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Tuesday, 18 January 2011


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I really like the Dusseldorf book, except that it seems like many of the most interesting images are run across the gutter. I would prefer they printed them rotated/smaller than break them up the way they did.

Geoff's preamble to David Noton's book (a book I haven't seen or have any opinion on) describes a particular class of landscape photography that increasingly I find hollow ... though popular with many aspiring photographers and undiscerning buyers alike. Spectacular (and usually distant) landscapes captured in perfect light and with impeccable technique to me are just meaningless landscape porn. They say little about the everyday world, other than the fact that such magnificent vistas exist and somebody got off their bum to capture them. I doubt Paul Caponigro and Robert Adams (to give just two examples) have the same preoccupation, even if their approach is no less rigorous. What characterizes the works of the latter is imagery that transcends their subject matter, rather than being dependent on it.

The Düsseldorf book looks interesting.

Anyone interested in other thoughts on Moore's book (as well as Meffre's) might be interested in this essay by John Patrick Leary: http://www.guernicamag.com/features/2281/leary_1_15_11/

Any genre has the potential to descend into pr0n. One acquaintance pointed me at a website of Detroit work and described it as "ruin porn." I'm still trying to decide if its pr0n or not. Is it without redeeming social importance? I'm leaning towards it has redeeming value: it documents not only the decline of a city, but also the beauty of decay, and the fate that all of our works are heading towards.

Stephen Best notes that spectacular landscape photographs "say little about the everyday world, other than the fact that such magnificent vistas exist..."

Well, exactly. Despite the violence we've done to this planet, countless little slices of paradise remain to confirm there's something to existence beyond consumption and conflict. The contrast with daily life is kind of the point.

I too greatly enjoy Paul Caponigro's subtle photographic meditations, and I can appreciate the devotion to form behind Robert Adams' work. I hope most people have not lost the capacity to enjoy a beautiful landscape image.

Katherine Thayer's elegant 2004 essay "Embracing Beauty: The Post-Modern Pictorialist Landscape Photograph" addresses just this issue. It can be found in Lenswork #53.

Stephen Best: dissatisfaction with landscape photography, thou heretic!

There is an element of contrivance in landscape which I think can itself become all-encompassing, especially given that people rate only the finished article and never see the effort you've put into it.

Better to make the best of the opportunities you do get within reason than to sit around waiting to the end of time for something that's not going to happen. ("Within reason" extends to climbing up a mountain to get a view off the top on the proviso that you expect variable weather up there; waiting might be limited to half an hour per frame.)

Selectivity is harder than people give it credit for. Think of the number of twigs in the forest; the proportion that will fall and remain on a single-lane road in any given morning; the proportion that are shaped like a particularly curvy "y" that draws my attention; the proportion that don't have clutter around them; the proportion of those I actually see whilst walking.

Methinks there be truth in heresy after all.

Then again I embrace occasional tasteful use of HDR, so what do I know?

David Noton's despatches are always in interesting read...


You can see samples of David Noton’s work on his website and sample the book on Amazon and I must agree with Stephen Best above. They consist of the usual National Geographic inspired exotic portraits, colourful landscapes, zany compositions etc, etc; the padding of a thousand amateur photography magazines. They are in my opinion, proficient but shallow empty images that tell us nothing new about the world, just the same old tired escapist clichés. I’d swap all of his images for a single Robert Adams outtake.

As for the Düsseldorf School of Photography, I have a copy and yes it is very interesting. The camera used to interrogate our world and to assess what we are actually doing to it. It is only through brutally honest photography will we ever get a true picture of the state of our environment and perhaps give us the tools to overcome the damage we are doing. Noton’s images are just an ostrich head in the sand and not a particularly interesting ostrich either, though it might have nice side lighting.

I agree absolutely with Stephen Best... meaningless landscape porn done by the old British Velvia brigade now all turned digital. I also admit I´ve been trying unsuccessfully this same sort of photography for the last nine years, so I´m just as guilty.

I am a little tired of looking at abandoned buildings. I've had to look at them most of my life. Gentrification is putting a stop to that. I'm not sure which is worse but I am sure that the article below is right about a lot of ruin porn


Here, by the way, is an interesting article about what the author calls "ruin porn," i.e. photography and other art depicting abandoned urban areas. Those who are interested in such work might find it thought-provoking.


I myself find it very much a case of "don't blame the messenger," but I did enjoy the article.

They say little about the everyday world, other than the fact that such magnificent vistas exist and somebody got off their bum to capture them.

Do you think the world would be a richer place if people didn't share such magnificent vistas? What of the rest of us who have few, or no chances to see them?* Where would the future Adams and Caponigros get their practice in order to become 'great' if there weren't people doing this kind of photography? Or funding for this kind of photography? For 'weak examples' that sell support the genre just as well as great ones.
Sure, technical rigor isn't the same thing as artistic merit. But it doesn't mean technical rigor isn't admirable, even if not for aesthetic reasons. Someone has to do this work, for all our sakes.

In any case it is the only way to get to certain kinds of images, or to get the necessary experience to produce the kinds of images that have artistic merit.


*and let us now praise the printers and pressmen, great and small who make such seeing possible too.

I have to agree with Stephen on this- there seems to a preoccupation with the grand vista, "everything from my toes to the end of the world in focus" style of landscape photography.
I can't fault it on technique, but it does tend to leave me cold emotionally.

Jerry I could not agree more. Printing over the gutter is a definitive no no. Rotating is the way to go. I want to study these shots and a gutter does not help. Bought the book a few days ago at "Der Rote Bulli", featuring Stephen Shore and the Düsseldorfer Schule. And for whom can't get enough of them, a Thomas Struth retrospective will be shown in Düsseldorf from Februari 26th in Haus 20 am Grabbeplatz. Just a 50km drive for me.

Greetings, Ed

Interesting article on recent photography in Detroit: http://www.guernicamag.com/features/2281/leary_1_15_11/

I agree that the 'beautiful vista in beautiful light' photographic sub-genre is somewhat intellectually empty but I disagree that it should be seen as pandering only to our need for pleasure. If we stop and consider the effect that the sort of landscape photography that Stephen Best presumably advocates might have on our perception of nature then you can see there is a need for both views of our world.

If the only perception of nature that photography shows us is that it is the plaything of mankind, to contain, mould and even pillage as we see fit, what message does this send out?

We need images of pristine nature not just as reminders that such places still exist but also to remind us of what we stand to lose.


Katherine Thayer's elegant 2004 essay "Embracing Beauty: The Post-Modern Pictorialist Landscape Photograph" addresses just this issue. It can be found in Lenswork #53.

I read Ms Thayer's essay (available for download from lenswork.com for $4) and find little to disagree with. The issue I have is the fly-in, fly-out nature of a lot of this work. Namely that there are pictorial landscapes to be mined for such images. These generally aren't insights from someone with a deep familiarity with the terrain, able to reveal the special and personal (cf. Eliot Porter's Summer Island). The results are generally formulaic and clichéd, with goosed up colour etc and pander to lowest common denominator tastes.

Successful pictorial landscape photography has played a pivotal role in the preservation of such landscapes for which I have absolutely no problem. It's just that as a photographic endeavour I derive less stimulation from it.

The great thing about photography is that it is individualistic. I happen to like pristine landscapes and “ruins” photography but don’t care much for animal photography or standard portraits. I also take a lot of landscape and “ruin” photography and do nonstandard portraits for my clients. The bottom line is we all gravitate toward the “stuff” we like and are easy to criticize the “stuff” we don’t. Maybe we shouldn’t spend less time looking at “stuff” we don’t like and more time offering constructive criticism to the “stuff” we do like. I have a good friend that is a photographer. We often meet in the library to ensure our voices are level and spend an afternoon critiquing each other’s work. We are brutal, honest and offer our opinions. My photography has improved immensely because of these critical review sessions. In the end everyone likes a little landscape, portrait, ruin…. “porn”…. and ohhh yea it’s very individual.... Eric H. Peterson

The wonderful thing about stating a preference is that we all have one and it's entirely incontrovertable. Value judgements are a different issue.

Whereas I don't particularly like overly manicured and idealised landscape photography, it is a well established genre that dates back (if you include painting) several hundred years and remains eternally popular.

Not all of us read only read history books and bios, or watch gritty real life documentaries. Sometimes we also like good adventure fiction and a decent sci-fi movie. Escapism is a thriving business.

Many photographers also work in fashion and advertising, where creating idealised images is the whole point. You may not like it but it puts bread on a lot of tables.

I would not accuse either side of poor taste or lack of discernment. That would rather be setting myself up as a arbiter of "what photography should be" which would be a tall order. I certainly don't think its sole function is political documentary, important though that is.

So to set the balance here is an article about the Dusseldorf School which you may find amusing or rediculous or entirely pertinent. You choose, I decline to comment at this point though I enjoyed the counterpoint.


Steve Jacob

Wow! As one whose primary photographic interest is photographing urban decay at night, the article about photographing the ruins of Detroit (http://www.guernicamag.com/features/2281/leary_1_15_11/) certainly has given me pause to reflect upon my motivation ... thanks to everybody who linked to it here for bringing it to my attention!

Current color landscape photography has traveled far from Eliot Porter’s “Intimate Landscapes”, becoming more and more beautiful and less and less intimate, more display and presentational with less depth and knowing; clinical, a neutered aesthetic.

Katherine Thrayer’s 2004 essay in Lenswork #53 was a clumsy defense of the pictorial landscape and still reads that way in 2011, only more so!

"Porn?" Hmmm.

Perhaps that is a bit heavy handed. A crime in some parts of the planet. Indeed, it's still a capital offense in a few niches of this planet.

How about "erotic?"

Or, perhaps, just "arousing?"

One cannot have porn to make accusations about without also suggesting that there is some kind of prurient arousal lurking around the offending images. The definitions of these words are always circular, with little other inherent content (with the sole exception of Potter Stewart who had the nerve to tell the truth about how it is recognized).

I await the event to discover what evil, what overwhelming hormones, or what uncontrollable urges may soon engulf me. I admit to weakness, to my having ordered the book on the strength of Geoff Wittig's review before seeing all of the puritan comments above. Lord only knows what acts I may feel compelled to attempt with a camera once I experience the book.

Dave Ralph:



P.S. I think you'll be safe.

Last Sunday I went to see a local (i.e. in Düsseldorf) exhibition juxtaposing images by Stephen Shore and Düsseldorf School photogs. Aptly titled "The Red VW Van" after one of Shore's pictures.

Apparantly the Bechers knew Shore's work and introduced their students to it. So there's supposed to be some influence there. (Yes, and both he and they owned a VW Van.)

I am personally not much of a fan of Düsseldorf school at its most documentary, i.e. the Bechers' original work. It's just so drab and straight up boring. Shore brings some compositional, well, liberties to his subjects that to my mind make all the difference. Wonderful picture of his
with yet another van. Thsi one is the cover of "Uncommon Places", which Shore's images were mostly taken from - and which Mike will surly add an Amazon link to. Mine is already in the post ...

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