Re-simulating an artificial view: contemporary western American landscape photography

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Western landscape photography helped to create an imaginative perception of a new nation for Americans. Early nineteenth-century photographers captured a vision of uncharted terrain that metaphorically fulfilled a two-fold illusion:

Western landscape photography helped to create an imaginative perception of a new nation for Americans. Early nineteenth-century photographers captured a vision of uncharted terrain that metaphorically fulfilled a two-fold illusion: an untouched Eden and a land ready and waiting for white settlement. The sublime and picturesque experiences of the West provided artists a concept that could be capitalized upon by employing various forms of manipulation. In the twentieth-century, the role of landscape photography evolved as did the advancement of the West. Images of wilderness became art and photographers chose to view the western landscape differently. Some focused more sharply and critically on the relationship between the land and the people who lived on it. The influential exhibition in 1975, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape presented work that showed a landscape altered, marked by power lines, houses, and fences. The West as Eden no longer existed. Today, photographers continue to examine, image, and experience western land anew. In this thesis I examine the relationship of contemporary landscape photography and the role of the West, guided by an analysis that traces the history of American ideologies and attitudes toward natural land. The artists I have chosen recognize landscape not as scenery but as the spaces and systems people inhabit, and use manipulative strategies that emphasize an artificial character of the West. Their work elicits antecedent mythologies, pictorial models, and American ideologies that continue to perpetuate internationally.