Photography has been part of our lives for almost two centuries now, providing a rich tapestry of conflicting aesthetics to stimulate discussion and opinion in camera circles all over the planet. Before the birth of photography, easel painters would navigate their preferred creative path between the celebrated aesthetics of the beautiful, the sublime and the picturesque. Photography both challenged the realism of landscape painting, and offered traditional artists glimpses of how long-exposures revealed the passage of time by blurring reality. The simultaneous threat and inspiration of the photographic process was a huge driver for the Impressionist movement, moving away from a literal representation of reality towards a more dreamlike presentation where brushstrokes translated a multi-sensory experience rather than literal realism. Not to be outdone, landscape photographers invented Pictorialism, championing soft-focus, intentional blurring and creative rendering of colour and tone: a new photographic aesthetic inspired by Impressionism.
Several generations later, landscape photography continues to enjoy repeating cycles of fashion. Intentional Camera Movement, ultra-dense neutral-density filtered long-exposures and various methods of creative processing are the latest components of Pictorialism circa 2015. Reassuringly, the more traditional easel aesthetics of beauty, the sublime and the picturesque also have an enduring heritage in the landscape fraternity.
Our media savvy, competitive modern technological world tantalises modern creatives with the addictive possibility of immediate validation. A consummate appetite for the epic ‘wow-factor’ landscape, the modern ‘sublime’, attracts high viewing figures on picture sharing internet sites and plays it’s own part in distorting fashion. It seems incredible that with such visually rich aesthetic competition, realism remains and the picturesque perseveres in a world that craves instant visual gratification.
Evolution in camera design and printing over the past decade has resulted in an exponential leap for realism and when such technological advances are placed into the hands of an appropriate photographer, the printed results can be breathtaking. Our audience appreciate visual honesty and they instinctively know whether an image is ‘real’ or creatively concocted.
My image this month is a tribute to realism and the picturesque: a ‘chocolate-box’ image capturing this idyllic group of barn buildings sitting in an equally idyllic private garden in the Dordogne. Such lackadaisical architecture is commonplace throughout France; who could deny the perfect beauty of this scenic epiphany heralding the start of spring.