Perspectives on Place

Perspectives on Place, by J.A.P. Alexander

This book sets out to survey “theory and practice in landscape photography,” and does an admirable job, considering the long history of portraying the landscape in painting and photography. Alexander gives introductions to a variety of subjects, such as the sublime, that are useful to understanding contemporary landscape photography.

He organizes his book into an introduction and five chapters, on such topics as “Defining Nature” and “Landscape and Power.” In each chapter, Alexander combines a discussion of the practical aspects of photography and project-making with the aesthetic considerations of artists who have explored this genre. He also makes it clear that successful photography is more than just showing up; it’s a matter of research and reflection.

In Alexander’s first chapter, “Taming the View,” he weaves together a consideration of tripods and camera formats with Robert Adams’ thoughts on geography, autobiography and metaphor. Those three elements can be combined successfully in landscape photography to bring out the richest compositions, according to Adams.

In the books’ second chapter, “Defining Nature,” Alexander draws our attention to 18th-century discussions of the sublime, beautiful and picturesque, three ways of describing the landscape — first by painters, then eventually by photographers. Alexander introduces images by contemporary artists who challenge easy notions of beauty.

The book is well-illustrated, with photographs from early artists such as Timothy Sullivan and Carleton Watkins, to contemporary artists such as Penelope Umbrico, Nadav Kander and Celine Clanet. Alexander also uses reproductions of paintings to make points about art history that are pertinent to painters and photographers.

Alexander has created a book that should be useful to artists, teachers and anyone interested in a nuanced presentation of issues in contemporary landscape photography. The book is published by Bloomsbury.

— Willson Cummer

© JAP Alexander

Photo © J.A.P. Alexander

© Elisa Maple

In a time when water is poised to become the oil of the 21st century, The River’s Edge explores the vernacular landscape of the Lower Neuse River Basin, a complex relationship between the river and man. Weaving through seven North Carolina counties, the Neuse River begins its journey in the Piedmont in the West, and ends it in the Pamlico Sound in the East.  Although under increasing environmental pressure, there is still a beauty that flows with the Neuse, a quiet strength and resilience that feeds both the spirit of the land and the people of this region of Eastern North Carolina. 

— Elisa Maple, New Bern, North Carolina, USA

© Elisa Maple

© Elisa Maple3

© Agan Harahap

The Invisible Monument is a photography project that I did in my pilgrimage to various locations of massacres that occurred in Indonesia in 1965. These locations have changed or may have been converted into other forms. In the absence of instructions or accurate markers of the precise locations of the points, I tried to bring back the dark story that happened 50 years ago. This project is a response and my responsibility as an artist in trying to photographically document the historical facts in order to provide a new alternative view of Indonesian history.

At the age when it could have been called a ‘teen,’ Indonesia was in a very bleak era. People branded as members or sympathetics of the Partai Komunis Indonesia or PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) were arrested and tortured. There is no exact nominal figure on the number of these victims of human rights violation. Some researchers estimate between 1 to 3 million lives were victims of this barbaric act.

Until 1965, PKI was the third largest communist party in the world after the Soviet Union and China. In Indonesia, PKI was the largest party with millions of members and sympathizers. PKI has several organizations that serve as engines of the party such as Pemuda Rakyat (Youth Citizens), Lembaga Kesenian Rakyat (The People’s Art Institute), Barisan Tani Indonesia (The Farmer’s Line Up of Indonesia), Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia (Central Labour Organisation Throughout Indonesia), Gerakan Wanita Indonesia (Indonesian Women’s Movement) etc, all of which participated in almost every part of society at that time .

On September 30, 1965, six army generals and one high-ranking officer were kidnapped and executed. In that unstable period, Major General Suharto immediately appeared to take command for security measures and order. On October 4, all seven corpses were found in an old well in the Crocodile Hole. The next day the bodies were ceremonially paraded above APCs and buried.

But it did not end there. Various media in Indonesia were forced to close. The only media that could be circulated was affiliated with the army. In its report, PKI had done a heinous torture and murder against the six generals and one officer at the Crocodile Hole. Furthermore, the army’s media also described a form of torture committed by PKI in a very cruel and inhumane way. As a result, rumors grew about the barbarity of the PKI. People who were in a confused state just consumed the news and immediately took action against the cadres, members and sympathizers of PKI in Indonesia.

In many writings that I read, mass actions against the massacre of PKI was supported by the army. In fact, there were many places dedicated specially to train soldiers to execute the young men of PKI. The result was that millions of Indonesians, be it members, cadres, sympathizers and even relatives associated with the PKI were eventually captured, tortured and killed without going through the court process. Once executed, the bodies of the victims were buried at various confidential places or dumped into ravines, rivers and left washed up on the beach.

After Suharto became President, all matters relating to the events of the G-30S and genocide became one direction. In addition to the government (Suharto), no one was sure who they could speak openly about the brutal action. Suharto took full control of the state of Indonesia. The only source that could be obtained was controlled by the government — propaganda such as history textbooks, monuments and street naming, until the movie “Betrayal G30S/PKI” which was mandatory viewing for several generations. And hundreds of ‘propaganda products of the new order’ which must be swallowed by this nation so clearly ingrained, PKI is the enemy of the nation.

After the reformation and the fall of the Suharto regime, the mystery surrounding the G-30S and the mass killings that occurred began to open slowly. Hundreds and even thousands of articles or news that emerged after the reform era, suggested that what occurred around the G-30S that had been recorded in history books, films, propaganda monuments and hundreds of other products were inversely proportional to the reality of the matter. In some documents that I learned, it was written that the mass execution that occurred in Indonesia was a serious human rights violation and second largest after Hitler and his Nazis in the 20th century.

According to Bre Redana, history is a symphony of memory. History is nothing more than a collection and a series of different stories, (or even a myth ), about what happened in the past. History is always written by the winners. Even more if when we talk about the incident 47 years ago which has always been closed and manipulated, then the true historical facts that precise and accurate must be refracted. 

Various efforts have been made to ‘bring’ history into our daily lives, ranging from the provision of street names, place names, or even to erect a monument.
 I wonder how many standing monuments there are, ranging from big cities to remote areas throughout Indonesia. Monuments were established as a symbol, a marker and a reminder of the important things that happened in that location.

 George Santayana, a writer and philosopher, once said, “Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So I would argue that the history of our nation needs to be straightened out, and should be remembered, so that similar incidents do not happen again.

— Agan Harahap, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
(translated by Aniela Rahardja)

© Agan Harahap

© Agan Harahap3

© Thomas Ladd

The Sheep Pasture Gardens are community vegetable gardens which are tended by residents of North Easton, Massachusetts. I began to make photographs there as a refuge from my busy and noisy life. I could focus on the beauty of the landscape, reflect on changes of the season and admire the elegant structure of plants. Yet over time the garden landscape became less fanciful. During my visits I noticed that food was left unharvested to rot. The gardens appear to be therapeutic hobbies — not essential to the people who cultivate them — and were often forgotten. This prompted me to question how gardens are used by people who truly need them. My research led me to learn about poverty farming within the Andean communities of South America. I decided to visit. Presently I am working on two complementary projects: the Sheep Pasture Gardens and the Cloud Forest Gardens — each serving a different purpose.

— Thomas Ladd, North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, USA

© Thomas Ladd

© Thomas Ladd3

© Jesse Moore

I strive to make photographs that are snippets of ordinary life. In November 2014 I published a photobook, Bungalows, featuring 100 photographs that were made while walking in Durham, North Carolina. Presenting this series as a book emphasizes the commonalities between images. Patterns emerged organically in their content and compositions, as I worked on the series over three years, using point-and-shoot cameras to capture scenes of domesticity.

Although these photographs are rooted in their locality, Bungalows also highlights homes and neighborhoods in a way that is broadly relatable, by depicting them from the perspective of a passerby. I think of this approach as a combination of street photography and candid portraiture that documents the landscapes of a specific place and time. This series is intended to blur the distinctions between public and private spaces. Its images feel intimate, yet a buffering distance exists between the subject and photographer.

I’ve often wondered what someone might think after seeing a photo of their home in Bungalows. I can only hope they would be pleased to know that another person paused for a moment to focus on its unique details and commit that lasting image to film.

— Jesse B. Moore, Durham, North Carolina, USA

© Jesse Moore

© Jesse Moore3

© Renee Akana

I am a California photographer who recently moved to Central New York.

I come from Los Angeles, a diverse landscape of ocean, mountains and desert, uniting with a congested population. Perhaps those of us who live in mega cities often see no farther than the car ahead in grid lock. We define “natural” subjectively or conveniently.

Escaping the city meant crossing perhaps 50 miles of desert to find a pine tree. En route, the surroundings become harsh and isolated. Yet, I couldn’t escape the interaction of man upon the land.

We all seek beauty and that’s why I am a landscape photographer. Yet, I can be as excited about an abandoned building as I am when I see a giant sequoia. Perhaps there is something to be said for the secrets that they both hold, witnesses to forgotten stories that existed before I arrived.

— Renee Akana, Oneida, New York, USA

© Renee Akana

© Renee Akana3

© Jürgen Nefzger

In 2008, the credit crunch in Spanish banks caused the property bubble to burst.

Tens of thousands of unsold apartments and development sites have turned into new ghost towns around Madrid. The fantasies developers used to project onto these semi-arid landscapes now seem outdated. These towns have been suddenly demoted to ruin status, and evoke a future devoid of any prospects. 

The important point here is to remain focused on the ordinariness of things — open to the very ugliness of buildings and soiled nature, which develop their own visual uniqueness — as if apportioning praise and turning it into unreal beauty.

— Jürgen Nefzger, Nice, France

© Jürgen Nefzger

© Jürgen Nefzger3

© Michele Cabas

Beauty is in every thing and everywhere.
The task of the photographer is to present it in accessible terms.
This is achieved by providing an incomplete picture, without unnecessary frills, the ideas in their natural state.
This allows you to go back to the archetype, the true source of light.
The light that strikes the film.

— Michele Cabas aka Joe Galaxy, Gorizia, Italy

© Michele Cabas

© Michele Cabas3

© Babis Kougemitros

These pictures are the product of my last two-year wandering in several places and areas of Attica (Greece), the zone between the city edges and the countryside. Edgelands depicts vague, ambiguous and constantly-changing landscapes that people often reject as being ugly or aesthetically unworthy.

This time I escaped the Athens city centre, the chaos, the perpetual mobility of the crowd; this time I turned my eyes to the edges of the city, where the spectacular and eye-catching frame tend to fade and disappear into the hazy and disordered flora. I ran off the main highway and followed much more peripheral roads — an uncharted road network, stretched like a web in the Attica basin, which indiscreetly unites underpopulated areas, industrial zones and slums. These are the narrow and insignificant roads we take when we’ve lost our way; these are the in-between areas which constitute the passageway from the city to the countryside.

All in all, my nocturnal wanderings in these places — so close to Athens but still so distant — revive the question of what is beautiful and what is ugly, what is significant and what is trivial — but most importantly where the heart of the city beats hard and unceasingly.

— Babis Kougemitros, Athens, Greece

© Babis Kougemitros

© Babis Kougemitros3

© Asia Chmielewska

These are extracts from my ongoing project Out Here, In There, which comes up from the observation of several suburban spaces, extending from locations in Spain to France.

I realised wherever I go out with my camera I am always focusing on the peripheries, the spaces that are unstable and most dynamic ones at the same time.

Being fascinated with the interaction between the constructed and the natural world and how that affects the way people move within it, I try to examine architecture, people, nature and their mutual interactions within this project.

I feel kind of an urge to record environment changes, suburban expansion, desolated and industrial spaces, waste grounds, man-altered landscapes and non-places. As if it suddenly mattered to take possession of such territories and witness the layers of change occurring in my urban reality.

— Asia Chmielewska, Paris

© Asia Chmielewska

© Asia Chmielewska3

© Gustavo Boemi

Drifting in the city sometimes my eyes are captured by something or someone I would not expect. One day, in fact, during a walk my attention and my camera were attracted by a road sign covered with colorful flowers. The colors of the flowers contrasted with the grey of sky and asphalt. Those flowers were placed there by relatives or friends of a victim of the road. Lately I discovered many memorials like this in my city and in other Italian cities. If we read the statistics of deaths in road accidents we remain petrified by the proportion of the case. That’s why I’ve called this series A Silent War. There are many deaths, but spaced out in the 365 days they will not impress public opinion.

Except the associations for sustainable mobility no one hits the road to protest against the enemy that kills. We have few moments of dismay when we hear news of a road victim, moments that become hours or days if the victim is a friend, the days become eternity if it’s a beloved one. Well, these are the memorials in my city. They are not usually captured by the eyes of the drivers, and still are perceived as something alien to our lives. These altars represent the pain that widens in the city. The collective unconscious wants to remove it and forget about it. Every time we go down the road we should think that we are sitting on a weapon and we must remember the martyrs of this silent war.

— Gustavo Boemi, Turin, Italy

© Gustavo Boemi

© Gustavo Boemi3

© Yoichi Kawamura


A horizon line represents a gateway to Enlightenment — a Release, which is…
The marriage between the Carnal and the Eternal worlds (Joseph Campbell)
The axis mundi: an established center point or navel of the universe (Mircea Eliade)
The connection of the sky with the ocean, the desert, or the Midwest Plains that leads the viewer to his or her inner place of self.

This work records my visceral experiences of seeing the connection between the world of physical reality and the unseen inner world of consciousness. The images represent the moment where we, as physical beings, touch the ethereal world. Where we can choose open space and gently, passionately, visually, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and meaningfully experience the point of release between the Eternal and Carnal worlds.

Carnal space is essential, a prerequisite for life. Our bodies are a product of nature, made from materials in the universe that produce impulses and needs that result in the creation of our material world: a world of time and space, a world of suffering and sorrow, a world of reality. Eternal space is that which is seen but not felt. Called emptiness or nothingness in Buddhist traditions, it is timeless and infinite, the sublime. Never nihilistic but expansive like the universe, it is inside us and exists without judgment.

Empty space contains meaning and offers choices to create the eternal or profane space — the mindful Zen garden of Ryoan-Ji in Kyoto or the chaos of Las Vegas. When space is devoid of meaning, we risk creating T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland — a world without significant inner meaning.
There needs to be a balance. In all our scientific undertakings and successes, we have improved the material world. Progress in our understanding of the Eternal space has not been equally as successful. Yet, intuitively, we sense that the profane and sacred live side-by-side as equals within us. Without the sacred, we live in the profane, or The Wasteland. Without the profane, we cannot attain the sacred. To live only within the sacred would have no meaning within the profane. It is only by embracing the sorrow and death in the world of space that we find meaning (or give reference to the sacred) found in the moment and eternity of life.

The images are intuitively composed so that open sky and reality are paired, yet open space is predominant. As opposed to traditional imagery (in antiquity) where the sky usually represents the male energy and the earth (and moon) represents female energy, I unconsciously reversed these qualities: the sky is more feminine and the ground is more masculine. The horizon in many images represents the release point between human existence and ethereal meaning.

Shades of blue are predominant in this work. Optically, blue is perceived from the oldest parts of our optical system. I believe that our penchant for Blue represents our evolution as organisms from the ocean. When basking in an ocean wave, we look up and see either blue water or blue sky. Clear blue skies are hopeful and emotionally attractive, commonly associated with values such as harmony, faithfulness, infinity, and safety; it is consistently the most popular color worldwide. Cloudy images create a Ganzfeld effect, where our eyes lose reference to visual reality. When combined with horizon, they suggest a point of release, where eyes lift upward into the expanse of the eternal while also turn inward into the expanse of the self.

— Yoichi Kawamura, Claremont, California, USA



© Tito Mouraz

Open Space Office was shot in Portugal over a three-year period and represents a transformed landscape that portrays the existence of Man as a constructive, reconstructive and contemplative being. The landscape appears completely and irreversibly transformed and it was this transformation that caught my eye and fueled my interest in conducting this project, basing it on this very landscape.

The work presented aims to portray a reality that suffers an ongoing daily process of rapid transformation. Therefore the pictures show a temporary reality inserted in a natural landscape undergoing progressive transmutation. They are unique and imposing spaces with a undeniable visual impact which bestow on the images a strong formal and plastic content. I would like to emphasize that these were the aspects I concentrated on and attempted to visually portray the best that this intervention could present to the eye, both in relation to the formal configuration and in relation to the chromatic and lighting harmony that characterize these spaces that create a unique environment. In this way, we can behold a dialogue between Nature and Man’s action, between harmony in a texturized cutting and what develops in it, what involves and transforms it, as is particularly visible in the first images of this series, that portrays the idea of an organic whole.

I find it difficult to transmit on film the personal experience and all that one feels and observes at these immense and torn sites, where silence is felt in an unnatural and intimidating way. It is a well-known fact that an image cannot replace reality. That is why I chose to include parts of a hidden horizon or an incomplete landscape, in this way suggesting a different perspective, since the proximity to these sites which grow in the opposite direction to what is normal, are usually unobserved by the spectator — almost giving them the chance to rebuild them.

— Tito Mouraz, Porto, Portugal

© Tito Mouraz

© Tito Mouraz3

© Dan Mariner

Drake’s Folly is a photographic book focusing on the oil region of Pennsylvania, and particularly the town of Titusville, where in 1859 Colonel Edwin Drake drilled the well that started the modern oil industry.

I journeyed through the region in search of hints to the past boom in oil production and the vast infrastructure that once dominated the landscapes. I was keen to see how the region has fared since the oil industry began to focus its attention elsewhere in America.

After the emergence of stories of a black liquid which was seeping from the ground, the then-fledgling Seneca Oil Company sent Col. Edwin Drake in search of this elusive substance. After much frustration and ridicule, on the 27th of August 1859 and at a depth of 69.5 feet, Drake made a discovery that would change the planet forever. 

Unbeknown to him, Drake had made a discovery that would not only illuminate peoples’ homes but also radically transform the evolution of human civilisation.

— Dan Mariner, London, England

© Dan Mariner

© Dan Mariner3

© Paolo Fusco

INSULAE is a project aimed at describing the search for isolation that the walls built around the new buildings of the new Roman suburbs represent.

While in various parts of Europe new ideas in shared housing are being built, in Rome the goal seems to be to close citizens behind walls which separate them and keep others away.

These photos were taken in the suburbs of Rome, built in the last decade with little public coordination and supervision, in an incoherent urban environment.

The only common feature of these new suburbs is represented by the walls which enclose every block and every building, and completely isolate the residents from the outside, in a growing climate of distrust and fear of the other.

This seems to me as a clear symptom of how the Italian society has changed in the last years.

— Paolo Fusco, Rome, Italy

© Paolo Fusco

© Paolo Fusco3