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HomeContentsThemes > Landscape photography and historical issues

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At the simplistic level a landscape photograph is a historical snapshot that provides a slit second reality from a single viewpoint. Photography has long been seen as a means of providing as an evidential record particularly in an urban context. A few examples of this will suffice to make the point.
  • Canada, Montreal
    William Notman photographed Montreal (Canada) in the last half of the Nineteenth century and Andrzej Maciejewski at the end of the twentieth decided to photograph the same sites at the same time of day and year. This is highlighting the architectural and urban but at the same time accepting it as a natural process. Where Andrzej Maciejewski is unusual is the methodical approach he applied - here even the shadows match those of the original photographs.
  • Paris, France
    Within an urban setting photographers have attempted to preserve the changing worlds around them - Charles Marville (1816-1879?) and Eugéne Atget (1857-1927) did this with Paris.
  • Poland
    Jan Bulhak (1876-1950) created a record of Polish architecture in his monumental ‘Polska wobrazach fotograficz‘ (‘Poland in Photographic Pictures‘).
Most photographers record a moment in time but Charles Marville is interesting because he recorded both phases as the street pattern of nineteenth century Paris was changed. Another example of this is Sir Archibald Creswell who carried out fieldwork into Islamic monuments throughout the Muslim world from 1920 until the mid-1960's. The resulting archive of 11,000 photographs is now housed at the American University in Cairo - they represent an architectural time capsule. More recently a Venezuelan couple Chemane Arias and Jenny Marquez rephotographed some of the places in Cairo taken by Creswell so they could be compared.
In a rural landscape context in 1976 Mark Klett, Ellen Manchester and JoAnn Verburg launched the 'Rephotographic Survey Project' which set out to rephotograph locations in the western US that had been photographed by the nineteenth century USA geological survey photographers - Timothy H. O’Sullivan (1840-1882), Andrew Joseph Russell (1830-1902), Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), John K. Hillers (1843-1925) and William Henry Jackson (1843-1942). Every effort was made to rephotograph the original locations as accurately as possible. Mark Klett was the chief photographer from 1977-1982, other photographers included Rick Dingus, JoAnn Verburg and Gordon Bushaw.
Rephotographic Survey Project
Mark Klett
Third Views, Second Sights. A Rephotographic Survey of the American West 
Mark Klett
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Greg MacGregor has explored the routes taken by the people who traveled across America. His 1996 book 'Overland: The California Emigrant Trail of 1841-1870' whilst his 2003 one 'Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Photographer's Trail' followed the route the Corps of Discovery took led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their visionary exploration to uncover a continent in the early nineteenth century.
Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Photographer's Trail (Lyndhurst Book) 
Greg MacGregor; Iris Tillman Hill (Editor); & James P. Ronda (Introduction)
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California Emigrant Trail
Overland: The California Emigrant Trail of 1841-1870 
Greg MacGregor; & Walter Truett Anderson (Introduction)
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May 2004 was the bicentennial of the start of the expedition of Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838) to explore the American West. Events that have this national and cultural significance encourage publishers, galleries and photographers to promote commemorative books and and exhibitions this was no exception:
  • Greg MacGregor ('Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Photographer's Trail')
  • Robert Adams ('Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-Exploration')
  • Richard Mack ('The Lewis & Clark Trail')
  • Jim Wark took aerial photographs of the route ('Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air')
  • Brent Phelps with his 2006 exhibition 'On the Trail of Lewis and Clark' at the John Cleary Gallery (Houston, TX, USA)
The use of photography to commemorate significant events is not a new phenomena - between 1911-1912 the Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, one of the pioneers of color photography, returned to the battlefields and regions that Napoleon had crossed in Russia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of "The Fatherland War" (The Napoleonic Wars).
At a deeper level what happens if one returns to a place where a significant event has happened and photographs the location? Does the photograph in some way capture the emotions of the event or is it just another banal location without meaning unless a caption provides it with relevance. In the United Kingdom buildings of historical significance are marked with a blue ceramic plaque on which white lettering provides the context to the passer-by - but what happens to a place without a plaque? In Western society monuments are erected to the fallen and neat cemeteries laid out for long past battles. The genocides of Srebrenica and Vukovar during the Balkan Wars will be remembered through the photographs of Gilles Peress more than through any monument of stone. Human suffering can take place in any type of landscape and many of these remote places have no monuments - it takes photographers of emotional courage to drag us screaming into places like Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur in the Sudan. Photographers such as Dorothea Lange or Sebastião Salgado are not landscape photographers in the traditional sense but their work shows us the human impacts of a landscape out of balance.
There are other photographers who have or are questioning historical events or provide new evidence that allow us to consider issues of the past. In twenty years time how will Ground Zero on 11 September 2001 in New York be remembered? With a major event a historical marker will be placed but what about the location where an unknown person was murdered?
The following photographers have explored aspects of the complex relationships between landscapes and history:
  • Mikael Levin - A reflective perspective on the relationship between landscapes and history.
  • John Darwell - Post industrial landscapes and the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
  • David Farrell explores the bleak locations in Ireland where people have been buried by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) during what were euphemistically called 'The troubles'.
History and landscape
David Farrell
Innocent Landscapes: Sites of the Disappeared 
David Farrell
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Andrzej Maciejewski
After Notman/D'Apres Notman: Montreal Views: A Century Apart/Regards Sur Montreal: UN Siecle Plus Tard 
Andrzej Maciejewski (Photographer)
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