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PHT203 Assessment 2 Essay

Evanescent: Environmental Futility


Evanescent, an ongoing series of rural landscape photographs that put forward the
idea that the landscape photograph will be our last example of environmental futility;
much like the extinct animal, we will only have images or memories of such an
existence. Throughout the past two years, I have been photographing rural landscapes
with this concept in mind to which I aim to open the discussion of environmental
futility and the idea that can we save the landscapes or only hinder the process of
them becoming evanescent.
The individual path that lead me to this discussion involved many themes that are
presented within the work, these include myself creating images that provoke the
viewers emotional connection with the landscape and their perception of
environmental melancholia. As artists, our work tends to look towards the sublime,
but I wish to combine the sublime with an inherent melancholy so that the
photographs will bring about a sense of a serenity, sadness and a spiritual longing.
The viewer is asked to think about the inevitable demise of the landscapes, spaces
being non-existent, and much like their own lives and photographs of them, will come
to the terms that these photographs may outlive them.
The idea of the sublime melancholy has been investigated into such a state that, the
idea of sublime and melancholy being opposites has been disregarded at this point,
depending on the culture and origins of the words we take our information from, we
can discover the strong correlation between the two. That being sublime may hold a
very great excellence or beauty but holding a strong willingness of pain and tragedy,
if we take upon the idea of sublime discussed within the 18th Century, where
Philosopher Edmund Burke wrote his paper Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of
the Sublime and Beautiful published (1757) he notes sublime as being present in all
things terrible, and capable of stirring the strongest emotion that humans are capable
of; the desire for self preservation when faced with the threat of destruction and
death.1 2
This idea holds strongly into Evanescent, where the photograph puts forward natural
and/or artificial environments that hold a strong sense of sadness, which can be
lurking within the images and in us. It can be seen as the human condition that being
filled with emptiness, depression and anger can be seen as the strongest and truest of
the human personality, that our emotions display the beauty of humanity from when
we feel our most vulnerable and ugly.
It was in interest to push those concepts into the landscape instead of the portrait,
displaying vulnerability in a landscape but also the vulnerability of a human through
landscape. This technique can be drawn from the work of Fine Art landscape
photographer James Farley in his series Trepidation where James draws the

Burke, E. (1757) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.
Oxford, Oxford University Press. Pg. 36
2
Farley, J. (2014). Trepidation: Void. Landscapes: the Journal of the International Centre for
Landscape and Language, 6(1). Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/landscapes/vol6/iss1/30

Rckenfigur compositional device. Which Literally translated, the German term


means back figure, and it is often used to described figures viewed from behind.
With this technique the viewer can subconsciously impose himself or herself into the
image and in James Farleys Image untitled 6 (fig 1) from his Trepidation series,
the viewer may feel overwhelmed due to the vast landscape they put themselves into,
the landscape can bring a sense of overpowering towards the viewers perception.
These ideas are also utilised within Evensecent yet photographs are juxtaposed
against each other so the narrative creates a back and forth feeling of vunerabilty and
conquering. An example of conquering within landscape can be seen within the an
imge taken from the photograph Conquering The Rock (Fig 2), which takes strong
themes that are seen within the Caspar David Frieddrich painting The Wonderer
Above the Sea of Fog (fig 3), the sense of conquering the landscape is carefully
constructed, an image like this can be juxtaposed beside another image that is the
opposite, where the landscape conquerers the individual as seen in James Trepidation
work.
The ideas of melancholy in the work has been influenced by Zen Buddist, it has been
described as beautifully sad, as well, Japanese culture describes a concept called
Wabi Sabi which is an asthethic that can be described as one of beauty that is
"imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete". These themes of impermanence and
imperfection bred together with beauty are the foundation of Evanescent. The term
Evanescent is defined as soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence; quickly
fading or disappearing, a theme that draws back the idea of Environmental Futility:
Roger Gottlieb says The bleak truth is that unless we totally withdraw from society
we will be participating in morally questionable collective forms of life, forms that
can be made moral only by political change3
The idea that how ever we live our lives, whether it be completely enviromentally
conscience or totally oblivious, we still run the risk of damaging our enviroment and
its something that must be a total reform of societies life stlye in order to make a
difference. Its stated that no one can escape death but only prolong ones life,
eventually they will die and with these landscapes so will they, we as humans can
only prolong the life of the landscape. So these images arent a sign of urgencny for
the landscape but just an awereness of its current state.
Fine Art Photographer Christopher Orchard draws reflection from the writing of
Susan Sontag in her critical body of essays on Photography where she states, All
photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another
persons (or things) mortality, vulnerability and mutability. Precisely by slicing out
this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to times relentless melt4 The
idea that a photograph can serve as a Memento Mori is a highly related concept
offered within the photographs of Evanescent, each landscape photograph will serve
as a document of the landscapes inevitable extinction. Orchard goes on to say, In
this way each landscape becomes an instrument of sadness, consumed with latent

3 Roger S. Gottlieb

A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet's Future 2006 A


Greener Faith
4 Sontag, S On Photography. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, p. 15.

melancholy and an untamable mourning for an irretrievable truth5, that truth being
the constant reminder of the inevitable, the camera may serve as a memory capturer
that can hold evidence of subconscious melancholy. Chris Orchards series 15 Days
challenges the photographer and the landscape to a particular level of equilibrium. He
compares the landscapes spirituality with that of the photographers, describing that
these photographs hold the same aesthetic and fictional meaning of that a ghost, the
ideas that ghosts are forever trapped within this level of existence and non-existent,
just like the image in a photograph. Evanescent draws inspiration from these
concepts, that the photograph will always the in-between of existence and death, once
again returning back to the idea of the landscape photograph being a documentation
of an extinct environment.
Evanescent: Environmental Futility is a body of work commenting on humans worth
of existence as well as their environments worth, we describe humanity as the most
important form of existence but Evanescent aims to challenge that. Through these
photographs its hoped that the viewer will take into account their own self worth and
nature of existence. Its hoped that these photographs will entice the viewer with a
deeper level of curiosity and contemplation, not to just see these landscapes as
landscapes but landscapes of temporary existence.

Orachard, C (2014). Portraits of Vulnerable Ghosts: Contemporary Landscape Photography in


Context.Landscapes: the Journal of the International Centre for Landscape and Language, 6(1).
Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/landscapes/vol6/iss1/14

Bibliography:
Burke, E. (1757) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.
Oxford, Oxford University Press. Pg. 36
Orachard, C (2014). Portraits of Vulnerable Ghosts: Contemporary Landscape Photography in
Context.Landscapes: the Journal of the International Centre for Landscape and Language, 6(1).
Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/landscapes/vol6/iss1/14
Roger S. Gottlieb A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet's Future 2006 A

Greener Faith
Sontag, S On Photography. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, p. 15.

Figure 1:

Unknown 6 (2012)
Trepidation
James Farley
http://www.jamesfarleyphotography.com/#129

Figure 2:

Conquering The Rock (2014)


Evanescent: Environmental Futility
Joshua Thomas
Figure 3:

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818)


Caspar David Friedrich