Site Specific Project- ‘Landscape’ by John Wylie

After having a lecture from Sian MacFarlane where she mentioned the book ‘Landscape’ by John Wylie, I decided to research this book; it looks at the idea of Landscapes and how we interact around them. The book contains a series of different readings of landscape, and are debated and explored through ‘landscape’ theories and writings. Themes such as human interaction with nature, memories and experiences with nature, tensions in nature including looking at how humans have created some tensions, are explored in this book. I feel these themes will give me a greater understanding around the idea of landscape and some social issues that arise from this.

Paul Cezanne, a landscape painter, is looked at in the introductory paragraphs of the book; ‘Cezanne’s perception of landscape was exemplary. It became the visual expression of his own argument that observer and observed, self and landscape, are essentially enlaced and intertwined’; this idea made me think about my own work and experience with the landscape. I feel that I have become part of the landscape and the River Sherbourne to a sense as I have travelled its journey while also having my own experiences and creating my own journey echoing the flow and journey of the river. Cezanne can be considered as not being a ‘detached spectator’, he experiences the landscapes and creates his own relationship with it; I feel that is is like my own practise and that I can be seen to be not a ‘detached spectator’. In comparison to the ideas of Cezanne, cultural historian historian and literary critic Raymond Williams (1985, p.224) believes, ‘the very idea of landscape implies separation and observation’; I questioned this idea as for me personally, even though I was observing and discovering the river, I still believe that there was not a separation between my subject and I, as I had a personal experience with the river. There will always be a form of separation as there is with man and nature, we are two different ‘beings’, however I still feel that  my experience with nature and the river has been personal. The idea of the relationship between man and nature could be quite interesting to look at, especially looking at how the city and nature interact and coexist.

The Wylie posed the question, ‘ Is landscape a scene we are looking at, or a world we are living in? Is landscape all around us or just in front of us? Do we observe or inhabit landscape?’, this quote followed on nicely from my ideas around city life and how nature and man live next to each other and interact. I believe that to a large extent we inhabit  landscape, either destroying nature to make room for our buildings and towns or coexisting to combine nature and the city; I plan to look at this idea of nature and the city in greater detail, looking especially at the idea of how Coventry as a city interacts with nature.

Wylie questions the idea that, ‘were humans once part if nature? If so, how and when did they separate themselves from it?’; this idea is interesting to my project as I am photographing a natural river that flows into the city and under the city centre. Has Coventry separated itself from the river and nature or do they coexist? I want to look at this idea in greater detail and so plan to read and look into how the city and nature interact and then relate this to Coventry.

Wylie later went on to discuss the idea of the ‘cultures of landscapes’, looking at larger social ideas behind landscapes; David Matless’ term ‘cultures of landscapes’ looks at landscapes in a larger sense, ‘in which the focus is not so much upon specific places, texts or works of art, as upon more multifaceted cultural movements, debates and practises in which landscape circulates…’ Some of these cultural movements could include debates around landscapes, ethical conduct and social issues; this idea that there is a greater meaning to a landscape that just what can be seen is interesting to me as in my photography I want to document the landscape and ‘what is there’ but now I am considering the larger ideas behind my photographs. Not only do my photographs document my journey and the journey of the River Sherbourne, but they also document the surrounding area, and the change from the rural source of the river to the urban city as the river flows into the city centre. This change from the rural to the urban links back to my previous thoughts and ideas around social issues related to the river, and the idea of nature and the city and whether they can coexist. Wylie questions, ‘are the ideas represented by landscapes’, in my photographs do I show this change from rural to urban? And do I consider the social issues in my photographs, showing how nature and the city are combined in the unusual river case?

In the 20th century, many geographers ‘based their work above all on first-hand observation, on observation-in-the-field. In a way, their ability to speak authoritatively about landscape was predicated upon their having lived it, touched it, explored it on foot’. I feel that this concept is important as to study the subject of a landscape in full you have to observe the landscape and surrounding area. In my own work I have first-hand experiences with the River Sherbourne, walking down the river’s route and even walking through the water ; I feel that my first hand experience has aided my work a lot more as I have got to know the area of Coventry more and the river. Furthermore due to my medium of photography it was vital to have a first-hand experience with the river to gain a full understanding of the area and also to shoot photographs.

In dictionaries, they often state that a ‘landscape is ‘scenery’- something viewed by an eye; this is, by one, individual person. A landscape is thus not just the land itself, but the land as seen from a particular point of view or perspective’; by each person having a personal viewpoint and perspective, each reading of a landscape is individual and personal to that person. In my own work I aim to show my own personal journey through the landscape and along the river; my photographs will show my perspective and viewpoint as I travel through the landscape. Having said that, I still aim to allow my viewers to create their own journey down the river through my photographs, to create this I will have a body of work that is true to the area, showing the river and its surroundings as unbiased as possible, capturing what is actually there and with minimal editing. I understand that it would be impossible to remove all bias qualities from my photographs as each person has a different view of the world, yet I still aim to try and allow my viewers to create a personal journey through my photographs.

Wylie went on to argue that ‘we split landscapes in two, in other words, we divide them up into ‘material’ and ‘mental’ aspects, objective and subjective, science and art’, all these imply that when reading a landscape each viewer could have either a documentary or personal reading. I believe that a reading of a landscape can be both objective and subjective, my work is an example of this, I aim not only to document the river and its surroundings but I also aim to show my personal journey of discovery along the river and the surrounding area.

When looking at landscape art we often have the ‘impression of visual depth, as if we were looking out through a window onto the fields, the mountains, or the city being depicted.’ Wylie goes on to write that in landscape art, the work ‘often appears to be visually realistic, convincing and in proportion’, yet as a viewer we understand that the art is flat, on a canvas or as a print. In my work photographic work, I understand that my images will be ‘flat’ when printed but I want to echo the ideas of Wylie in my landscape art and create photographs that are visually realistic and that transport my viewer to that given location allowing them to travel along my journey as well as allowing them to explore a possibly unknown landscape.

Reading this book has helped me to think about my work and where it stands within the photographic area and also within landscape work in general.


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