Assignment 4 : Is photography integral to the art of Andy Goldsworthy?

Land art is nothing new but with the advent of photography it has become more accessible. We are now able to see not only contemporary works but those that were created hundreds of years ago such as the Nazca lines of Peru which can only be seen in their entirety from the air. This essay will attempt to explore the relationship between art and photography with specific reference to the ephemeral land art of Andy Goldsworthy .

I have chosen to focus on Goldsworthy because his work both fascinates and disturbs me. I am disturbed by his re-appropriation of natural elements forming an unnaturally perfect design or structure. For example covering a rock with hundreds of red leaves, all exactly the same colour and size may be visually unusual and attractive, but for me this feels like he is imposing some sort of mechanical order on an organic environment . Perhaps it is this very tension which fascinates. As unnatural as his ephemeral sculptures are, they are still vulnerable to the forces of nature, born away by the wind or water or melted in sunlight . These ephemeral works can only be known through Goldsworthy’s photographs.

In the 1970s and in the times before that, perhaps land artists were satisfied with their own experience and did not require the appreciation of others. Perhaps the act of creating and witnessing the artwork before its natural destruction would be enough for some people, however for an artist to be recognised as such (and remunerated) their work needs to be seen. In the words of Susan Sontag writing in On Photography, “ Now all art aspires to the condition of photography.”

In the documentary entitled Rivers and Tides (2001) Goldsworthy explains that he began taking photographs of his land art as an art student. He had to show his tutors what he had been doing since he worked mostly outside. He continues to take his own photographs of his work mostly because he prefers to work alone on the ephemeral sculptures. He photographs all of his work .“…good and bad…” saying that this record of his art helps him to learn more about the landscape.  In 2015, in an interview on the American radio programme “Fresh Air” , when asked why he created ephemeral work he replied,  “Everything dies. I need to work with leaves and wind and tides.” He explained that when a solid piece is finished that’s the beginning of its life. but with an ephemeral work when it is finished that is the end of its life.

Observing Goldsworthy through the documentary and the interview, I sense his great love of the land, particularly where he lives. He says he finds the landscape “..beautiful, dangerous and unnerving”. However, my experience of his sculptures feels ordered and inviting. Even the sharply pointed ice sculptures pictured in his book Wood are intriguing rather than dangerous. I feel that although his approach may be different to the land artists of the 1970’s, his motivation may be the same – to control the environment. Our conventional knowledge of natural landscape through direct experience and also through traditional images offers a contrast to that which Goldsworthy creates and photographs. Perhaps this is the purpose of his art.

On the last page of Goldsworthy’s book, Stone, there is a piece entitled The Photograph. Here he describes that photography is his way of talking, writing and thinking about art. He says that photography creates a space between the making of his work which he does privately or with people he knows, and then the public viewing of his work.. He describes how once it is done it requires a particular light or moment which then create the conditions for the photograph.

Examining the images in three of Goldsworthy’s books, Stone, Time and Wood, I do not find much artistry in the photographs and I am surprised to read of the care he has taken. Goldsworthy says that his work can only speak through the image and I wonder if my judgement of his photography is unfair. Although I feel the photographs would be more interesting in their own right if taken from different points of view, if the purpose is to display the artwork I can see that for Goldsworthy the medium becomes secondary and does not enhance the work but simply records it.

When comparing Goldsworthy to land artist Andrew Rogers, the latter’s can be seen from different angles including an aerial view. Rogers approach is to record the process and the final work. Looking particularly at the ephemeral piece created in the Antarctic, there is almost a filmed documentary of each piece whereas Goldsworthy seems to mainly create only one image for public viewing. The Rivers and Tides film showing the sculptures in context with the wider landscape feels more complete, portraying various angles of the work which a single, still photograph does not capture.

With computer technology it is possible to manipulate images which could improve on Goldsworthy’s photography. However, it would no longer be true to him or his work. How important is this? There is a strange paradox in that the origins of the Land Art movement in the 70’s were a response to the perceived elitism of the galleries of those times. Instead of creating art from what is available in the natural environment, it may now be possible to create land art from appropriated images. If land art can be described as conceptual, then perhaps that would be an organic development with contemporary land art eventually only existing in digital images.

Exploring Andy Goldsworthy’s photography, I conclude that it is integral to his work as without this record his art would obviously be unseen. Yet a still photograph or film that captures movement such as his balancing rocks in the waves, is a work of art itself and this might be a distraction from the original work. The uneasy relationship between art and photography seems to also exist in the photograph of the artwork itself.

(1005 words)
Bibliography
Crump, J. (2015) Troublemakers: The story of land art. .
Goldsworthy, A. (1994) Stone. London: Viking.
Goldsworthy, A. (2015) Radio Interview : Sculptor turns rain, ice and trees into ‘ephemeral works’. http://www.npr.org/2015/10/08/446731282/sculptor-turns-rain-ice-and-trees-into-ephemeral-works (Accessed: 21 December 2016).
Goldsworthy, A. and Friedman, T. (1998) Wood. New York: Abrams, Harry N.
Goldsworthy, A. and Friedman, T. (2008a) Time: Andy Goldsworthy. London: Thames & Hudson.
Rogers, A. (2016) Rhythms of life Antarctica
http://www.andrewrogers.org/land-art/antarctica/rhythms-of-life-antarctica (Accessed: 21 December 2016).

Sontag, S. (1977) On photography. 3rd edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Riedelsheimer, T. (2001) Rivers and tides: Andy Goldsworthy working with time.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZASlHKsNF4&app=desktop (Accessed: 21 December 2016).

 

Commentary

Researching and working through this section on photography I have become more aware of how photography can set a mood and convey information and emotion, or lack thereof,  through film as well as a single image such as those in Michael Kenna’s work. His use of repetition of form within the landscape image, which could be poles, arches or windmills set against extraordinary light can only be seen as serious art.

Some years ago I saw an exhibition of Steve McCurry’s work and his  ability  to capture emotion,  detail and in some cases, horror, is extraordinary. There is something so immediate about an image that is very different to reading or listening, and many of McCurry’s images have stayed with me.
I researched several different photographers in the course of this assignment,   becoming much more aware of the variety of genres of photography.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange 1936

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange 1936

 

Comparing the photojournalism of Dorothea Lange, particularly during the Great Depression,  and the iPhoneography of today, specifically the Afghanistan war images by David Guttenfelder, I considered the accuracy of image. Guttenfelder used an app that gave his images the washed out look of an old polaroid picture, despite using an iPhone to take the photograph.  This challenges my belief that journalism or any sort of reportage needs to be true to life.

On reflection I realise that from the beginning, still photography has often been used to enhance or exaggerate reality as a way of getting a message across.   The Victorian images that I find so appealing are staged and designed.   The London street life photography of  John Thompson, while a social commentary and record, is in many cases posed and carefully considered “props” are included to add to the impact.   I can see that  the manipulation of the image is part of the creative process.

In some cases the image is not manipulated but relies on the context.  Forty Portraits in Forty Years by Nicholas Nixon is more than a sociological record, it shows relationship. Perhaps it is my imagination, but I also sense the relationship between the photographer and the subjects, as a warmth that is conveyed.

Although I am not  interested in using photography as a medium, I have become more engaged with the potential of this medium, particularly the ways in which images can be manipulated.  I took the image below, of myself, using my computer. Within 10 minutes I was able to make it look like a black and white sketch, change the shape,  lighting, clarity, warmth and add text. If this is possible with such limited experience and resources, I imagine that even I could create images of interest.

Manipulated photograph

Manipulated photograph

 

 

 

 

Working through this section has given me a greater understanding of how photography has evolved. On pages 204 and 205 of On Photography , there is a a list from Roget’s  International Thesaurus naming the different fields of photography. There are several terms that I have not heard of, and of course since the list was created there are several more fields.

(508 words)

 

 

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What is landscape art?

Is landscape simply what land the eye can see? Does it need to be free of man-made structures? Does it need to be “panoramic”? Looking from my window across the roof tops to the mist lying between the trees and hills beyond, is this landscape? Would this be considered landscape?

Pine Trees by  Hasegawa Tohaku 1539-1640 ( Public Domain)

Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku 1539-1640 ( Public Domain)

Of course there are no rules about any of this but it interests me to know what we would label as landscape and how vast it would be. For example would a painting of a tree be landscape but not a sketch of a couple of leaves on a patch of grass?

Looking at some landscape artists, I enjoy the work of Fred Cuming , particularly his colour palette.  Several of his paintings feature the moon and dawn and moonrise seem to be  times of day which he finds inspiring.

Black and white landscapes by Peter Doig  offer a sort of compacted landscape which gives a sense of the crowdedness of the natural world and the man-made side by side.

Nerine Tassie ‘s landscapes and seascapes are moody and evocative with a surprising stillness. Even the seascapes appear to be in slow motion. Having watched her work on the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year in 2015, I notice that for me the process is as interesting as the finished work. I very much enjoy seeing how the artist approaches the subject matter and what choices they make.

Research ; Photography – Land Art

troublemakers (the story of land art) by James Crump

The film entitled troublemakers ( no capital letter of course)  starts in black and white immediately creating an historical sense, although little black and white film was happening in the 1970s. Still and moving images, black and white and then colour, create a documentary style with current and archived material.
The 1970’s in America were the days of the Vietnam War, the oil crisis and the energy crisis, civil rights issues, religious issues, feminist issues and the introduction of the first Earth Day to celebrate awareness of environmental issues. It was a time of great creativity in the arts and particularly music, and it was the beginning of what came to be known as the “Me Generation”.
Land Art was created mostly by young men who rebelled against what was shown in galleries, moving away from painting and sculptures. These were men who wanted a larger canvas, who wanted to create something vast and indestructible in spaces outside of the urban landscape. Many of them became nomads travelling across empty landscapes looking for a place to begin their work.
Famously, Robert Smithson created the Spiral Jetty.

Spiral Jetty created by Robert Smithson Public Domain

Spiral Jetty created by Robert Smithson
Public Domain

One of the reasons it is famous is because the making of it and the aerial view of it was filmed and shown as part of an exhibition in a gallery. It seems that there was still a place for these works within the gallery, although the artists seemed uninterested in how they might show their work. They were funded by patrons and people such as Michael Heizer lived in the desert and mostly created  Land Art alone. His Double Negative piece required great physical effort and although it can be experienced by walking inside it and by seeing it from the air, at ground level it does not work that well.
Some of the artists were promoted in Avalanche magazine, a publication dedicated to bringing Land Art to the general public and in this way replacing the more conventional art gallery. There appears to have been ambivalence about the use of photography as a representation of the art created. The argument is that photographs cannot be the object, but if there is no record of the object how can people know of its existence?
Land Art is about ideas, it is conceptual and each idea can be unique. Watching the work created for the Attitude show with people simply digging holes in the earth, I began to understand the importance of observing the way a certain activity is done, the specific movement, rhythm, timing. I could see that this is when attitude becomes form. This was quite a revelation for me.
I enjoyed the  concepts of Walter de Maria’s work, particularly the Lightning Field, but generally I feel that these early pioneers were more concerned with creating some sort of everlasting memorial, making their mark in a statement so huge that although others might not see it, they knew it was there. Perhaps this was a response to the uncertainty of the times.
So what exactly is Land Art? It is obviously not a recent phenomenon although the movement was named in the 1970s. In Europe we have standing stone circles, hillside white horses and more recently, formal and informal gardens and crop circles.

Crop Circle in Switzerland Public Domain

Crop Circle in Switzerland
Public Domain

All of these are Land Art. In other parts there are  also extraordinary works such as the Easter Island heads, the Nazca Lines and the pyramids.  For me Land Art  of the 1970’s  was  a way of controlling the environment and is the re-appropriation of natural elements. I do not see it as  environmentally sound, particularly when large amounts of concrete were used, but I do admire some of the spectacular concepts.

Rivers and Tides : Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)

This documentary of Goldsworthy’s land art shows something of the nature of this private man. I learned about his need to create and his deeply passionate relationship to the land, particularly the land where he lives, in Scotland.  I am once again reminded of the importance of context and how it enriches the understanding of the artist’s work.

To know that he simply goes into the landscape and finds inspiration for the day from that which he sees, speaks of the spontaneity behind a work that might take hours or days to unfold.

My impression of the man is of an introvert who admits to preferring to be alone, who seeks to find his place in the land. His precision with natural elements such as twigs, leaves and stones is orderly and unlike nature, bringing a tension between the organic and “untidy”, and his artworks of “neatness”. This seems to hold the tension between Goldsworthy as a man wanting to create order and yet wanting to be part of the landscape.

His deep interest in growth alongside life and death is seen in the repeated motif of a dark hole. He speaks of the twigs and branches creating nest-like formations with a central hole and the more two dimensional designs with plant material creating a dark central space. He describes his joy at finding a small green shoot growing through that hole, which sounds like an experience of re-birth.

I am fascinated by the walls he creates, meandering around trees and appearing to cross a stream. He uses “wallers”  to build these, recognising that he is not able to build a wall but can direct and shape the project.  Again, it feels as if the walls are an attempt to control the environment in some way, just as the “troublemakers” were making their own mark in the 70’s.