The Trouble With Landscapes

by Will Clarkson


I have now shot a large proportion of my gamekeeper project, and I hope I have collected a great deal of useable material. The day-to-day ordinary tasks of the gamekeeper are well covered, with one or two more to come from the remainder of the year. 

One aspect in the project is landscapes, and how we perceive them. For instance, in the past, classic landscape paintings concerned ownership - the landowner would be pictured with his family or the spoils of a hunting trip in front of a magnificent scene. The spoils might represent the control of humans over nature, the power of man over outdoors combined with the power of the laird over the land. Landscapes were also at times promoted to the level of history-art, the burden of reality being placed onto the canvas rather similar to how it is now on the camera.

I don't want to get into this in too much depth, for fear of revealing a woeful ignorance of the history and meaning of the medium. However, in more modern times landscape photography has taken on the mantle of the tricky genre of history-art. For example, with the likes of Ansel Adams, it comes hand in hand with conservation and with preservation - in both photographic medium and in encouraging conservational attitudes in the viewer. It is through my brief research that I realised the dangers and pitfalls that I am faced with. 

One significant point made to me during interviews has stood out. It was that the notion of wilderness in Scotland is a fallacy, that the amount of human influence over time is such that management for improved ecosystems is a necessity. I wondered where we get this notion of wilderness, and started to look into it. The majority of landscape work with conservational and representative emphasis that I can find is fantastic, but in both senses of the word - high quality, beautiful work, but at the same time fantasy, that we are being shown parts of Scotland that are rarified. I even start to wonder if a car park or fence has been cropped out of one side or that the photographer's car is only a few hundred yards away. Admittedly it is unlikely but I am troubled by their perfection. I am well aware that intelligent framing can remove the evidence of man's influence, but why bother? Why do we need to hide this, when it is so ubiquitous, so obvious that man has interfered wherever we go? I started to get the sense that it is tipping the scales from preservation and practicality to nostalgia for a past that is effectively long gone. 

With this in mind I have avoided the classic images of skylines and rivers normally seen, and focused on landscape details using a longer lens. All the photos are from the same glen where the gamkeeper works. Most are fencelines as this is an essential part of a healthy Scottish ecosystem structure. I am more interested by the areas of management and not the dramatic views, and the skyline features heavily in the rest of the project (for other reasons...more of this on another post). Some are converted to black and white to accentuate the presence of fencing.

I would love to know what people think of these, and if they disagree with me then even better - please let me know, comment away.