on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

“Landmark” – A Different Take

Exhibition Review

Somerset House has, in the last few years, established itself as a premier exhibition space for international photography. Whilst it would perhaps be unfair to describe it as populist, it certainly trends to more accessible imagery than the more contemporary fare on the opposite bank of the Thames. Holding the annual Sony World Photo Expo, as well as recently "Cartier-Bresson in colour", the exhibition space is pleasingly traditional, set in reasonable size rooms with good light, than conveys a sense of intimacy absent in the modernist concrete hangers that sprung up in the late 20th century.

The exhibit "Landmark: A stroll through the fields of Photography" is curated by William Ewing. I was excited to see his take on Landscape as a genre, having recently seen his curation of Cartier-Bressons lesser known work. The exhibition is large with over 170 images from 70 different artists, with approximately half being big players and the other half lesser known newcomers. As you walk through the gallery it becomes obvious that Ewing's take on Landscape photography is almost all encompassing, with a huge variety of work. The conventional style favoured by Landscape Photographer of the Year and perhaps expected by the public, is conspicuous by its absence. For Ewing, landscape photography could mean "anything not inside", but even that would not cover the images of Mars by the Curiosity rover or David Malin's beautiful depiction of the Sombrero Galaxy.

"Landmark" is to be taken almost literally, with the majority of the works depicting Man's influence and impact on the world around us. Edward Burtynsky is perhaps one of the best proponents of this particular genre of marks on the landscape, and his work is covered with a number of his beautifully shot and printed, highly detailed images. This theme of man ravaging, changing, interacting or controlling the world is continual through the galleries.

William Ewing has divided the exhibition itself into 10 zones, helped by the topography of the old building it is set in, with descriptions such as "sublime", "scar", "control" and "delusion". This neatly avoids more traditional ways of dividing up the genre, and allows the curation to have a more loose flow as you walk through. It works well, and the room arrangements force you to concentrate on the immediate images rather than your eyes being drawn to a brighter image in the distance. I found myself being able to spend time with each image in this way, with little sense of how large, or how long the exhibition would be.

A lot of the images would be well recognised by readers of On Landscape. It is nice to revisit familiar images, as well as experiencing for the first time in a large format, images from Simon Norfolk and Struth that I had only seen in books or websites previously. However the most exciting aspect is coming across new work, or new ways of looking at the world, and in this Ewing does not disappoint. The pictoralism of Olaf Otto Becker's icescapes and Susan Derges's large pink photograms, that start the exhibition, don't prepare you for the urbanised, industrial and polluted land that develops as you walk through. The exhibition ends with a more abstract and modernist view following images that have a decidedly political message. The variety is rich, there really is something for everyone.

As a 'wet and dry' printer I cannot stop myself nosing the prints. It was refreshing to see that around half the images were inkjet, until recently 'archival pigment prints' would be considered inferior to the more traditional silver or C type wet prints. This is the first major exhibition that I have attended where the pigment print is so evident. The inkjet takes nothing away from the image, and for the larger mural sizes, is the technology that makes the images possible. Perhaps the snobbery for non darkroom prints is coming to an end. Not all the images are mural sized and digital, there are some beautiful selenium toned silver prints by Robert Bourdeau, which are positively bijou in contrast.

In summary this is an excellent representation of Landscape Photography in the 21st century. One cannot help wonder that if the cliched visitor from another planet viewed the exhibition, they would take away the thought that our world is one that is urbanised, polluted, industrialised and the sun rarely shines. Still it manages to be a strangely beautiful place, and surely that is Ewing's point.

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