Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Anthropocene Photography: An emerging school of Photography

Anthropocene Photographic Beginnings

In 1975 William Jenkins mounted a show at the George Eastman House in Rochester New York, featuring the following photographers Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon and Stephen Shore. Out of this exhibition a new perspective on Landscape photography evolved; at first, the photographers were described as recording objective documentation of locations altered by humans, such are suburban sprawl and industrial buildings set within a landscape.  Jenkin's curation of these photographers' works brought out a new direction, as these photographers were more consumed by capturing the quotidian, the uniform, the uncomposed and the conceptual than they were in trying to show the alteration of the landscape. His curation was perhaps a reaction to landscape photographers such as Ansel Adams or Edward Weston, in that in their work, the human intrusion into landscape had been downplayed. More importantly, the exhibition pointed a number of photographers into a new direction: one perhaps less concerned with the social landscape and more concerned with the altered landscapes and its silent reflection on the social aspects of this alteration. This paralleled the emergence of environmentalism, which is perhaps the vanguard of the post-industrial revolution, where we are grappling with how to revolutionise our systems to work within the finite systems of the planet.

Subsequent Expressions

Perhaps this movement  was more fully expressed later on by photographers like Andrew GuskyEdward Burtynsky, David Maisel and Evan Anderman. I have included a few small samples below to illustrate my point, and provide a link to each of their sites.

Edward Burtynsky
Andrew Gursky
David Maisel
Evan Anderman
These photographers moved forward with the ideas Jenkin introduced capturing altered landscapes where the social commentary was overwhelmed by powerful imagery of the alterations. These imagines were no longer banal, nor uncomposed. They are the opposite: elegant, colourful, dramatic and lush compositions in large format. They, on face value, convey the power of our species to created and modify the landscape but at the same time left the view with the realization that it was not a "them" doing the alterations but rather a "we."

What Defines this School

This emerging school of photography can not be defined by New Topographies or Altered Landscapes, as these terms now suggest a school of photography that was more documentary, stark and often unrelated to landscape man-made or otherwise. This school is not a school of place either like the Dusseldorf School or the Vancouver School. Naming it Anthropocene Photography, suggests that this school is more about our planetary environment and our current relationship to that environment. An environment where there is no separation anymore between what is natural and what is created by us. There are some corollaries in other fields such as geology now being renamed earth sciences so that they include both natural and made environments.
Another hallmark of this school is rather than seeing the alterations of the landscape as stark, they seek to find colourful compositions that straddle the divide between a sense of wonder and a sense of pending disaster, while at the same time attempting to include the viewer as a participant in the alteration.
Edward Peck
Oct, 2016

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