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DENVER — Nontraditional technologies and materials aimed at re-imagining the category of landscape photography are one of the many strengths of the exhibition New Territory: Landscape Photography Today at the Denver Art Museum. The exhibition’s curator, Eric Paddock noted at the press event, “process-dominant photographic work blurs the distinctions between ‘observed’ and ‘constructed’ imagery, between the ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ landscapes.” Approaching 100 images by 40 artists, New Territory avoids cliché and elicits a sense of, how the hell did they do that? Most surprising is the number of landscape photographers who never enter the landscape, introducing new relationships within the genre and medium.
Contemporary photographers are pressed to consider how to uniquely communicate through their medium to audiences in which everyone totes a camera. Artist Dan Holdsworth captured 3D imagery of Bossons Glacier in the Alps by drone. For “Bossons Glacier no. 16” (2016), the artist used the latest photogrammetric and geo-cartographic innovations to trace the contours of the glacier, with each pixelated point colored and edited by his hand. The intervention endows the monumental and ancient formation with the fragility of silk and intangibility of fog. Capturing the vulnerability of the environment’s grandest spaces in this manner quickly unravels their perceived permanence.
The creation of an image by a photographer leads to debates about ownership of place and ideas. To question the memorialization of an object possessed by no one, artist Penelope Umbrico downloaded a selection of photographs from Flickr tagged “sunset” in her artwork “18,297,350 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (Partial) 04/16/14” (2014). Like blurry spotlights in a sea of tangerine and vermillion, the star, documented by amateur hands, makes the eye impatient and erratic. Perhaps one photographs the sun seeking to mark a special day, calling the sun to bear witness, but the repeated photographic act renders the spectacular as banal. If we are all pocket photographers, where will the medium and its creators find space for innovation? Umbrico’s approach is an exciting preview of the frontiers.
Artist Gary Emrich refutes our presumed familiarity with the land in “All Consumed #37” (2017) by manipulating the blue alpine lakes presented in water bottle labels. The ideal landscapes promoted by the water manufacturers are undermined as Emrich adds more plastic to his images: packaging bubbles are injected with water and layered on top of the labels to produce a distorted effect. The edges of the vista fold and crop, demonstrating that the earth’s bounty as a commodity is limited.
One of the most exciting moments in the show comes from artist Meghann Riepenhoff‘s cyanotype “Littoral Drift #848” (2017). After exposing the photosensitive paper only to sky, she bathed the image in the ocean’s surf. The minerals and mold in the living water interacted with chemicals on the photograph’s surface, producing a gritty texture and a memory of the sky rendered by the tide. The color of the photo undulates and bubbles, capturing a whisper of the energy and evolution of nature’s elements. René Descartes was correct to insist that pictures can fully represent objects or actions when they fail to resemble them. The vicissitudes of the landscape are thus captured by the photographers documenting it.
New Territory: Landscape Photography Today continues at the Denver Art Museum (100 W. 14th Avenue Pkwy, Denver, Colorado) through September 16.