“That one may see for miles into a bit of paper no bigger than one’s hand is, of necessity, a perpetual wonder,” The Photographer’s Annual wrote in 1891. More than a century later, this still rings true: landscape photography enchants with its ability to transport us to the world’s most jaw-dropping locations.
Landmark: The Fields of Landscape Photography, a new book from Thames & Hudson, presents 240 landscape photographs from around the globe by more than 100 photographers, harvested over 15 years by photography writer and curator William Ewing. Included here is the work of greats like Andreas Gursky, known for his large-format, panoramic shots of landscapes and architecture, and Edward Burtynsky, who makes industrial landscapes look like abstract expressionism. Then there are up-and-comers, like Mishka Henner, who turns Google Earth’s satellite images into politically charged works of art; and Olaf Otto Becker, who captured the majestic Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland.
The term “landscape photography” might initially conjure up images of pastoral English fields speckled with horses or of Floridian postcard-worthy sunsets. But the landscape photographs here are not the cheery sun-drenched beaches of resort brochures. Within the landscape genre, Ewing and most of his professional colleagues are more intrigued by photographs of the man-altered or man-inhabited landscape than by the pristine vistas of, say, an Ansel Adams. “The human footprint is simply too massive now to ignore,” Ewing writes in the book’s preface.
That’s both a blessing and a curse. The brighter side of the human footprint is evident in a shot of children floating on inner tubes down Florida’s Wild River; a NASA image of icy Saturnian satellite Dione; and a hallucinatory Oz-like neon city rising above a desert in Florian Joye’s “Bawadi.”
Then you see the darker evidence: a nuclear bomb tested by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands’ Bikini Atoll in 1954, and six dead cows in a field in Russia’s Altai Territory. It’s these unsettling photographs that hold the most power–they’re not just reminders of the Earth’s beauty, but of its fragility, too, and serve as a call to action instead of simply decoration.
Landmark is available from Thames & Hudson here for $65.