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Objectifying the landscape


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Objectifying the landscape

14 Jul 2021 8:45AM   Views : 295 Unique : 148


This blog stems from a comment on a portrait in the Critique Gallery – the original poster had asked if he’d overdone the processing, notably skin-softening. There’s a big debate to be had around that, but I’m going in a different direction today: objectification was mentioned, and I wonder if we objectify the landscape as well as people.

There are as many and varied instructional articles about retouching landscapes as portraits: and I’m delighted that within the first ten that YouTube presented me with there’s one on using frequency separation! (it’s an often-discussed way of improving skin textures. I’m glad that trees can also have their trunks tweaked.) There’s certainly debate about how much retouching is permissible, but the language is calmer. Why?

For one thing, maybe, there’s no direct link between any sort of protest movement and the outcomes of retouching. Feminists talk – with justification – about unrealistic images of women creating male expectations. So far, I haven’t heard major protest that an Orton Effect landscape creates unrealistic expectations among walkers, though I’d argue that it does indeed do that.

I went for a walk with friends the other day, in the Cotswolds. It was very beautiful, and even the gate latches were like the pubs and houses: artisan seems to me to be the word, as there were so many one-offs rather than the usual uniform galvanised steel devices, or the blue string beloved of farmers whose income is depressed.

There was a magnificent stormy sky visible shortly before lunch (see lead picture) and I’ve enhanced it with Nik Efex as well as playing with Levels. I’ve exaggerated the effect, so that I hope you will see a part of the drama I saw, despite my confining the image to a small computer screen. That is, I think, objectification… Of a sort: but it conveys my feeling about it, I hope.

If I suggest that images like the watermill shot below convey a suggestion that all is well in the countryside (when it is not, because of the degradation that climate change and chemical farming are causing) am I in line for criticism by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace? Or will scenes of pastoral English landscapes all assume an elegiac quality?

In other words, should accuracy and misdirection be passionately-fought issues in landscape, with an air that only one answer can be acceptable? Over to you…



dudler Plus
17 1.6k 1868 England
14 Jul 2021 8:47AM
There's a lot to discuss...
14 Jul 2021 10:40AM
I Like the Water Wheel, Paul.
cooky Plus
17 6 4 United Kingdom
14 Jul 2021 11:09AM
Questions, questions, questions and there will be so many different answers! Personally, I like to do as little 'faffing as possible on most of my images. Lack of computer technical ability and not wanting to spend too much time at the screen when I would rather be taking the photos or looking at other peoples if that makes sense. I am not against processing but sometimes I feel the need to say I haven't faffed and others feel the need to say they have, we are strange bodies!

If an image works then that is what matters and I suppose a landscape is an interpretation of what is seen and felt in the moment so tweaking and changing/enhancing skies etc is okay. I can hear the hesitation in my typing voice though... so I would say apart from the use of the basic contrast/ brightness etc, I personally wouldn't change skies and if an odd dot of a bird causes offence I can live with it.
I remember being asked if I had cloned pylons into an image and that was way back in 2005! What heartens me is that the same shot would now start a healthy environmental debate on this site!

Photography is and always will continue to evolve, lenses, cameras, processing programmes. Good job we are all different and all free thinkers as they say...variety is the spice of life!

14 Jul 2021 11:48AM
I feel that if an image works well without any processing (straight out of the camera), and the lighting and exposure give a true replication of the scene in front of you, and you’re happy with it, then fine.

If, on the other hand, like so many exposures which include the sky, the cloud detail is poor and overexposed and spoils the image, and it doesn’t convey the story you want to tell the viewer, then what’s wrong with giving the image a little help along? Not many cameras cover the entire dynamic range between a bright sky and darker foreground. That why graduated filters are used by so many photographers. Is it objectifying the landscape by improving the sky detail, instead of leaving it overexposed and uninteresting?

The definition of photography is after all ‘painting with light’ – painting being the operative word. It’s an ‘art’ form in that it’s about being creative and reducing the vast array of visual clutter down to a simple, pleasing composition. That requires a creative eye and thought. It’s not just about pressing a shutter button. It’s about being flexible and using your imagination.
We all have different views on whether using processing is cheating or not, or even misleading! I think it's about using artistic license. It’s ok to distort reality a smidgen to improve a piece of art, or photograph in this case, in order to stamp your own personality and feelings about the subject on it. As Kath said, ‘Variety is the spice of life!’.

P.S. Great blog subject John, and I love your mono watermill image…Smile
BobinAus Plus
6 3 10 Australia
14 Jul 2021 12:21PM
Interesting questions, John.
Is a strongly manipulated digital image of the modern era any more an objectification of landscape than, say, the so called 'straight photography' of Ansel Adams? I think Adams rendered the American west in a romantic way that resonated closely with the new conservation and wilderness ethos of the late 19th and the 20th Century. The passionate advocates and practitioners of various photographic styles; the straight shooters and the pictorialists before them; more recently the new topographers and the neo-romantics express not much more, in my sceptical view, than the ideologies and technologies of their respective eras. This is hardly a good basis for the passion and, too often, scorn that mars discussion about landscape photography. I agree with Kath. Variety is the spice of life.
14 Jul 2021 3:22PM
Viewing, and responding to, a landscape is an experience that exists in four dimensions ( 3 x Spatial, and 1 x Time ) and involves up to 5 human senses.... 6, if you count memory.
So any attempt to reproduce the experience using 2 dimensions and 1 sense, and give the viewer a real flavour of that experience is very often, in my opinion, going to need a bit of help. Sometimes even quite a lot of help.

( When the Linn LP12 turntable appeared back in the 1970s it was criticized by some as sounding "larger than life." Ivor Tiefenbrun understood the need to compensate for all the sensory information present in a musical experience that you couldn't transcribe onto a lump of vinyl, but some others just didn't get it. )

I think it's necessary to emphasize what was felt to be important, what inspired the photographer to make the image in the first place... as you've done with your stormy sky, John.
I think selection / crop is often more important than playing with colour or tonal relationships, though that has its place too.

"Faff" – verb – "to spend time in ineffectual activity." ( Oxford English Dictionary )

Nuff said.

dudler Plus
17 1.6k 1868 England
14 Jul 2021 3:46PM
And... The watermill definitely didn't look like that - it was in colour, and moving (as far as possible without a tripod and filters, I captured the latter). But the sky really did look incredibly dark and threatening. The processed image here is absolutely true to the experience of looking at it, albeit without the twinge of 'what if there's lightning in there?'
cooky Plus
17 6 4 United Kingdom
14 Jul 2021 5:17PM
Well done on the water mill by the way John. Lovely image and very up my street.

dudler Plus
17 1.6k 1868 England
14 Jul 2021 6:05PM
Apparently it's notorious, or something like that - it has a tall, red brick chimney in a village of Cotswold stone...It actually looks OK to me, but some of my companions objected.
cooky Plus
17 6 4 United Kingdom
14 Jul 2021 9:09PM
How very dare!
Robert51 12 7 123 United Kingdom
15 Jul 2021 7:37PM
This is a great subject and one of the first to talk about dealing with a landscape in the same way we deal with a portrait. I think a good scape image can be improved as much with post processing as any portrait. Great artist always took the light to lead the eye around an image and I also feel that like a portrait we need to sculpt the landscape with the use of dodge and burn to bring out the best in an image. You may have noticed that all of the above does not change an image. If a image looks better if you remove something like litter or a branch in the wrong place then why not. In portrait photography processing the rule is if something will not be there in a week's time, like a spot in the wrong place then do so. If it's something like a scar leave it in as it's part of the person makeup.
So in so many ways may be we should look at both in much the same way to produce better images. Just my thoughts...
firstlight 11 2 3 United Kingdom
16 Jul 2021 1:30AM
Understanding the question is half the answer, so the saying goes. However, in order to ‘understand’ we need to reasonably ask, “What is it ?” So when asking, ‘…do we objectify the landscape as well as people?’ the heart of the question is agreeing on what objectification is?

After looking at a dictionary, wiki or academic paper, one might reasonably define (social) objectification as, a process of dehumanisation, to be presented as an object. Looked at in this light, perhaps understanding the question does help us with an answer… In a literal sense the landscape is not human and therefore cannot be dehumanised and objectified. Or, if one does objectify the landscape, then it presupposes that one is projecting human qualities on to the landscape - something that will inevitably be less universally accepted that the dehumanisation of a human being.

Put more simply, would it be more correct to state that, if we do objectify a landscape, then we probably do not objectify it in the same manner (emotions, morals, beliefs etc) that we might objectify people? Any comparison of objectification between the two is intrinsically and materially different? Assuming the validity of this argument then perhaps retouching of a landscape is going to be a calmer discussion than the objectification of a person or people (the second question)?

There is indeed a lot to dissect and discuss here…and probably worth consideration…

How much post-production manipulation is enough, especially when representing people or projecting an idea or image?
In an era of rapid digital manipulation do we need to question our responsibility of the effect this has on viewers and their perception of reality?
Is there an tendency (deliberate or unintended) to socially objectify models by over manipulation or other means?
In photography, is there anything new in these questions or is this just the same old issues but in a new ‘digital’ guise?
Are we more accepting of existing behaviours (e.g. manipulating appearance and ‘reality’ with clothing and make up) than we are about digital equivalents?
Is this all just overly sensitive claptrap and inhibiting the advancement of new ideas in art? (one might think of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture ‘Iris - messenger of the God’s’ as one such example still challenging people today)

A great thought provoking blog John. 👍

dudler Plus
17 1.6k 1868 England
16 Jul 2021 7:59AM
Looking at the dictionary is often an excellent start to a discussion... Though on this occasion, it leads down a side-alley, I think.

The reason is that I wanted to remove the questions around sexuality from the debate for a minute or two, and so I used 'objectification' rather loosely to mean something like 'neglecting reality to impose an oversimplified and potentially disrespectful idea of identity' - or something like that...

In that context, digital imaging offers us new routes to do things that have always been done. There is the potential to create some sort of art, to make something that is removed from reality for a specific creative purpose. We're able to turn all the controls up to 11, simply because it's technically possible. And we can also manipulate what we see to match our preconceptions of how things ought to be.

Turning the dial up to 11 can be fun, and it teaches us things. While it may open up creative options, it's not creative in itself. Making something new and different is fine, providing it respects the source material. The problem is manipulating reality to fit an agenda - arguably, as when a non-fan dons an England shirt to cheer at a football match while not actually respecting the members of the team as individuals...

I had to look Iris up: and it's a fascinating piece of work. Beautiful, uninhibited, and a lot of models would definitely not pose for it: nor would every photographic outlet accept it. From some angles, it definitely violates EPZ's rules. That doesn't make it bad art or ugly, but it continues to challenge some sort of societal standards...

I'll blog again in a day or three...
Robert51 12 7 123 United Kingdom
16 Jul 2021 8:39AM

Following yesterday's post I took the water Mill image an did a few changes to the light only. I post the two together so you can compare those changes. The water coming from the channel grabs the eye and then the eye should follow bush up the left side, across the top, down the mill. Then across the reflection on the water to end up at the water wheel which I hope shows a little more detail. The changes do not alter the picture in anyway and I hope makes the image better without being able to notice those changes.
Does this count as "Objectifying the landscape" and is any different to what we do in portraits ?
I think people always think of "Objectifying" as being to do with portraits and advertising but is also used in most landscapes.

If we take that one step further is any post processing (other than a crop) "Objectifying" ?
firstlight 11 2 3 United Kingdom
16 Jul 2021 1:00PM
Good afternoon John,

I should probably lay my cards on the table. I believe your initiative in trying to engage debate on objectification, but without triggering the somewhat emotive subject of gender related issues, is inspired. However, from reading the comments I think the guts of the issue are not being drawn out (maybe I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time 😜Wink.

To have a serious look, and to tackle the subject with respect to all involved, it may be that a more direct approach is required??? If this is to be done seriously, with respect and the minimum of knee-jerk emotion generated, then may I suggest the example of Socrates (who I liberally referred to above). He was the master inquisitor and his method the original benchmark for seeking truth. I would hope that a ‘head on’ discussion, with clear definitions of what is being discussed, would allow for dialogue but without the confusion of misunderstanding? This is not to say disagreement would be discouraged, quite the opposite in fact.

To unashamedly quote Socrates again, I must profess that ‘I know nothing’. I photograph nudes only occasionally, there are many others with far greater experience, far greater skill and no doubt a far greater perspective on an issue like objectification - even from those who feel they have been the subject of objectification. On the other hand I know anatomy & physiology well and have been an amateur student of Western art from the borders of pre-history through the Athenian high classical period, the renaissance and beyond.

So I lay the question out - is there a serious discussion to be had on this topic and similarly related ones?

Cordially and with very best regards,

Rodin’s ‘Iris - Messenger of the God’s’ is, as you say, a fascinating work. Even 130 years after it’s creation, and with nudity openly part of most people’s lived experience on television, film, the internet, advertising etc, this piece still has a confrontational impact on audiences. The Museum of Fine Art in Boston considered it’s piece ‘unshowable’ and such was it’s puritanical reaction that it felt obliged to dispose of it in 1953. Yet…. when one takes the time to enquire, dig, study the artist and his other works, perhaps this piece is somewhat less confrontational than at first glance? Rodin is considered the father of modern art for a reason.

P.S. I hope you forgive me for posting a comment that is perhaps better off as a PM, but I hoped it may raise comment from others also.
16 Jul 2021 5:57PM
I think Mr light, above, makes an important point about the nature of discourse, and the value of the Aristotelian model.
So whose "reality" are we talking about, John, because mine won't be the same as yours? Our brains unconsciously edit everything we look at.
Define your terms.

I've always thought of Art as an investigation of "reality," in the search for meaning, a "delving into,"rather than a "removal from." Although I agree there is a "specific creative purpose." That would be an attempt to find a connection on an emotional or metaphysical level that would help to make sense of..... things. For some lucky folk that could be something as simple as a pretty picture.

I personally don't see the manipulation of digital images of the landscape as any kind of moral issue. You can't offend the landscape, only someone's idea of it. So who is to be the arbiter?

It's all down to personal taste... what resonates with you and what doesn't. As Kath pretty much pointed out, right at the top.
dudler Plus
17 1.6k 1868 England
16 Jul 2021 9:33PM
I intend posing a further blog around objectification, specifically of the female body, and I plan to seek some input from one or two models I know. It's going to take a while to get even some of my ducks in a row, though.

I will definitely take up the suggestion of firm definitions - my feeling is that the process may question and refine them, even though they are the foundation for the rest. Truth is iterative, progressive (except for fundamentalists, of course).

I see nothing above that looks out of place here - no PMs needed.

And I will pose a question about landscapes... Alan will know about this one: I definitely see it as objectifying (in some sense) to edit power pylons out of any image, because they're part of the landscape as it is now. They'd be out of place in a period drama, but not in contemporary landscape. I think my operational definition of 'objectification' is something like an attempt to create an alternative reality with some aspects of modern life removed. The blemishes, the pores and the hairs that make reality real.

There's room for that, and for creating entirely imaginary scenes (I've seen landscapes with part rotated ninety degrees on here today) but they must never replace what we actually see...
16 Jul 2021 10:38PM
"...a question about landscapes"

– Point taken. It seems to me that those photographers who would remove power lines etc from their images are living in a fantasy world and dreaming of a landscape that doesn't exist. It's the same mindset that refuses to include people, or human artefacts, in their idealized dreamscapes. We may not always be a friend to the landscape, but we are inescapably part of it, and in my opinion to deny that is to fail to understand the landscape at all. Objectification as a denial of Truth.
Robert51 12 7 123 United Kingdom
17 Jul 2021 9:12AM
I think we need to decide what we want from an image. Are we taking an historical document or are we making pictures ?
This is up to that individual and them alone. We can only do what we want and if others like it, it's a bonus.

If we take this all the way, shooting in black and white changes what we and the camera see.
Is this a bad thing, of course not, but often can add more drama to an image that wasn't there.

This is very much on the same lines as shooting film or digital that is still going on today...

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