The term landscape is an ambiguous paradoxical human construct where cultural representation and the external world co-exist. In Arjen Mulder's essay Larger Than Light, he talks about two different types of 'landscape' photography. First, the subjective majority view, 'La nature du spectacle', where photographers depict nature how they think it should look: 'The photographer’s task is to scan Nature through the viewfinder for as long as it takes, until the virtual picture coincides with the observed one...The projected image of what Nature is expected to look like...'. This type of photography is problematic in relation to ethical representations of the land. We can think about Flusser's apprehensions of the 'program of the camera', and we can also think about the all-conquering, heroic, privileged male gaze (see Fig.2) that Deborah Bright gave a beating to in Of Mother Nature and Malboro Men (1985): “The image of the lone, male photographer-hero, like his prototypes, the explorer and hunter, venturing forth into the wilds to capture the virgin beauty of Nature, is an enduring one.” (Bright, 1985) and Fay Godwin's 'wariness of the picturesque' (Godwin, 1986) and disdain for the 'nothingness of postcard photography', where ideologies and representations of the land are questionable.
Secondly, the minority view - 'straight photography' where photographs are not constructed, they are taken objectively without any pre-existing ideas of representation - the photographer attempts to remove all traces of themselves. Essentially, the opposite of 'La nature du spectacle', it is photographing as is, so to speak, or around something, in approximation, as opposed to speaking for it. These photographs are free from the symptoms of Flusser's 'programs'; in 'straight' photography, nature projects itself onto the lens. 'Nature photographing itself' aligns with Flusser's call to 'play against the camera'. Let something photograph itself without a predetermined representation outcome. However, Flusser also says to focus on information: 'one can show contempt for the camera by turning away from it as a thing and focusing instead, on information' (Flusser,2000), information is still unreliable because of the flaws in its human author, but regardless, the 'information' in my images is its 'eventlessness' and 'nothingness' in present time. More about my work and Flusser's programs here.
Referencing 'romantische naturphilosophie' Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), Mulder also refers to straight photography as 'perhaps, Divine' photography. Schelling, without ever quantifying what divine means, stated: ‘The first thing you need to understand about reality is that it is divine’. Nature is an experience, it is not measurable. Mulder asserts that: 'the divine is an experience rather than a concept, a revelation rather than an intellectual construct'. Parallels can be drawn through the defining experience-based qualities of the 'divine' and Bergson's experience-based notion of time - 'Duration', which heavily informs my work. Both the 'Divine' and 'Duration' are based on immeasurable spatial-temporal dimensions of experience, which because of perception, only ever lives in the present.
Mulder is of course writing in the context of Awoiska van der Molen's work (his essay is in van der Molen's Blanco, 2017), and poetically explains her strategies for reaching objectivity in her 'perhaps, Divine' photographs of nature: 'Spending fourteen whole days and nights, or longer, on your own in a rocky valley under the open skies, in wild, barely organised nature...Walking, seeing, sleeping, not talking for weeks. Tearing yourself apart, picking off the crust of humanity obstructing your gaze, coming to terms with your insignificance yet sharpening your senses. Ready to receive, as you wander around, lost in the landscape, gradually and reluctantly breaking down your internal barriers all the while.' By spending enough time in nature, only when the photographer has effaced oneself 'so completely as to become part of what is happening', one can start to see the divinity of nature as it is, without influence.
Attempting 'Straight' nature photography is photographing objectively through subjectivity. I am photographing what simply 'is', and devoid of event. The objectivity of nature as is and in the context of 'present' time, solidifies the universal recognisability of the image.
Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.
Bright, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men. In Exposure 23:4 Winter 1985 pp 5–18. Medium [online] Available at: https://medium.com/exposure-magazine/re-exposure-of-mother-nature-and-marlboro-men-201dc897fc6c [accessed on 21.02.21]
Flusser, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by A. Mathews. London: Reaktion Books
Godwin, Fay. 1986. The South Bank Show. Online Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJR_UJnry8s [accessed: 22.08.21]
Mulder, Arjen. 2017. Larger Than Light. Published in ‘Blanco’ by Awoiska van der Molen. Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_mulder_nl_eng.pdf [accessed: 22.08.21]