Tunstead Quarry, Derbyshire 2008: Aesthetic record

My first call to photography came through an interest in landscape – from a functional perspective, as a professional ecologist. The aesthetically driven imagery of much contemporary landscape photography produces dramatic and beautiful images but tells little of the functional character and origin of the landscape which, in the UK at least, is almost entirely shaped by human occupation and use. These two perspectives are not easy to reconcile. An ecological and functional view of the landscape centres on an understanding of physical and biological relationships and is concerned with process and change. The contemporary mainstream of landscape photography is more concerned with aesthetically driven values and a kind of an environmental spiritualism.

I have sought in these images to explore both the ‘objective’ appearances of things and their subjective interpretation. In landscape photography (including industrial landscapes), the quality of light seems to me to be the most important factor in shifting the emphasis of affective response – in directing interpretation. This is why the polarisation of photographic styles between contemporary, conventional landscape photography and the neutral, deadpan style of the New Topographics (for example the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher), centres critically upon the light at various times of day and under different weather conditions.

At Tunstead, I have explored a clearly human landscape and tried to find a mode of representation that gives emphasis to aesthetic response, whilst also rendering clearly the recorded detail of the subject. Showing what is there is important in these pictures, but so is the final visual and affective presentation of the image. These are not ‘record’ pictures, but neither are they straightforward landscape ‘art photography’. Blake Stimson, characterising the work of the Bechers, talks of “aestheticizing industry rather than industrializing art.” (Stimson, Blake. 2004 The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Tate Papers Spring 2004. Tate Museums. London). My intention has certainly been to aesthteticise but also simply to delight in both light and detail. In doing so, I want to encourage what Michael Collins calls the ‘long look’ (Collins, M. Undated. The Long Look. Tate Magazine. Issue 1 http://www.tate.org.uk/magazine/issue1/) but also to develop a photographic practice that reflects the pleasure of seeing.


All images and content © Damian Hughes 2009