Ex. 3.1: Reflecting on the picturesque

For the majority of my life, I have lived within arms-reach of the South Downs, a National Park in the South East of England. Looking back at a childhood of growing mental illness, I see how I reacted (and react now) to picturesque settings like those landscapes as a signifier of what was to come.

I find little to no humanity within the picturesque, and that link to my fellow man has always taken center-stage when it comes to my perception of nature. Whilst I’m not a fan of portraiture, there is a ‘presence’ within the shot, something that in my opinion the  picturesque often misses. There is rarely any sign of life, instead empty ruins and natural spaces pervade the description.

Having just read about the 19th Century Gardener William Gilpin, I was struck by how rigid the ‘rules’ of the picturesque were that he laid out. It was particularly interesting that his he specified that little-to-no human influence should be shown- the very thing that loses my connection. It’s the often vastness of empty space, the hint of silence that instantly produces a depression of emotions.

That’s not to say I can’t enjoy a picturesque photograph. Ansell Adams’ landscape photography is often stunning, but for me it ends there. A pretty shot of a pretty place, but utterly empty on any deeper level.

As such, I’ve rather tended to avoid landscape photography. I prefer to take ‘scenic’ fine-art shots, where the landscape serves mostly as a backdrop to a foreground subject.

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