Exercise 1.3: Establishing conventions
Using internet search engines and any other resources, find at least 12 examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century landscape paintings. List all of the commonalities you can find across your examples. Consider the same sorts of things as you did for the sketching exercise at the start of Part One. Where possible, try to find out why the examples you found were painted (e.g. public or private commission). Your research should provide you with some examples of the visual language and conventions that were known to the early photographers.
Now try to find some examples of landscape photographs from any era that conform to these conventions.
Collate your research and note down your reflections in your learning log.
The first task was to gather 12 images of 18th century landscape paintings these were the ones I chose:
- Tonally all of the images are similar and use a similar pallet of colours. This is not however similar to the drawing in the first exercise which was a pencil drawing using shades of grey.
- All of the images have a horizontal real or implied line running through them.
- They are all loosely or strictly composed around the rule of thirds.
- They all have a notable or dramatic sky.
- They all depict outdoor pursuits / country living.
- Almost all of them contain a body of water, lake, or river.
- all but two use trees to balance the composition.
- They all have a tranquil air about them.
- In every case a recession is defined, with elements of the painting existing on different layers with in the picture that recess back into the image giving a feeling of depth and leading the eye into the painting.
Photographs displaying similar qualities
I selected four images from the archive using a google search that have similar properties, three turned out to be Landscape Photographer of the Year finalists and one a classic Ansel Adams:
The images of old 18th century landscapes are all similar in style to each other. They seem to follow a set of rules common to landscape paintings of the period. Many of these images were commissioned by wealthy land owners to increase the perception of their wealth. Often the painters would mend architectural structures in the painting so that the place gave of a wealthy air. (Berger, 2008)
The photographic landscape of today is still hobbled in the traditions of these painters, at camera clubs the judging is still measured by the image standards laid down by these 18th century painters. “A good landscape” is often measured this way, the Royal Photographic Society still in parts holds itself to these traditions.
The question is rather one of “is this a bad thing or a good one”, and again I do not think it is possible to answer this as it is completely a matter of taste, for those who want to hang traditional landscapes on their walls who has the right to stop them and conversely, for those who prefer a different approach who has the right to interfere.
I have always believed that any purist view that excludes all else is a bad thing better to be more eclectic in our tastes.
I took the exercise a step further, I wondered what the current view is on landscape, it occurred to me that I should look at the Landscape photographer of the year competition to see what is current and popular at the moment. so I sorted out the winners for all the competitions since 2007 the following is the result:
It was interesting to note that the judges seem to be trying hard to pick images that do not necessarily conform to the 18th century rules, the results seem sometimes to depart a long way from the mold and others to conform tightly. I also noticed that they have a category specifically called “Classic View” in which the images are supposed to be more classic styles of landscape, the results show that even here that is not always true.