Few places on Earth have been left untouched by man, and determining what now constitutes nature, from a polluted river bed to a pristine Alaskan mountain, has become an increasingly difficult task. This is the concept that "Landscape Photography: Politics and Poetics," an exhibit now on display at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, investigates.
The photographs present a study of the impact of man on nature's most pristine areas. They question the definition of landscape, the importance of humanity, and the role humanity's actions play in a bigger environmental picture.
With works by classic landscape photographers such as Ansel Adams, the gallery also features contemporary pieces by artists Joel Sternfeld, Frank Gohlke, and Sebastiao Selgado. The exhibit shows different images that address political and environmental issues in a poetic way. It focuses on the juxtaposition between contemporary and traditional modes.
"I really like Ansel Adams but it is interesting to see how different landscapes can be and what various artists consider landscapes," Kirsten Chmielewski '10 said about the exhibit.
Some examples of these alternative landscapes include Frank Gohlke's "The Sudbury River, Hopkinton, MA," a color photograph that depicts a dirty riverbank. Using long exposure camera techniques, Gohlke's river emits an ethereal quality not normally associated with such an altered and polluted landscape.
Another print, Sebastiao Selgado's "Serra Pelada, Brazil," takes a much different approach to the idea of abstract landscape. A rock quarry teaming with workers provides an organic image; the photograph is reminiscent of a busy anthill. This photography also presents the idea that humans shape the land in which they live because workers manipulate the landscape.
This idea, in correlation with Ansel Adams's print "Mt. McKinley," a view of nature in its pure form, provides an interesting comparison. Visiting Assistant Professor Meggan Gould weighed in on Adams's work in the exhibit.
"He was certainly a technical wizard, incredibly attuned to nuances of light, and he used his technical mastery to dramatic and monumentalizing effect," she said.
In addition to contrasting landscapes, the exhibit also employs a mix of black and white prints and color photography. The two different types of photos add more overall tonal complexity to the question of politics versus poetry.
"Black and white abstracts the world, to some degree, by removing a visual veneer of color. Neither an advantage or a disadvantage?it's just a different way of looking," Gould said.
"Intermingling multiple visual approaches in a show such as this is important," she added. "I tend to be most excited about landscape work that shows me something that I might not otherwise have seen or that speaks to the fact that it is, in fact, a photographic representation."
"Landscape Photographs: Politics and Poetry" will be on display in the Walker Art Building until October 19.