Posts Tagged ‘design’


The Tetons & the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, 1942 c, Ansel Adams


Mobile Homes. Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973, Robert Adams

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics


Social landscape photography portrays the effects of human beings on the earth; it is photography of the human-built or human-altered landscape. It may incorporate the natural landscape, the usual domain of landscape or nature photography—but it is most distinctly not about the natural world. In the more traditional approach human beings, any sign of human beings like roads and cabins, and any human effects on earth are notably absent. I believe this general attitude is a deliberate absence.

Consider the work of the exceptionally talented—and exceptionally limited—photographer, an American icon producing iconic photographs of the American landscape, Ansel Adams. Despite my love of his photos, Adams rarely shows people (and when he does, as in his Manzanar Japanese-American internment camps series, they look like rocks).


Dust Bowl, Dallas, South Dakota, 1936, uncredited


Yakima Washington, 1939, Dorothea Lange

Sharply contrasting with Adam’s photos are those from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. These vividly and intentionally portray the effects of human beings on the earth—sand storms, fleeing farmers, destroyed farms. This is the crux of social landscape photography—how we human beings interact with the earth. This expanding awareness reflects our larger concerns with global climate change.


Point de vue du Gras, France, 1826 or 1827, Joseph-Nicephore Niepce


Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre


Nelson’s Column under construction, Trafalgar Square, England, 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot

Social landscape photography has been around since the first photographs—or heliographs as they were first called. Consider the first photographs by Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot. All involved buildings and people, implicitly the interaction between human beings and the earth.


Quai d’Anjou du Matin, Paris, 1924, Eugène Atget


New York City, 1888 c, Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives

Consider Eugene Atget at the turn of the last century. Recognizing the massive changes on Paris and environs created by the industrial era—and for other reasons, financial in particular—he assiduously photographed “The City of Light.” Likewise, his contemporary, Jacob Riis, newly emigrated from Denmark to the United States, photographed tenements in New York City which resulted in major changes in housing laws and the end of the most dangerous housing.

For contemporary examples, look at the aerial photos of numerous photographers like Alex McLean; Marilyn Bridges with her book, Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes, and the highly popular series called The Earth From Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.


Fleet of B-52 Bombers at the “Bone Yard,” Tucson, Arizona, 1991, Alex MacLean


Mesoamerica, 1986 c, from Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes by Marilyn Bridges


Icebergs & Adelie penguin, Adelie Land, Antarctica, date unknown, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

In 1975, confirming the need for an expanded sense of landscape photography, the prestigious photographic venue, The George Eastman House, in Rochester NY, presented the startling exhibit, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Oddly enough, given last names, one of the featured photographers was Robert Adams, no relation to Ansel—a dramatic contrast. Attesting to the importance of this genre, since 1981 various adaptations of the original exhibit have been circulating worldwide. In 2013 Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach edited and published Reframing the New Topographics, which brings the genre up to date.


In my own work and teaching, motivated primarily by the global climate crisis, I detect a clue to my new direction, long nascent, but now more clearly evident: Social Landscape Photography.

Downtown development

Downtown development in Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel


The New Topographics, on artsy.net

New Topographics: “Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography” by Kelly Dennis

Deadpan Geometries: Mapping, Aerial Photography, and the American Landscape” by Kim Sichel

“What is landscape – further thoughts” by Bob Coe

Photos of Boston’s new Seaport district

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Excerpts from my journal during a 3 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late winter 2014, searching for the seeds of the New Miracle of Detroit

(I am planning another 3 week trip to Detroit in November. Please stay tuned.)


April 5, 2014, Saturday, Detroit, Karen’s home, dining room table

Cool, mid 30s, overcast, mild westerly wind.


Another big day for photography as I wind down this 3 week spring Detroit sojourn [April 4, 2014]. 4 themes actually [more later on these]. The 1st was the scheduled visit to Alan Kaniarz’s fundamentals of design class at the College for Creative Studies (CCS), a school I’ve been drawn to since visiting Detroit in 2010. I’ve pictured myself teaching photography there. He’d invited me to visit, I’d sought permission from the administration, and finally, because the big administrator never responded to the small administrator in the form of Marcus, Marcus said OK.


Students were building a piece of wood and metal that seemed to have no purpose other than providing experience fitting pieces together, drilling holes, creating threads, etc. Of course I may have missed the larger context. Women alongside men, blacks alongside whites, tall with short, fat with lean, etc. A good mixture. The equipment was superb, all a woodworker might desire. I thought again of my son-in-law, Phil, and of myself when younger when I had plans to create my own basement shop. And further back, to high school when I took all the shop courses available including metal, wood, electric, and engineering drawing, not so much to prepare for later engineering studies which I followed but because I loved tools and making things.



How much of my background will show in the photos? Big-small question.


Alan has excellent rapport with students, joking with them. But he seemed a little lax about distractions. I noticed 2, maybe 3, women peering into their mobile devices while he lectured about lighting. One quickly hid her screen when I approached and pointed my camera at her. Some texted, some looked at female models, I doubt they were doing further research on topics of the day. Had I been Alan I might have required them to stow their phones, as I did with my students at the Jenin Freedom Theater. Which they appreciated.


The lecture about lighting was to prepare them for their next assignment: design a lighting fixture. So he demonstrated all the sources of light from a facsimile of the first Edison bulb with carbon filament to a string of LEDs controlled remotely so it could change colors and flash. Here revealed, in the span of some 150 years, an array of lighting.



I thought he might ask me to launch the topic of photographic lighting, magnesium powder to strobe, but he didn’t. How well would I have done this without preparation? (Maybe this was my dream last night?)

That finished, it was lunchtime and I’d not checked my morning’s email. So after exploring the photographic section, meeting no one, seeing students at work, observing the well equipped but perhaps not so often used film darkrooms, and the fine photos made by students, thinking of myself here teaching, I took lunch in the cafeteria (fish sandwich and fries, followed by a large chocolate chip cookie and Americano coffee which I learned is not standard American style coffee but espresso with hot water, a potent concoction which I will try again) and dove into the swift internet stream of CCS.

Rapid does not begin to describe the speed of this free, open Internet connection—67 mb/s download and 64 upload. The speed pushed my Internet speed tester into the red zone. Is CCS to be my new office? Maybe next visit I’ll upgrade my housing to live in Midtown around the corner from CCS.





College for Creative Studies Facebook

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