I posted the other day about the UK’s landcape photographer of the year competition winners which were hidden behind a paywall. They are now here and I’ve got to agree with much of what Tim Parkin said. Does your definition of landscape photography include a bloke in a goblin costume or a parkour enthusiast in dark city streets, a bunch of teenagers slouching around a market or in public telephone boxes, or a traditional British breakfast with a city and steam train through the window? All are good shots, especially the last one (even if has rather a lot going on), but are they really landscape photography?
I don’t think anyone has problems with urban landscapes. Whether you like such overtly man-made landscapes is a matter of taste, but depictions of our towns and cities seem just as much part of the landscape photography genre as pictures of our countryside and wilder regions (if not as macho as the latter). After all, if it’s urban vs natural that worries you, it’s only a case of the degree of unnaturalness – whether we recognise it or not pretty well every inch of this small island has been worked over and reshaped by man.
The line I draw is whether the image is essentially of the landscape, where any non-landscape elements are incidental to its appeal. Put it another way – is the landscape the picture’s subject, or is it incidental to the true subject?
Most of the winners would clearly pass this rule. Other shots seem greatly strengthened by the inclusion of non-landscape aspects, so the composition of Taliesin Coombes‘s Pinmore railway viaduct includes photographers and their tripods, while Jon Brook’s burning moorland could be seen as narrative or reportage. It only seems to make sense with the heather burner, and it would be less remarkable without him, though I’d still argue that the picture remains essentially a landscape.
But other winners just don’t get near the line. For one thing, what’s with all the steam train porn? Apart from making you think that instead of sleek TGVs, ICEs and Shinkansens, we Brits are happily chugging round our green and pleasant land in steam trains, it’s bit unsettling when (as Tim tweeted) you see a train company sponsors the competition. And do some pictures really belong in railway photography competitions? Sure, there is often a crossover with landscape, but on which side of the line (pun intended) would you place the breakfast in Cardiff shot?
And that same point applies to other winning images. Without the kids in the telephone boxes, does that photo have any significant appeal as a landscape photograph? As a test, just describe the image to yourself. A picture of telephone boxes with kids inside, or a picture of kids inside telephone boxes (assuming that a head-on shot of telephone kiosks might qualify as landscape)? Even more so with the kids in the market, if your description firmly places the people first and makes them the subject, are we still talking landscape photography? At best the background city explains the freerunner’s activity as something urban in origin, but that’s stretching to near breaking point, and as for the picture of the goblin it strikes me as a vaguely-curious image of someone wearing a goblin suit…. When you’re adding your keywords to such pictures, would “landscape” really be one of them? These are environmental portraits, and does that really qualify as landscape photography?
After that blast, my favourites are:
- Jon Brook‘s heather burning shows the working landscape in gritty, Northern style
- Sergey Lekomtsev‘s pond has a lovely Alice in Wonderland feel with b&w used to give great depth to the scene
- Mark Bradshaw – Newbiggin-by-the-Sea is lovely in a Michael Kenna sort of way
And Antony Spencer’s Corfe castle, of course. I’ll have to make sure I see the show (probably going incognito).