T H E ( A L M O S T ) W E E K L Y P H O T O G R A P H
10 May 2016
When Is A Landscape Not A Landscape?
1st Place Head On Landscape Prize 2016 - David Chancellor 'The Fallen'
Congratulations to David Chancellor for his first place in the Head On Landscape Prize this year. It is a highly emotive image and has stirred a lot of discussion.
But is it a landscape photograph? Funnily enough given the title of this blog, I think it is! It is not this photograph that perplexed me as I walked around the Head On Landscape Prize at NSW Parliament House's Fountain Court Gallery. Forty finalists were elegantly printed and displayed - and it's a great exhibition. Head On is beginning to develop a flavour and a style all of its own and that is to be applauded, but three or four prints were to my mind more social documentary than landscape.
So, what's the difference? And where do you draw the line, given photography is such a subjective art?
Herein lies the challenge: what exactly is a landscape photograph? I've had long discussions with Joshua Holko in the past about whether a landscape should be imaginary or real. I suggested we should look more widely at the definition of landscape photography, and yet here I am today, questioning the breadth of some of the Head On entries.
This is the problem: We can probably all agree on what a landscape definitely is: Ansel Adam's Moonrise over Hernandez. No one will argue that (surely)!
What about Ansel's Church and Road, Bodega, California - a dirt road leading to a stately white church at the top of the frame. No trouble! Having a building in a photo doesn't stop it from being a landscape. Nor does including a person or people.
Okay, how about Henri Cartier-Bresson and the man jumping over the puddle in Paris (Place de l'Europe. Gare Saint Lazare)? Compositionally, it's just like Ansel's church with a building up the top and a leading foreground. I wouldn't call it a landscape photograph, but I guess I could.
Technically, Henri's photograph contains an urban landscape. How can we argue that it is not a landscape, except to say it is better described as social documentary? But it's also a landscape...
So, within the Head On Landscape Prize are some photographs that I would call better described as social documentary or even portraiture. In fact, they would have looked great in the Head On Portrait Prize - because a good photograph is a good photograph and does it really matter what we call it?
But don't take my word for it. Go along and check it out for yourself - it's on at NSW Parliament House until 9 June, but only open week days.