on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Thomas Peck’s Critiques

Olaf Otto Becker

Thomas Peck

The real pleasure of photography is that it forces me to slow down and really look. That’s never easy in our rushed world, so a chance to stop, look and see is truly valuable.


The Quiet Sublime

The tradition of the Sublime in landscape has existed since the 18th Century. The most common understanding of the sublime is when the landscape inspires awe and wonder, even dread and terror. However, that particular representation has fallen out of favour, partly, I suspect, because it was overdone in artistic painterly circles and rapidly degenerated into cliché, partly because photography democratised the making of images which meant that virtually everywhere got photographed. Thus an image of the Alps no longer excited the 19/20th century viewer, let alone the 21st, as it had done in Turner’s day.

Bild 05.2

To make images of the Sublime, therefore, has got harder. We have already seen in On Landscape that there are some regions of the world that can still be seen as Sublime in this original Burkian sense, but they are few and far between.

If the dynamic sublime evokes terror, the mathematical sublime reflects a quieter but equally powerful emotional response to the immensity and beauty of nature.
William E Ewing, in Landmark, The Fields of Landscape Photography (Thames & Hudson, 2014) notes that photographs of deep space may well have vestiges of this feeling of man’s insignificance, or that images of nature in extremis (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) can evoke fear, it is almost impossible to make straightforward images of the landscape that are going to create terror. We are so exposed to how our landscape looks that dread is a highly unlikely reaction to it.

This article is open to paid and unpaid subscribers so requires at least a free subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL. Midge Specs, midge net glasses from the Highlands.