Damaged Landscapes: The Role of Photography and the Challenge of the Beautiful Image

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Landscape photography was initially inspired by landscape painting and concepts of the ‘picturesque’ and the ‘sublime’. It has existed since the invention of the camera and remains a distinctive photographic genre to this day. This paper explores the role of photography in society, especially in highlighting conservation issues. It draws attention to theories underpinning landscape photography and the challenges around realism and authenticity on the one hand and beauty on the other. The author draws on the work of seminal landscape photographers from the nineteenth century to the present day to show how they have responded to these challenges. The author argues that, as we move into an age of unprecedented and catastrophic, man-made damage to the environment, the role of the landscape photographer has become increasingly important. This paper draws attention to the paradox of making beautiful images from damaged or ugly landscapes and raises questions about the potential impact of such images on those who view them. It argues that the concept of the ‘sublime’, developed by Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century, remains equally valid today. The author focuses also on the responsibilities of the photographer to create images that convey meaning and argues that this can only be achieved through a deep knowledge of the landscape and spending a long time working in the field.


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Photography, landscape, environment, sublime, aesthetic


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