«Landscape in Artifice: Contemporary Photographic Trends as they Relate to Environmentalism CIS Senior Project Sage Cichock Advisor: Bill Sonnega May ...»
The images are almost identical compositionally in exception for Stein's addition of the coyote. While this supplementary subject emphasizes rather than changes the surrounding parking lot landscape, the knowledge that her image is diorama makes a claim to the lack of human relationship to nature in general. Moreover, it highlights the nature existing as consequence of industrial development. Adam's photography exposed the complex beauty in the suburban landscape, yet following the same logic, Stein's photographs are evidence of a contemporary value of achieving the look of landscape rather than connecting with the reality of modern nature. There is an emotionally charged response that comes from the images produced by both Stein and Adams as opposed to a response to simple aesthetic appeal. Stein's photograph is effective in this way because the scene is one which is accessible to many viewers, but her ability to substitute tableau for reality highlights the artifice in the natural world that remains. This nature is reproducible, and potentially unnecessary.
Furthermore, the likeness of Amy Stein's “Howl” to “Fort Collins, Colorado” by Adams again presents the problem of index and simulacra as they relate to the medium of photography. The inaccurate sense of objectivity projected on photographs has allowed for a further level of legitimacy to be placed on the potentially unreal. In the case of “Howl”, the image's clear reference to Adams' photograph displaces the appeal of nature even further from that of nature in physical reality. Adams, like other photographers in the canon of art and photography have been successful based on the contingency of their art to art in eras prior. In the case of Robert Adams, while his work is a cultural
gained great public attention in the early twentieth century does not lie isolated to those artists. They too were influenced by artists prior, more specifically landscape painters. Through this progression, Stein's photograph exemplifies modern simulacrum as her work is familiar as a result of cultural constructions of aesthetics in representations. Like demonstrated through Jeff Wall's photographs, reality can be manipulated to fit the cultural ideals of beauty, but similarly, and often more conveniently, artifice can be created to also match this model.
Stein's artificial coyote instills in the viewer a genuine sense of the displacement of nature in the constructed world. The quality of the coyote's being may be of no significance in evoking an emotional response from the viewer, but it does show the capacity of the medium with purported journalistic, recreational, and professional indexicality to create unsubstantiated feelings of connection. Stein's coyote is chilling, but for many more reasons than the animal's relationship to its “lunar guide”. In this scenario, not only is nature unnecessary to the coyote's existence, but the coyote's natural existence is becoming unnecessary for a visceral response to a coyote in nature.
Nature Seen through Simulation in a Post-Modern World While landscape as tableau is startling in diorama form, artist Beate Gutschow experiments further with artifice in the landscape by instead employing seamless digital sampling. Similar to both Jeff Wall and Amy Stein, Gutschow's work draws references from the canon of art history, but her
eighteenth centuries, none having any specific inspiration, but all findings themselves in the same categorical placement of Wall and Stein's historic and contemporary familiarity (figure 17). Seeing that each photograph archives countless croppings of landscapes worldwide, Gutschow's work considered as artifact of contemporary resourcefulness poses new questions of authenticity, anonymity, and globalization.
The development of digital sampling, similar to the refining of photographic props and the advancement of set lighting, exist dually as artistic innovations and technologies deemed contextually worthwhile. As such, these artistic practices which allow artists to create simulations indistinguishable from the originals must be considered as functions or demands of current society. Products such as Photoshop and Digital SLR cameras are only possible as a result of progress made in technical and industrial spheres, but their production is successful as it is relevant to significant demographics. Just as Stein's work highlights a contemporary value of convenience as it relates to the environment, Gutschow's work demonstrates a contemporary lack of regard for nature as place as well as an interest in global utopia in representation before reality. Her samplings show a nature that is idyllic, as were the paintings of which they place references, but this nature is not only a highly altered or reconstructed view of an existing landscape, but instead one that exists exclusively in digital form.
Global sourcing plays a significant role in Gutschow's work because her pieces intentionally combine elements which are initially fitting, but with further knowledge are quite disparate. This worldwide sourcing reflects the contemporary status of nature as icon for Gutschow is a German artist, yet her pieces reference paintings familiar to those of a wide array of national origins. Furthermore, these photographs emphasize an increased social distancing from local nature since in many of the images it would be of great difficulty for an individual to identify which samplings originate locally. Both this inability to identify and the ability of the photograph to function using
lessening relationship between humans and their surroundings. Further, this idyllic nature does not encourage a exploration of a new place, nor does it re-enforce natural values. Eliot Porter's statement that photography's ability to persuade correlates with the quality of the image is of great salience in the context of Gutschow's photographs (Dunaway 157). Following his argument, if the photograph's capacity to persuade interest in nature grows with aesthetic value of the image itself, digital nature collage holds two severe consequences; one being that Gutschow's image quality should yield a great appreciation for nature, and subsequently that this nature does not, and cannot exist.
Photographs of digital superimposition or collage hold the core of the problem posed by nature as icon. This nature instills a false standard, a displaced appreciation, and an ignorance towards contemporary nature destruction. As these implications relate to contemporary thought and progression, they do not exist in isolation of contemporary society, nor are they unusual in the context of postmodern thought. Jean Baudrillard's analysis of the direction of industrialization involves this same sense of simulacra and reproducibility demonstrated in Gutschow's work, as well as the trend of landscape tableau at large. He states, “the contradictory process of true and false, of real and imaginary, is abolished in this hyperreal logic of montage” (122). Baudrillard's hyperreality is one which exists without the confines of these extremes because hyperreality exists only in simulation. These simulations are created not from a necessary original, but rather from a model made for the purposes of further production (Baudrillard 11). Consequently, these manifestations of the hyperreal need not be subjected to placement in real or imaginary realms on account of them rendering these extremes irrelevant. While Baudrillard's concepts can be applied to objects such as consumer goods and theme parks which exist entirely as constructs of industry and mass production, the relationship of simulacra to pre-existing, once organic forms in the physical world becomes more complex. Landscape art held original referents to land owned by wealthy individuals and areas of exceptional natural features, so at one point these spaces were categorizable as real or true. In the movement from representations tied to clear referents to simulations which force referents to a state of irrelevancy, a valuable dimension of nature is lost. The function of nature representations as historically signs of referents, and now as signs of themselves, again leaves physical nature out of the contemporary dialogue.
Cultural progression into a society of omnipresent simulation has larger implications for nature because this development took place after a time of extreme abuse and destruction of the natural world.
Simulacra in nature holds many problems in and of itself, but in this setting it does not allow for the problems of past behavior towards nature to become significant or potentially even noticed. For those living in the era of modernism, representations of nature hid the destruction of nature that was taking place rapidly, but there was still a role for artists such as Robert Adams who were interested in exposing the state of nature as it existed then. Moving forward to the contemporary post-modern era, the definition and role of “real” has changed significantly towards subjectivity and relativism (Heartney 21). Without an essential idea of real or definition by which to measure or improve realistic conditions, grave underlying consequences of simulacra can be disregarded. These changes happening simultaneously, the subjectivity and dispersion of “real” or “true”, and the aftermath of industrialization in the natural world, make for a complex scenario in instilling environmentalism or even understanding the concept of natural.
For example, in Gutschow's piece “LS #3” (figure 18), the conflict of real and unreal, truth and fiction is well demonstrated. The photographic medium would logically provide a layer of indexicality
subjected to the abuses of human development. The warped tree which makes up the center of the composition is clearly sampled from an area in which nature was altered for the purposes of integration with the constructed world of telephone poles and road signage. These trees are familiar to a contemporary viewer considering they can be found along nearly every suburban street, but Gutschow's tree does not evoke the same sobering response which is achieved in an Adams photograph of similar elements such as “Interstate 10, west edge of Redlands, California” (figure 19) from 1985. While these images, “Interstate 10” and “LS #3” both include trees formed by the same type of human activity, Adams' image exists with a sense of referent while Gutschow's does not. Her image exemplifies the photographic trace being placed in a scenario of simulacra: current understanding of imagery and photographic technology allows this image to be both a trace of a truth while simultaneously evading the extremes of truth and falsity. This photograph cannot ask for the self-reflection of Adams startling documentary since the viewer can relate to its familiarity without needing to consider it in an environmental context. But like in the work of Jeff Wall and Amy Stein, this familiarity is a founded in composition and pieces of nature as opposed to a personal familiarity to the presented artificial world.
A mindset for selective cohesion within disjointed parts is representative of post-modern thinking and environmentalism in a variety of ways. In relating the effect of Gutschow's imagery to the viewing of nature in physical reality, many similarities can be drawn. The presence of environmental degradation and destruction is widely recognized throughout the world, but imagery, specifically photographs can play a large part in framing this reality to serve differing means. Photography, the medium employed as both an artistic as well as journalistic medium can depict the same setting to provoke different responses. In the environmental context, this quality of the medium has been utilized
of beauty set by oil paintings and traditional aesthetics (Berger 84), they can create a cohesive beauty which surpasses potentially problematic content. Gutschow's “LS #13” (figure 20) illustrates this point seeing as the photograph is technically stunning while holding remnants of environmental destruction.