«Landscape in Artifice: Contemporary Photographic Trends as they Relate to Environmentalism CIS Senior Project Sage Cichock Advisor: Bill Sonnega May ...»
Further, the multi-faceted approach taken by Wall to experiment with re-creation forces the question of whether nature can be subject to appreciation without alterations, artifice, or simulation. While photographs can seem familiar as they relate to an iconic museum composition, Wall demonstrates that Fig. 10 “Ejiri in Suruga Province”, 19th century, Hokusai, woodblock print photographs can also seem familiar as they relate to accepted standards for amateur photography or for journalism. The problem at stake is one of psychological, aesthetic, environmental, as well as many other proportions as human memories are not static. As De Zengotita argues, this is one place where the implications of iconization become most serious as individuals begin to look for representational icons in physical reality. He further argues that these icons then begin to form a model for individual experience. Through this logic, weddings, graduations and even sites themselves can be planned for photographic results. The issue is that upon “the consummation of that aspiration [to capture moments]...our second creation supersedes the first.” (De Zengotita 219). The ability to alter experiences for the purposes of archival evidence results in a contemporary confusion between experiences as they happen, and as they happen for the camera.
While models allow for the alteration of authentic events, they also allow for the production of indistinguishable events produced entirely artificially. In a culture where photographs are produced to fit categorical standards, the possibility for artificial simulation questions authenticity on multiple levels. A large contributor to these questions is that the legitimacy of the photographic trace can be applied to capture artificial images which appear identical to contemporary “organic” images.
simulated park interactions: the subjects are actors, their placement was pre-conceived, and their clothing was all intentionally chosen by the photographer. Furthermore, Wall complicates the image by staging it to at first look banal, but intrigue builds from his references to classic compositional structure (figure 12). He uses the landscape setting as a basis by which to frame the scene, a tactic employed by landscape artists since the development of the landscape genre (Boime 117). In addition, he distributes color throughout the viewing plane to render the otherwise commonplace image visually
a subservient role to an idealized whole. Nature is used as a means by which to achieve certain image, so in these scenarios the landscape functions similarly to landscape genre images. Despite landscape being the central subject matter in genre scenes, the landscape elements are framed within a composition that exists as rectangular. Jeff Wall's experiments with authenticity become challenging when upon the consideration that nature in reality never exists in a frame. A frame is imposed on landscape art of both the simulated and purportedly natural varieties, making both captured images of artifice. When applied to landscape photography specifically, this quality carries deeper consequences as the implications of the photographic frame are even more hidden. Roland Barthes argued “in the photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation” (89). His statement aids in understanding the troubling interplay between simulated and authentic realities presented in photographic form. In regards to photographs such as “Story Teller”, Barthes' idea is salient since the photograph is presented at surface as of recreational or impromptu in quality. There are clear environmental consequences to the projection of classic landscape simulacra onto contemporary landscape photographs, but the simulation present in recreational nature photographs adds further layers to the cultural problem at stake. Simulation renders understanding of contemporary nature inconceivable because the boundaries between real and fake no longer exist. Baudrillard's claim that “it is now impossible to isolate the process of the real, or to prove the real” (41) is exemplified in this artistic trend by way of using the exact medium which is purported to archive reality.
The Implications of Index in the Photographic Medium The manufacturing of once organic scenes and memories can be seen as widely prevalent within recreational and museum realms, but has also been integrated into the genre of journalism.
Photographer Amy Stein, though a professional art photographer, employs this journalistic approach by creating tableau photographs of news stories. Her most known series Domesticated, showcases her endeavor of creating photographs to complement news stories which originally existed through oral record. Images within the series focus on suburban encounters, which are widely experienced but rarely photographed, and in actuality would last but a few seconds. Stein's approach to this genre of photographs, while in a contemporary setting, involves methods employed by photographers throughout history.
Similar to Wall's photographs, one aspect of Amy Stein's photographic method which makes her work so complex is that her images are initially more technically stunning than they are artistically original. She effectively captures what appear to be candid encounters with lost animals in the suburban landscape as both the animals and the scenes are compositionally well-crafted and believable. Amy Stein, however, is a another representative of tableau photography in the genre of nature and landscape since the image-captured animals are in fact taxidermy (figure 13), and the sites are often sets like those for a theater production. Her photographs not only find inspiration in news stories, but also in artistic compositions and ideal memories of nature. The realization that her images are in fact faked is alarming
While the practice of creating scenes for the photographic purposes is both tedious and time consuming, in the context of nature it reflects larger shifts in cultural mindsets. De Zengotita argued that a common contemporary phenomenon within individuals is to be in search of photos; that photography no longer comes from happenstance, but rather from persons viewing their experiences through camera lenses. He states, “When you take a picture of it you feel as if you have it forever so you don't have to really look at it. You are free to move on, looking for the next thing you can't afford to miss.” (De Zengotita 221). This claim speaks to the credence placed on photographic evidence, but further to the point that evidence is becoming more important than events themselves. These captured events, and in Stein's case, re-captured events are valued as a reflection of a wider priority of image as index of the real. Stein's images, however, function as artifacts of an even further developed set of image priorities because instead of looking for her compositions, she creates indistinguishable tableaus.
Her method pushes the value of convenience since despite her idealogical intentions, the media stories were accurately re-created using taxidermy instead of searching for supplemental images or relying on oral evidence.
Featured within Domesticated, “Hillside” (figure 14) reflects this value of convenience, and additionally the complexity created by her artifices. The photograph, a composition of a bear roaming
and inspiration in the medium of painting historically have, and continue to create unrealistic standards for what is considered a realistic artistic, and even journalistic medium (Dunaway 157). In the context of nature photography, while artists such as Ansel Adams were forced to strive to the standard set by painting for the reception of their images, photographers like Stein in a contemporary setting have now been set against the additional variable of digital alterations. De Zengotita analyzes this trend as it relates to recreational imagery, stating “it's getting harder and harder to find anything that might qualify as exotic, because everywhere it has been encountered it has also been subjected to mechanisms of mediation too numerous to itemize” (224). This argument speaks well to the artifice in Stein's imagery for it would be of exceptional difficulty to candidly capture her photographic events as they happened.
Furthermore, she turned to taxidermy to create subjects which could yield adequate photographic results.
“Hillside” further demonstrates the unrealistic standard for what is considered exotic or noteworthy in nature because the realization that her subjects are in fact fake probes the comparison between her simulated photograph and that which is seen as standard nature photography. The stuffed animal is not recognizable as such, which is facilitated by the snapshot nature of the camera. In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes analyzes the narrative implications of the photograph, stating “in the photograph something has posed...but in the cinema, something has passed in front of the same tiny hole: the pose is swept away and denied by the continuous series of images” (78). With the understanding that the photograph plays the role of setting standards for beauty, Barthes argument holds further implications for physical nature. If the photograph implies a closed rather narrative rather than a running narrative like in cinema, and the photograph functions as exceptionally significant in cultural understandings of beauty, then this standard can be achieved without regard for the necessary movement present in the natural world. “Hillside” matches this ideal as the bear's ability to exist in a narrative beyond the frame is insignificant consequent of the emphasis being placed on the capturing of a clear snapshot rather than the bear's life beyond the frame. Subsequently, Stein's stuffed bear can play as an adequate substitute for one that is live being that the photographic standard does not require nature as living organism.
In the context of media and journalistic imagery, the synthesized Barthes and Sontag arguments suggest larger shifts in cultural values. Stein's artistic intentions aside, her work functions as photographic documentation of events which existed at their origins as oral narratives. While photographic illustration is seen culturally as evidence of an event, this ideal both suppresses the legitimacy of oral accounts, as well as discounts the subjective nature of the photographic frame.
Stein's photograph, “Howl” (figure 15) demonstrates the problematic nature of this value considering the setting and subject of her photograph are both in artifice. Her photographs are indistinguishable from what could have served of proof of a suburban wildlife encounter, and in which case, I argue would have made those stories more popularly successful. As De Zengotita wrote in regards for the priority of constant photographic documentation, “just seeing something counts as missing it” (220). In this context, the experience is placed as submissive to the documentation and furthermore, events that allow for more effective documentation become the events most present in popular media. Amy Stein's photographs translate the potential future of this priority as it relates to nature. While there is undoubtedly a lack of regard for physical experience resulting from valuing the image, using Stein's resourcefulness as a projection, this emphasis on the representation is a predictor of a future where the experience itself may become irrelevant.
The artist's photograph, “Howl”, can additionally be compared to those of Jeff Wall as its
nonetheless holds origins in the canon of landscape art history. For example, strong similarities can be drawn between Stein's “Howl” and Robert Adam's “Fort Collins, Colorado” (figure 16) from 1976.