There’s never been much of a unified scene when it comes to capturing landscapes in art, but maybe more even than before artists are very experimental with how to show a stretch of space. The environment is only being culled back further by development, and human eyes are more frequently fixed on the universe beyond our Earth. In Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography by William A. Ewing, released this month from Thames & Hudson, over 100 photographers are compiled to explore the contemporary landscape.
Ewing writes in his introduction to the book:
Environmental dangers notwithstanding, there are still pleasures to be gained from landscape photographs that remind us of what we have lost, or grasp for alternative routes to the future … Each generation of photographers has a new world to contend with, full of Chekhov’s good and evil, but also full of unique pictorial possibilities.
Some of the photographs were exhibited last year at Somerset House in London, but even if you’re familiar with the more prominent names like Hiroshi Sugimoto and his grey, liminal water views, or Edward Burtynsky’s shocking industrial captures, it’s really Ewing’s curation that is most on view. Usually massive group books divide up their pages by artist; here the over 230 photographs are arranged on generously-sized pages by subjective themes. Ewing acknowledges that landscape photography is “as varied a terrain as the landscape itself,” and seems as much interested in contrasting ways of looking as creating a cohesive argument for the genre.
For example, the “Sublime” chapter has a 1998 Sally Mann photograph of an ethereal forest right by a high-definition 1984 shot of the Witch Head Nebula by David Malin, and a tree void of leaves shrouded with snow in Japan photographed by Michael Kenna in 2005, alongside a NASA Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera image of the Moon’s frigid north pole. It’s like that throughout the section, stars, and small terrestrial views hauntingly joined. Later in the apocalyptic “Rupture,” the “battered world,” as Ewing describes our planet, reveals its growing wounds, like in Pablo López Luz’s aerial of the seemingly endless sprawl of Mexico City, and in “Scar,” its mutilations, such as Daniel Beltra’s eerily beautiful overhead of a 2010 ocean oil spill. Landmark has quite a scope of work, and is limited by its nature, yet Ewing’s careful eye and passionate voice in his writing are compelling in uniting these disparate photographs in a continuation of the landscape genre.