The landscape in Painting and Photography

©Werner Hammerstingl, 1998


The tradition of landscape painting has it's beginnings in the 16th Century in the west. Among the early practioners are Agostino Tassi, Claude Lorrain, Jacob van Ruisdael and his understudy Meindert Hobbema (Lorrain and Hobbema's work can be seen in the NGV collection). In the east we already find the use of landscape as subject matter during the early empire in China. Paintings during the T'ang (618-907) dynasty show sophisticated control of features such a visual recession.

The landscape and nature were important forces in the world-view of occidental and oriental societies. The argument that landscape painting was a predictable outcome of the ongoing evolution of the individual and communal relationships with nature is not difficult to maintain. This argument is examined more closely here.

Landscape was one of the dominant themes in early photography. A number of reasons beyond a continuation of the "religious worship and celebration of the landscape" can be listed.

The first of these is purely technical: Many connoisseur's of landscape and seascape photography are very focussed on the sheer technical difficulties and achievements of this practice.

TRAVEL photography To appreciate the impact that photography made upon Victorian life one needs to remind oneself what little opportunity there was for any but the rich to visit other lands. Consequently, until photography was used, the majority of people would have needed to rely on the accuracy and integrity of explorers. Photography at last made it possible for a much larger proportion of people to see for themselves pictures of exotic lands afar and thus at least enjoy a vicarious experience; it also gave them an opportunity to realise how incorrect some reports had been. Claudet waxed lyrical on the new horizons opened up as a result of the work of travel photographers:

One needs perhaps to appreciate how hard life as a travel photographer could be. Because the processing had to be done quickly after exposure, photographers on location needed to take away with them an enormous amount of equipment - boxes of plates, bottles galore, and of course the camera. These were the days before enlargers had been introduced, so large cameras, some producing plates size 12" by 16" (30cm by 40cm) had to be transported - and they were pretty heavy. The following are a porton the exploration of the Grand Canyon in 1871, gives us a flavour:

Some did the journey, returning without any pictures at all...

Pioneers in travel photography include Maxime Du Camp, Francis Frith, and Francis Bedford, all of whom took photographs in the Middle East. Interestingly, calotypes continued to be used by some travel photographers, because they were less of an ordeal than collodion. After all, calotypes, for all their imperfections, permitted the photographer to prepare papr negatives at home, expose on location, and then develop on returning home. Diamond, for example, used the calotype process for some of his travel photographs, though once at home he reverted to collodion for portraiture and for his medical photography. Other travel photographers include Samuel Bourne, who took particularly striking pictures of Indian architecture, often under very trying conditions, whilst Charles Clifford took some excellent pictures of Spanish architecture. Another photographer who, though sporting an unforgettable name, is almost unknown, is Linnaeus Tripe, who made many interesting photographs of Burma.

Also worthy of mention are William Young who photographed in East Africa, Herbert Ponting who covered Captain Scott's expedition, and Lord Carnarvon, who photographed the tomb of Tutankhamen. In the late eighteen fifties.

Claudet became fascinated by stereoscopic photography. He invented a folding stereoscope and an endless belt stereoscopic viewer which enabled one to view up to a hundred pictures in succession. He wrote:

Claudet received many honours, among which was the appointment, in 1853, as "Photographer-in-ordinary" to Queen Victoria, and the award, ten years later, of an honour from the Emperor of France. Sadly, less than a month after his death, his "temple to photography" was burnt down, and most of his most valuable photographic treasures were lost.