Book Review: Perspectives on Place

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

Alexander Pisarev

© Alexander Pisarev

From the very beginning of the human race, people have been expecting the end of our world. It’s a paradox, but in the last two centuries, in spite of scientific and technological advance, or due to it, there were made more apocalyptic predictions than there had ever been made before.

2012 passed in expectation of calamity predicted by the Mayas.

This project aims to inquire into how our perception of objective reality will alter in the face of factual or imaginary apocalypse. Ordinary walks through the hometown become the quest for signs and warnings of upcoming disaster. Familiar landscapes and situations look weird and dream-like, although nothing terrifying is happening — or is it all just freak of the imagination?

— Alexander Pisarev, Moscow, Russia

© Alexander Pisarev

© Alexander Pisarev3

Alexander Diaz

© Alexander Diaz

The city of Rome is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world with its magnificent churches, ancient ruins, and picturesque views. These defining characteristics entice millions of visitors to Rome each year resulting in a city overflowing with tourists. Among the congestion and noise of the city, flows the Tiber River, which is segregated from its urban environment due its low elevation and towering embankments.  As a result, the river and its environs are underutilized, poorly maintained, and starkly different from the bustling streets of Rome.
The area between the river’s embankments is an intermediate zone where nature and culture converge. The unique ecosystem of the Tiber is complex and quite fascinating. Although the river is inundated with trash and contaminated from the city’s runoff, nevertheless it continues to provide habitat to a variety of animals as well as offers refuge for many of the city’s inhabitants, especially the homeless. The Tiber River represents the resiliency of nature and provides a framework for tourists and locals alike to contemplate the relationship humans have with the natural world.

— Alexander Diaz, St. Augustine, Florida

© Alexander Diaz

© Alexander Diaz3

Paul Alexander Knox

SEPT 30 Paul Alexander Knox

The Space Between explores the different phases of social housing and regeneration via compulsory purchase order sites. Homes were demolished to make way for a new wave of regeneration to come. The collapse of the market has left these areas as liminal spaces, spaces between. I have photographed the remnants and marks left on the land where homes previously stood highlighting the once vital infrastructure that now stand as odd objects separated from function.

Social housing was built to house the working class, creating thriving communities constructed around an industrial heart. During the early Thatcher years those community members were given an opportunity to own their homes through a statutory right to buy, with discounts beyond their wildest dreams. 1.6 million council properties became private homes. Simultaneously the industries began to close down, splintering the communities, turning neighbourhoods into “council estates” dotted with privately owned homes. The estates became rife with unemployment and “antisocial behaviour,” leaving the homeowners to watch the slow decline of the community. The economic prosperity of the new millennium found these estates out-dated and over-run with social ills yet positioned on prime real estate. They were eyed for higher value regeneration, the council tenants were rehoused and the homeowners given CPOs. Not all home owners, many now retired, were willing to sell their homes for the dramatically reduced rates offered. The demolition of the vacated council homes began around them. The collapse of the market stalled this process leaving many proud homeowners with their spruced-up houses isolated and often attached to derelict and dilapidated shells.

The issues that led to the breakdown of communities have not been addressed: unemployment continues to rise and the “antisocial” have been moved on to other estates. The future of social housing is uncertain, as is the future of these spaces; the spaces between.

— Paul Alexander Knox, Gateshead, United Kingdom

© Paul Alexander Knox