Beate Gütschow: LS/S

I’ve had this book for a long time, but recently revisited it, as I’ve been thinking more about landscape photography. In the first half of the book – the LS (Land Scape) series – Gütschow recreates imaginary 17th Century landscape paintings with digital collage. The essays and quotes following this talk about many of the same issues I was exploring in my experiments in flattening the plane. I wanted to pull out some quotes here. (The images here are mine, not Gütschow’s.)

There is a quote included from Friedrich Ramdohr, written in 1793, in which he identifies two aspects of the landscape image designed to invite the viewer in. Firstly the comfort of familiarity in the subject matter. And secondly the use of perspective and point of view to give the sensation that the viewer could walk into the image:

A landscape painting may only be considered beautiful when the viewer has the feeling that he has seen something similar before in nature or if he believes that something similar could exist in nature and that he would immediately recognize it as a real place…. The profiles of the foreground, the middleground, and the background must clearly be distinguished from one another to form
bands along which the eyeruns gladly…. Particular care must be taken over aerial perspective, so that we believe that we can walk deep into the place depicted.

Quote from Friedrich Ramdohr – On Landscapes and Sea Pieces. 1793

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Gütschow talks about her own work exploring this genre. The elements of the image are placed to invite us in (in a way that is accessible to painters, but not most photographers, unless they work with digital manipulation). And it can suggest a conceptual point of view as well as the visual – we are small and nature (or perhaps God’s creation) is great:

With photography I replicate the patterns of landscape depiction that were used in seventeenth-century painting. At that time, “landscape” in painting was a very artificial, highly organized construct: the picture was divided into foreground, middle ground, and background. The foreground is the entrance: the viewer “walks” into the picture from this entry point. The landscape is framed by clumps of trees and bushes, like a stage. The people, the staffage are generally placed in the middle ground. They look out into the landscape on behalf of the viewer. The middle ground often contains a river or a path. The background is composed of a view into the distance: ranges of hills that vanish into the haze. The light mainly enters from the side, illuminating some areas and leaving others in shadow. The many layers create great spatial depth. I have adopted this structure of landscape in my photographs.

Beate Gütschow

Of course, in the genre that Gütschow is exploring, the intent is to deploy these elements to invite the viewer in, but the same techniques can be subverted to push the viewer away.

Similarly, in a conversation about gardens (recalling the parallel development of picturesque landscapes in gardening and in art) Gütschow also talks about the role of the visible boundary; the elimination from the image of something outside the landscape:

Some types of gardens hide their boundaries. Walls are overgrown with ivy in the English garden, for instance. The view into the distance-the outside of the garden-is considered part of the garden, and so the boundary is rendered invisible from most viewpoints. The function of the concealed boundary is to persuade us that the paradise is infinite. What I also find interesting is what you’ve said about the aspect of control. The Japanese garden is the most extreme in this respect. It embodies the wish to control reality, to control nature. This also applies to the French garden. And although the English garden seems to be natural, it’s controlled. too.

Beate Gütschow

Again, hidden boundaries are typically deployed to persuade us that ‘paradise is infinite’, but could equally suggest there is no escape from hell.

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