The Architecture of Landscape
by Robert Hirsch

Through technology and sheer numbers people have become a geological force that shapes our planet’s future just as earthquakes, glaciers, and rivers have altered its past. Human activity is so pervasive that it is no longer possible to separate people from nature. The Architecture of Landscape explores this dynamic environmental relationship between people and the landscape through its dichotomies, myths, and symbols of our natural and built environment. The project mediates on the relationship of how the active and temporal construct of the landscape, from notions of the banal, the beautiful, the picturesque, and the sublime to the technological structure of commerce and industry, defines our civilization and shapes our identity. The images concentrate on the marks of human civilization – consumption, labor, leisure, and production - as forces that transform nature. The photographs also record how these constructs fall into ruin. The project also deals with cultural tourism by depicting the multitude of ways in which people in America, Canada, Iceland, and Mexico attempt to control nature and demonstrate that fabricating of landscapes, like the making of landscape images, is a collective human need that helps determine the quality of human life and the environment. The subject can be as much about technology as it is place, substantiating how technology has modeled and patterned landscape and how human relationships are formed in relation to it. Although ice ages, volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates will dwarf human activities, the constant metamorphosing of a working landscape echoes the pragmatism of an evolutionary concept of becoming that is structured between the land and its human occupation.

The work reflects the belief that photographic situations are cultural situations and cultural situations are complex debates about moral issues, and moral issues are interchanges with freely chosen images that reflect personal being, and images of personal beings create photographic style. The photographs contemplate the nature of making photographs, the cerebral, emotional, and physical drives of working through a process and the objects that allow time to be stopped and examined, and the fundamental power of representation to form a reality. The camera is used to manipulate relationships of scale and space between subjects, an operation reinforced by the presentation that can take a viewer near the vanishing point of materiality. These miniature, black-and-white images of light, shadow, and deep space reward diligent viewers with an abundance of surprises. They rely on contrast and mass, not detail, as their visual impulse to organize subject matter around broad concepts and states of mind as opposed to typologies. The fragmentary qualities reinforce the beauty that can be found within something that has fallen into a state of disintegration. The black space surrounding the image signals the power of emptiness to be all or nothing. It is a pool of silence in a world of noise that encourages contemplation.

This series communicates visual experiences that remain defiant to words. The French writer Albert Camus stated: “If we understood the enigmas of life there would be no need for art.” We know that words have the power to name the unnamable, but words also hold within them the disclosure of a consciousness beyond language. Language is one way to understand our word, but it also limits what we see. It is difficult to see what are in-between words. How do we see things for which there are no words? These photographs also convey the sensation and emotional weight of the subject without being bound by its physical content. In this sense the images have everything to do with landscape and nothing to do with landscape. In an age of postmodern irony the project delves into spirituality. By interpreting an illuminated subject, it is the light itself, against the darkness that asks in a nonsectarian manner: Is there a conscious purpose to creation?

By arresting time and space the images allow us to examine that which attracts us for often indescribable reasons. They may remind us how the quickly glimpsed, the half-remembered, and the partially understood images of our culture can tap into our memory and emotions and become part of an invisible personal psychic and spiritual landscape that makes up an integral component of identity and social order. These encounters between people and places describe relationships that may be absurd, interdependent, or mercurial. They are complex multi-layered meditations dealing with the paradox of how people internalize nature and in turn how nature shapes the human imagination.

These photographs reconnect to the medium’s origins with each image being uniquely created from a single negative that is interpreted by unconventional uses of light that include fiber optics, light painting, and masking. The project currently consists of ninety 20 x 16 inch gelatin silver prints, which have been archivally processed and selenium toned. Each print is presented inside a 1 1/2 inch black recessed wooden frame with a Plexiglas cover.

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