Photography, started man on the road of the cognition of the condition of the phenomena of Form”.(For De Zayas photography is all about form).

He then describes the work of two different photographers, Steichen and Stieglitz with Steichen as an artist and Stieglitz as an experimentalist. “It would be difficult to say which of the two sides of Photography is the more important. For one is the means by which man fuses his idea with the natural expression of Form, while the other is the means by which man tries to bring the natural expression of Form to the cognition of his mind”.



I find De Zayas’ arguments interesting, but have difficulty with his basic tenet which is that only photography can truly represent form. this is a very “formalist” argument which seems to consider that only the shapes, lines et cetera of an image are important in conveying its message, the context both social and environmental, within which the photograph was taken, seems to be excluded from this argument. I find this a very difficult argument to sustain.

His distinction between artistic photography and experimental photography is, to me , a lot more interesting . I can see the arguments that he is making although once again I do not necessarily agree with the fact that the distinction between the two depends upon their representation of form .  I do believe that form is important in photography just as it is in painting and other artistic media . However I think it is but one of the elements that make up a compelling image.

Exercise 1.3: Establishing conventions

For this exercise I tried to choose a wide range of landscape paintings, from those depicting daytime scenes to nocturnal ones, most were oils but at least one was watercolour. I also tried to select from across traditions from romantic landscapes to impressionism. These are my comments on the 12 paintings:



Llyn-y-Cau, Cader Idris, by Richard Wilson (1714–1782)


 oil on canvas, 1774, 511 x 73 cm, Tate Britain

Image: Richard Wilson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


This is a painting of Llyn-y-Cau on Cader Idris in North Wales. It is painted in landscape format with a strong composition (according to The Tate website Wilson “heightened the precipice at the rear of the composition (Craig-y-Cau) to create a more simplified and balanced composition”.

There is a pale blue sky behind and the landscape is lit overall with little shadow. The horizon is placed on the centre line of the scene.

There are several figures within the scene but they are very small scale emphasising the mass of the mountain.

The Tate website states that “The ‘discovery’ of such rugged and uncultivated scenery was greatly stimulated by the taste for the sublime: previously it would have seemed only raw and disorderly”.



Landscape in Suffolk by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788)


Oil on Canvas, c1746 and 1750, 660 mm x 950 mm, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Image: Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Again this image is presented in landscape format showing a rural scene with a road meandering through and leading the eye in to the scene.

The clouds formations form a strong part of the landscape which is generally lit overall but with some strong shadow. The horizon is placed on the centre line of the scene.

There are figures on the lower right third of the scene, again they are very small scale emphasising the breadth of the landscape. The painting is also a study of light and how it plays on the scene.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum website describe the “loose brush strokes, swinging shapes, light scattered in irregular spots, and gently coordinated color” of the scene.

To me this painting conveys a peaceful rural scene with hints of danger from the dark shadows and clouds.


Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851)


oil on canvas, 1796, 914 x 1,222 mm, Tate Britain

Image: J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another painting presented in landscape format with the horizon placed on the centre line of the scene.

This is an image of a seascape at night, strongly lit by a full moon. The fishing boat is placed on the lower third of the scene, its scale and fragility emphasised by the size and actions of the waves, that it is set at night enhances the sense of danger within the image. The power of nature is illustrated by the expanse of sea, action of the waves and the mysterious shapes of the rocks in the background. The Tate website describes this as “The sense of the overwhelming power of nature is a key theme of the Sublime. The potency of the moonlight contrasts with the delicate vulnerability of the flickering lantern, emphasising nature’s power over mankind and the fishermen’s fate in particular. The jagged silhouettes on the left are the treacherous rocks called ‘the Needles’ off the Isle of Wight.”


Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)


oil on canvas, c1887, 670 × 920 mm, Courtauld Institute of Art

Image: Paul Cézanne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Again, presented in landscape format, but with no figures in the scene only countryside, buildings and a bridge. This is one of many studies Cezanne made of Mt Ste Victoire. In this image, the mountain view is framed by the tree, the shape of the branches following the contours of the mountain beyond. The undulating horizon is placed mostly on the centre line of the scene.

The Courtauld website states that Cezanne “turns this landscape into a study of form and colour” and that “Cézanne’s simplification of the landscape could be interpreted as a return to an era of balanced, harmonious form rather than complex ornamentation”.

Whilst the painting is a study of form and colour, I think that the overall impression left by the image is of calm and the celebration of the beauty of nature.


The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)


Oil on canvas, 1889, 737 x 921 mm, MoMA, New York

Image: Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A painting in a very different style and with a different impact to the previous images. It is still presented in landscape format and has no figures in the scene only countryside, buildings and a mass of sky. There is a Cypress Tree placed on the left third of the and an horizon placed mostly on the lower part of the image. There is a huge sense of power and movement in the way that the sky has been painted, whereas the village below looks small and simple.

Van Gogh has included symbolism within this image, the MoMA website describing the Cypress tree ”as a bridge between life, as represented by the earth, and death, as represented by the sky, commonly associated with heaven. Cypresses were also regarded as trees of the graveyard and mourning”. It describes how the sky takes up almost three quarters of the scene and appears “turbulent, even agitated, with intensely swirling patterns that seem to roll across its surface like waves”.

The composition is described as “structured by his ordered placement of the cypress, steeple, and central nebulae”.

To me the whole image is a portrayal of the sheer power of nature and the fragility of human existence.



Nocturne in Black and Gold The Falling Rocket by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903)

oil on panel, 1875, 603 × 466 mm, Detroit Institute of Arts
Image: James Abbott McNeill Whistler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another nocturnal image, and unusually, painted in portrait format. The details are very difficult to make out and it is clear that this is not just a simple representation of a scene. The horizon seems very low in the painting and you can just make out shapes of figures at the bottom of the image.

This is a portrayal of a firework display in London in 1875, Floryan (2015) states that “the intangibility, both in appearance and theme, of the oil on panel was deliberate. The questions it conjures, the emotions it evokes, may differ from one viewer to another, and frankly, that’s the point”.

The painting was heavily criticised at the time, not least by John Ruskin who described it as “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”. But, according to Floryan (2015) “Whistler saw his paintings as musical compositions illustrated visually”.

FLORYAN, M., 2015 “Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket,” in Smarthistory, August 9, 2015, accessed July 7, 2017,


Mousehold Heath, Norwich by John Crome (1768–1821)


oil on canvas, c1818-1820, 1098 × 1810 mm, Tate Britain

Image: John Crome [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Back to a more traditional depiction of the countryside, once more in landscape format and with an horizon on the centre line, although the shape of the cloud formation adds a strong diagonal line to the top half of the painting.

As with the Gainsborough earlier, a central road meanders through the centre of the scene, leading the eye to the horizon. There is a small figure, with a dog, on the far right of the image, pointing to the centre of the scene. According to the Tate website “Crome advised a fellow painter ‘Breadth must be attended to… Trifles in Nature must be overlooked’. However, the ‘breadth’ of Crome’s great picture of Mousehold Heath was unacceptable to his contemporaries, and the painting remained unsold”.

The foliage at the front of the painting is rendered in fine detail and to me the impression this painting leaves is a celebration of the wonder of nature. According to the Encyclopaedia of Art History, Crome “gives us the very substance and being of the earth”.



Buckenham Ferry, on the River Yare, Norfolk by Joseph Stannard (1797 – 1830)


oil on panel, 1826, 400 mm x 610 mm, Yale Center for British Art 

Image: Joseph Stannard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Another painting from the Norwich School, this time with the horizon on the lower third of the painting. This image is about the people in the centre as well as the landscape itself. They, and their animals, are portrayed at a much larger scale than in previous paintings, making the viewer interested in what they are doing as well as looking at the environment they occupy. This is also a study of the sky and of the light as it falls on the different parts of the scene.

To me this is a romantic image of a tranquil, unhurried rural scene portraying people within their environment.



Greta bridge by John Sell Cotman (1782–1842)


Watercolour, 1807, 230 × 330 mm, British Museum

Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

A third painting from a Norwich school artist, this time a portrayal of manmade structures (buildings and a bridge) within its natural setting. Again in landscape format, there are no people in this painting, the main focus is the bridge and the water flowing under it.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that Cotman “saw in nature the classic effect of precise, austere pattern and expressed this effect by eliminating detail through controlled, flat washes of cool colour”.

According to the British Museum website in the painting Greta Bridge “The watercolour is built up in distinct patches of restrained colour, held in a precise pattern of tone and line. These are the hallmarks of Cotman’s unique style. Here, the austere geometry of man-made elements is held together by the crisp shadows on the building and bridge. Even the sky is brought into line by a grey horizontal wash, echoing the river surface”.

To me this painting gives the impression of a calm, restrained scene. It is a study of the patterns created by man and the effect of them within their environment.



Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet (1840–1926)


 oil on canvas, 1872, 480 × 630 mm, Musée Marmottan Monet

Image: Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although in landscape format, this image is closer to a square than any others I have looked at so far. The horizon has been set on the upper third of the image with a strong orange sun just above it on the upper right third. Small figures in boats can be made out in the lower and left centre of the scene, but the image mainly gives a placid feel, as the Encyclopaedia of Art History says, “The only evidence of life is the lazy action of the oarsman in the most sharply defined part of the composition”.

Monet’s concern with this painting is the interplay of light rather than any pictorial representation of the scene. The Encyclopaedia of Art History considers Monet’s “vision was entirely that of a landscape painter and his interest mainly in the effects of light rather than in any specific architectural features or the social significance of the manifestations of industry”. It also comments on the composition of the painting “The composition, though simple, like that of most Impressionist paintings, is nevertheless dramatically effective. The indistinct forms of the port run across the canvas, and a diagonal from the left edge through the three small boats emphasizes the positioning of the orange sun, while the middle small boat repeats the sun’s position in the alternative quarter. The effect is a dynamic balance in which the reflection of the sun in the water enlivens the scene”.

To me there is a sense of mysticism about the scene and it is a celebration of the colours and light in nature.



Glacier of Rosenlaui by John Brett 1831–1902


Oil on canvas, 1856, 445 x 419 mm, Tate Gallery London

Image: John Brett [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a painting in the portrait orientation, although quite close to the dimensions of a square. The horizon is place on the upper third of the scene.

There are no people within the scene, and the image seems a topographical study of the rocks and formations, particularly the stones in the foreground. The Tate website concludes “Brett makes a meticulous study of different types of rocks and pebbles, offset by the dense blue-white folds of the glacier itself”.

Indeed, the painting, and Brett’s rendering of the intricate detail of the rocks attracts comment on the website of The Geological Society of London “This assemblage of stones is treated with an almost visionary clarity – so much so that we can even perform a rudimentary identification of the rock types concerned”.

I think that this painting is a detailed, almost photographic, study of the rock formation, but the way in which it has been included within the overall landscape gives it a sense of power and of the sublime.



Passing Storm over the Sierra Nevada by Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902)


Oil on canvas, 1870, 927 x 1397mm, San Antonio Museum of Art

Image: Albert Bierstadt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albert Bierstadt is known for his spectacular rendition of landscapes of the American West. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica his paintings were ”immense in scale and grandiose in effect”. Passing Storm Over the Sierra Nevada is typical of his work with strong colours and dramatic lighting. This scene is rendered in landscape format and there are no figures present.

Bierstadt made sketches on site but finished his paintings in the studio and, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he “freely altered details of landscape to create the effect of awe and grandeur. His colours were applied more according to a formula than from observation: luscious, green vegetation, ice-blue water, and pale, atmospheric blue-green mountains. The progression from foreground to background was often a dramatic one without the softness and subtlety of a middle distance”.

This to me sums up Bierstadt’s landscapes, strong emphasis on the dramatic giving almost unnatural results.




  • Most (although not all) paintings were in landscape rather than portrait orientation
  • Many were studies of light and/or colour
  • None were a simple representation of a scene, all (even the Bierstadt) were seeking to convey a sense of place rather than a topographical or pictorial representation
  • There were similarities in compostion between many of the paintings, a number of them observing the rule of thirds. Whoever the artist though, much thought had gone into the composition
  • Each artist had tried to bring out of the image a particular theme, the play of light in Monet, the musicality of Whistler, the patterns in Cotman, the detail of nature in Brett or the breadth and solidity of Crome for example



The landscape photographs of Roger Fenton come to mind when considering these criteria,

Falls of the Llugwy, at Pont-y-Pair by Roger Fenton (1819-1869)

File:Falls of the Llugwy, at Pont-y-Pair MET DP107958.jpg

Albumen silver print from glass negative, 1857, 358 x 429 mm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Image: RogerFenton [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The lighting and composition of the scene shares much with a number of the landscapes above. According to the Met Museum Timeline of Art History “Fenton possessed a particular sensitivity for the play of light and atmosphere in the natural world”

The Met Museum website describes the image “By photographing from below the level of the upstream river, Fenton immersed himself deeply in the natural elements, intensifying the experience of the falls. The dynamic structure of Fenton’s composition-zigzagging bands of water, rock, vegetation, and sky-is also noteworthy, adding a dynamism to the rushing river while only hinting at the village buildings beyond”.

To me this shares similarities with Brett’s image, the concentration on the rocks at the front giving scale and scope to the landscape beyond. But you also feel immersed in the scene as with the Cotman and many of the others.


The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams (1902-1984)

File:Adams The Tetons and the Snake River.jpg

photograph 1942, National Archives

Image: Ansel Adams [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This shares the drama of the setting and the lighting with Bierstadt, but the composition has much more depth and feels much more open than Passing Storm over the Sierra Nevada.

I think it shares the same concern for the play of light as does Impression: Sunrise albeit in a very different setting and rendered in a completely different fashion.


Hedgerow by Richard Billingham (b 1970)


Image cannot be shown for copyright reasons but can be viewed at

This image shares the same compositional device with the Cezanne, with the tree framing the scene, but the actual scene I think owes more to the style of Constable or Gainsborough in its depiction of a scene.



This was a very interesting exercise. It would have been easy to choose twelve landscapes by renowned artists, all rendered in a similar style, which would have made it easy to list a series of commonalities. But I tried to find a very diverse series of paintings and see what they all had in common. As I stated above, I think the commonalities of great landscape images are:

  • somehow capturing the essence of a scene, whether it be light, colour, patterns, etc
  • the passion of the artist comes through (how many versions of Mt St Victoire did Cezanne paint?), they are not giving a simple pictorial representation, what else are they trying to convey
  •  conveying a sense of place, a unique scene

Exercise 1.2 Photography in the museum or in the gallery

Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View by Rosalind Krauss

At the start, Krauss considers two versions of the same image (Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake), one being an original photograph taken in 1868 by Timothy O’Sullivan; the second being a photolithograph copy of the first. She writes in a very complimentary fashion about the photograph “a model of the mysterious, silent beauty” and contrasts this with the lithograph which she describes as ”an object of insistent visual banality”.

She then goes on to explain her view of why the images are different; the lithograph “belongs to the discourse of geology and, thus, of empirical science”. Whereas she believes the original photograph within one aesthetic discourse demonstrates “exhibitionality”, the potential for display within an art setting.

She then describes the “trans formation of landscape after 1860 into a flattened and compressed experience of space spreading laterally across the surface”. She discusses the role this has in the view of photography as an aesthetic medium. But she then goes on to question whether the interpretation of O’Sullivan’s photo of tufa domes she made earlier was “a retrospective construction designed to secure it as art”. She notes that the images were originally stereoscopic photos and that O’Sullivan himself referred to them as Views and not Landscapes.

She considers an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, organised by Peter Galassi, called “Before Photography”. Galassi was attempting to legitimise photography as an aesthetic tradition in its own right. This legitimisation did not depend on “photographers had pretensions to be artists”. His argument was that “the perspective so prominent in 19th-century outdoor photography – a perspective that tends to flatten, to fragment, to generate ambiguous overlap …. was fully developed by the late 18th century within the discipline of painting”.

Krauss then considers this distinction particularly in relation to the works of Eugene Atget. Is his huge catalogue (oeuvre) of work within the aesthetic or scientific mode? And why – or why not?

I think the Krauss’s argument distils to a consideration of whether a photograph of a landscape can fulfil the criteria needed to allocate it to an aesthetic genre as opposed to an empirical or scientific classification of an image which simply records or catalogues something. She also argues that because on image meets the criteria of exhibitionality it does not mean that all work within that catalogue can be considered of the same aesthetic intent. She critiques some of the arguments for an art historical view of early photography “Having decided that nineteenth-century photography belongs in a museum, having decided that the genres of aesthetic discourse are applicable to it, having decided that the art historical model will map nicely onto this material, recent scholars of photography have decided (ahead of time) quite a lot”.

I found that the use of the two images of tufa domes at the start of the essay and enlightening introduction to the concept of “aesthetic” and “empirical” classification of images. The way in which she built the argument for certain photographs to inhabit the “aesthetic space” was interesting and persuasive.

There is an excellent summary of the article at

Wolfgang Tillman’s exhibition at Tate Modern

I was keen to visit this exhibition because I had not seen Tillman’s work displayed in a gallery space, only occasional images within magazines. What was interesting about this exhibition, was the way in which it was hung, as Alistair Sooke said in the Telegraph (1) "he is, known, for instance, for his unusual approach to showing work, and here he does not disappoint” he goes on "The presentation is crucial, because it broadcasts an important message: Tillmans’s art is anything but stuffy or pompous. Rather, it’s all informality and casual flair".

I was also interested to see the influences upon Tillman’s work . Something which Sooke noticed In his Telegraph review "He is no stranger to art history, either", comparing Anders pulling splinter from his foot’ 2004 with the Spinario statue in the British Museum as well as the influence of Courbet and others.

But it was mainly the landscapes that I was interested in and which I will concentrate on in this review.   Munuwata Sky was a huge, long-exposure portrayal of an island and the sky above.The horizon is very low in the scene, and slightly off centre one can discern the outline of a small island. A good two thirds of the photograph are of the stars in the night sky, the long exposure giving them a blurred outline. But the whole image spoke to me of the vastness of space and nature, I think the island represents the tiny place that our civilisation plays within it all. 

Another night-time photograph was Sunset Night Drive. Set in a North American city at night showing mainly the lights of cars and advertising hoardings. Reds predominate In the darkness, adding to a sense of danger, which is reinforced perhaps with the large central advertising sign for Into the Woods and the somewhat scary face of the person staring out from it.The whole scene is buzzing with activity and excitement, yet to me it also speaks of the dangers of the night as well as the way we have constructed our cities to provide entertainment.. 

In Lampedusa, Tillmans captures the wreckage of boats used by refugees seeking to make the crossing to southern Italy. The centre of the image is of smashed up pieces of wood from the wreckage of such boats used by the migrants. WithIn the background are the discernible outlines of almost complete boats, one of which has painted on its prow what seems to be a pair of eyes. These seem to stare, almost accusingly, at the viewer. The near foreground consists of the sand or stone beach on which the piles of rubbish are stacked. The predominant colour here is of blue, the colour of the water and symbolic of coldness, but with the occasional splash of red from abandoned lifejackets.The image talks to me of the wreckage of lives, of risks taken to make a new beginning.

The State We’re In 2015 is a single image of the ocean occupying a vast space on the wall. With an extremely high horizon, the vast majority of the space is taken up with the patterns of waves and swirling motion of the sea.In its steel grey colours, the image is almost monochrome, but the cropping and composition talk of the vastness of the ocean and the dangers that lurk within. 

Tillman’s image put me very much in mind of the work of  Vija CelminsOcean Surface Woodcut from1992, which was displayed in an exhibition at the British Museum  The American Dream: pop to the present. Celmins displays what the Exhibition Catalogue (Coppel et al 2017 p206) describes as "the hypnotic, rhythmic heave of the ocean surface extending over a limitless expanse "

I think it is interesting to contrast the approach of two artists working in very different media and the end product of their works, but also what the artists interpret in their own works. Coppel et al (2017 p206) quote Celmins as saying that she seeks to hold together in her work "Stillness and movement, flatness and depth … In a delicate balance ".

Whereas Tillmans talks of “seeing the full might of the big wave movements, but then there are also lots of smaller and smaller waves, and they’re all battling with each other, clashing with each other, and you can sense that the surface is about to erupt at any spot, at any place and any time”. (3)

I was left wondering how much Tillmans’ image owed to the huge scale on which it was printed (2730 x 4100mm) whereas Celmins’ work was much smaller (225 x 305mm). I think that the main difference that this produced was that I needed to step back from the Tillman’s work to take it all in whereas Celmins’ print drew me in to look at the detail of the image.

I took a number of ideas from this exhibition and I think that one of the first things to try out will be a trip to the seaside to try to capture an image in the style of The State We’re In.


(2)  COPPEL, S., DAUNT, C., TALLMAN, S., SELIGMAN, I., RAMKALAWON, J. and BRITISH MUSEUM, 2017. The American dream: pop to the present. London: Thames & Hudson, in collaboration with the British Museum.


Exercise 1.1: Preconceptions

I guess that when I thought about sketching a ‘landscape’ picture I immediately had a very
traditional concept of what it meant. So in true Claude Lorraine style I thought of a mass of trees to
one side, the ground disappearing off to a distant horizon. There are some people in the distance
providing a sense of scale to the image. There would probably be some buildings in the scene also
providing a sense of perspective. The image would be in traditional ‘landscape’ format with the
major points of interest located at the junction of the horizontal and vertical thirds of the picture. It
would be a very calm and beautiful scene rejoicing in the beauty of nature.
This is a very traditional view of a landscape, which I guess is not all that surprising given that I have
undertaken two History of Art modules as part of this course. I am very aware of other approaches
to the portrayal of a landscape, Whistler’s Nocturnes for example would be very different, as would
a surrealist landscape.


In terms of landscapes in photography then my first reaction would probably be to think of the black
and white prints of Ansel Adams and then later perhaps the work of someone like Fay Godwin.

Why did I choose to do this course? Well for a start I thought it would complement the other
modules that I have taken. I am interested in looking at how photography fits within a definition of
‘Art’ and I wanted to look at the different approaches taken by photography to landscape. I’ve also
been struck by something said by David Hockney when he was discussing landscapes. He talked of
the limitations of a landscape photograph and how it is a view from a fixed point, whereas humans,
generally, view a landscape by moving through it. So I am particularly interested in exploring this and
a possible photographic response.

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