The experience of the European landscape throughout the ages.
While working on an earlier series about the Dutch landscape, I discovered that my photos often failed to reflect my experience of that landscape. In other words, the objective image produced by the camera differs from what I perceive subjectively. Anyone who has ever taken a photograph is certain to have been confronted with this discrepancy. For example: you’re walking over a narrow path towards a village you can already see in the distance. It doesn’t look that far. But when trying to capture the same scene with your camera, the path in the photo no longer looks as narrow and the village seems far away. The shortage of a camera is that it is bound to one single moment, one single perspective, one unmovable eye. While in reality you move through space and time.
For us to experience a photo as being a true reflection of the actual situation – as being an ‘objective’ representation – two kinds of perspective play an essential role in our perception. The first is linear perspective, which is determined by our choice of lens. The second is atmospheric perspective, whereby colours in the background appear bluer and the contrasts less striking. When looking at a painting or a photograph of a landscape, we experience linear and atmospheric perspective simultaneously. In theory, these two forms of perspective depict reality best. And yet, what we see is not always in agreement with our experience of that landscape.
After reading the dissertation by Wim Kranendonk on the famous Italian painter Giambattista Tiepolo, I felt challenged to approach landscape photography in a different manner. Kranendonk points out that in Tiepolo’s work perspective has a contradictory character, caused by his use of color, relative size and different vanishing points. This means that in some paintings the foreground seems further away, while the background appears to be closer. In his ceiling frescos you look at the sky, but in the image itself it looks like you are looking out over a landscape. You are constantly being questioned if you look at a figure or object from below or from the same height. And quiet often the views are hybrid: you look at the figures from two sides at the same time. This results in a contradictory representation of space.
Throughout the centuries the experience of landscape has changed. You can look at it as if you’re looking through a stained-glass window that colors your experience differently when you look through another part of the window. The experience is determined by the time you live in, the cultural environment, but also by the speed you travel through a landscape, and the reason why you travel.
I have approached the experience of the European landscape from four different eras: The Medieval period, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and the 20th century. Each “chapter” has its own approach from a specific historical perspective. In all images I have combined multiple viewpoints to convey my experience of landscape, space, time and distance. This also shows that to experience a photo as being a true reflection of the world, it doesn’t always need to be a correct camera-perspective. In the end this is a way of looking at the world; you experience the space around you differently if you look at it with different eyes.
The Dutch essayist Bas Heijne wrote in his essay Unreasonability the following:
Image fundamentalism denies, just like religious fundamentalism (what in essence is a form of image fundamentalism), the value of multiple viewpoints. It is no longer satisfied with a truth that will always be outside of our grasp. The truth should not be searched for, it should be found. Most important is arrival, not the journey.
It is typical for this time to believe in your own reality, and barely noticing another possible truth. Not just by fundamentalists, but also due to the so-called Filter Bubble on Facebook and other media.
Therefore it is a necessity right now to look at the world from multiple possible viewpoints. I’ll take you along this photographic journey through time and space in Europe.
This project is divided into four chapters. These are in order: Medieval times (Camino the Santiago), The Renaissance (Mont Ventoux), the Industrial Revolution (Mines in and around the Lake District, United Kingdom) and the Twentieth Century (German Autobahn).