Exploring the theme of landscape through photographs from the 1840s to the present day, this exhibition brings together a selection of prints that transport the viewer around the world. From views of Niagara Falls to the Egyptian Pyramids many of the world’s greatest locations have been recorded by the camera. Drawn entirely from the permanent collection of photographs at the National Galleries of Scotland, this exhibition will explore the various processes used by photographers over the centuries to document locations far and wide.
The View From Here is part of the Institute for Photography in Scotland’s Season of Photography 2016, a series of lively exhibitions and events taking place across Scotland from October to November 2016.
Home and Away
In the mid-1800s steam travel opened up access to landscapes both close to home and farther away. Many photographers took advantage of this and made journeys specifically to record nature with their cameras. In the 1840s most photographers used one of two processes: either the daguerreotype, where unique images are recorded onto a highly polished metal surface; or the calotype, where a paper negative generates positive paper prints. Both were used to depict the landscape, but with very different results. The daguerreotype captures crisp details, while the calotype process has more contrast and the image appears softer overall. By the 1850s newer processes appeared and photographers began using glass negatives and wet collodion to create albumen prints. The popularity of photography continued to rise with the introduction of stereographs and cartes de visite. Sales of photographs became highly profitable as tourists and armchair travellers sought souvenirs of views as diverse as the Egyptian pyramids and Niagara Falls to Colinton Wood and Loch Lomond.
The Art of Photography
As the medium evolved through the 1800s, more and more people began practising photography. In 1888, the American George Eastman introduced the Kodak Camera that was marketed with the slogan, ‘You press the button, we do the rest’. Suddenly photography became accessible to the masses. In reaction, many photographers around the world formed societies that aimed to promote the artistic side of the medium, fearing that the new accessibility and popularity was lowering standards. Among the groups that promoted a more pictorial approach was The Linked Ring, formed in London in 1892; the Photo-Club of Paris, created in 1894; and the Photo-Secession, established in New York in 1902. All shared a desire to elevate the art of photography, seeking to align it with painting. Processes such as bromoil and photogravure were used to exploit the expressive potential of photography. As always, landscape remained a popular subject.
The Straight Approach
After the soft-focus and painterly effects of pictorialism in the late 1800s and early 1900s, photographers adopted a straight forward approach from the 1920s onward. Rather than emulate painting, this particular style of photography was all about sharp focus and crisp details. One of the early proponents of the more direct approach was the American photographer, Paul Strand. In the mid-1950s Strand travelled to the Outer Hebrides to document the people and places of South Uist. The remote island had been designated as the location of a new test missile site and Strand’s concerns about the negative impact of the modern world were in part a motivation for him documenting the landscape. Many photographers became increasingly concerned about the environment and sought to use their camera to bring attention to the precarious relationship between people and the land.
The Altered Landscape
Since its inception in the early 1800s, photography has continued to evolve. Today, many photographers utilise digital technology to make and print their images. For some this technological development resulted in a freedom to alter the representation of the landscape—to add or remove elements from the composition. What had begun as an authentic record of nature in the 1840s could now be the subject of fantasy—whether it was a fictitious Scottish glen or a series of disparate places linked together by a unifying horizon, as in the work of Sze Tsung Leong. At the same time, the actual landscape continues to alter and the camera is still used as a recording device to bear witness to the impact of human intervention on the land itself.