Thieu Riemen

© Thieu Riemen

Everyday Aspects and Genius Loci

River landscapes (Maas – Waal)
Since my childhood I have been fascinated by the landscapes of the great Dutch rivers. On beautiful summer days we sometimes went to the riverside to cool down. In winter we went watching high water and in spring we now and then made a trip along the blooming orchards. Later on I visited the remnants of the brick industry along the rivers. These mostly rural or suburban landscapes are man-made environments with a strong impact of nearness of the river.

Nature in these areas is most of the time nature made by and controlled by man. As a matter of fact most of the diverse Dutch landscapes are the result of centuries of intervention by humans. The common point of view of governmental and environmental organizations is that to maintain our characteristic landscapes, management is required. Regarding the river landscapes, it should be added that the security of many people depends on careful management of the river waters. For example, one makes more room for the river by digging trenches and by removing vegetation.

Dutch landscapes
In my images I focus on the signs and traces of human presence. You might say the landscape of the Netherlands is some sort of palimpsest of human actions. In this way it tells me often more about human culture than for example straight forward portraits of people can do. Landscape in my pictures is almost entirely the result of human behavior and intervention.Traces of technology, of industrial and agricultural activities tell me about the use and exploitation of the land. All kind of buildings, materials used, roads, canals, more or less disturbed or cultivated vegetation allow me to see how we have changed, and how we are still changing our surroundings. I explore these gradual and rapid changes in my photographs, sometimes by taking again and again pictures of the same subject and place, just like in my series Four Seasons.

Mood and genius loci
I am usually not very interested in capturing the reality of the landscape in an objective way; as a mere document of human actions. The light and weather conditions are clearly very important to me. I have an enormous fascination for light effects. Carefully I try to choose the weather and time of the day (preferably at twilight) to take my photographs. Sunny weather with nice blue skies are seldom seen in my recent pictures; I am far more fascinated by the gloom that comes with nightfall. In addition many times at dusk silence descends on the landscape. The silence at the end of a working day contributes greatly to the atmosphere of a location.

My emphasis on the importance of having particular light and weather conditions is just because of my interest in the experience of a location; I often spend much time on one particular location and I return frequently in different seasons when I feel a special bond with a place. With experiencing a location I mean feeling the distinctive atmosphere or emotion that a location evokes: the genius loci, the ‘spirit of the place’. To me the genius loci is an very meaningful aspect of the landscapes where I wander around with my camera. In capturing the landscape the omnipresent sky is an important means to strengthen the expression of mood of a landscape.

Another reason why I chose to render a distinct sky in my images, is that the skies for me convey a feeling of transience and impermanence of all human enterprises. 
I am always very interested in the history of a location or landscape; I read as much as I can about it and try to imagine how people before our times used and changed the landscape. In my opinion the skies — although highly variable and changeable — are the timeless elements in the photographic image. Never the same but substantially not changed since ancient times, thus being eternal in contrast with the volatile earthly things.

— Thieu Riemen, Tilburg, The Netherlands

© Thieu Riemen

© Thieu Riemen3

Leona Strassberg Steiner

© Leona Strassberg Steiner

The downtown Jersey City area is booming and natural landscapes are becoming harder and harder to find. Tall skyscrapers, office buildings, and coops are popping up all around us, along with the infrastructure that must accommodate our growing population. 

Searching for Natural Landscapes is composed of photographs taken in four different locations: Mill Creek by the Jersey City Marina, two different spots under the New Jersey Turnpike Extension (Exit 14c), and the area behind Harismus Cemetery. Having lived many years in a small village on the northern coast of Israel, my need to go out in search of quiet intimate spaces for solitude and reflection were becoming more and more vital for my sanity and healthy living. Leaving the paved streets and sidewalks was the only way to find these sacred spots. While photographing, I was especially taken by Mother Nature and her ability to encompass and engulf the old and unused railroad tracks, tunnels, and bridges, turning these areas once more into sacred spaces.

— Leona Strassberg Steiner, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

© Leona Strassberg Steiner

© Leona Strassberg Steiner3

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

Elisa Maple

© 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

© 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