Today would have been Ansel Adams’ 110th birthday. Whoa! The famous photographer and environmentalist pioneered his own exposure and contrast system, and lugged a large-format camera across the American West to produce what are some of the most memorable natural landscapes in the history of photography. We’d like to give him a standing ovation by highlighting a few essential landscape photographers, as well as some evocative, alternative talents mining similar themes and scenes. Enjoy! Just don’t blame us if you’re suddenly struck with a violent bout of wanderlust or impassioned environmentalism.
Ansel Adams is most known for scenes like this — a landscape of splendid, humbling natural imagery, with little trace of man. Sure, they’re a common sight on wall calendars now, but in the early 1930s, Adams’ landscapes were quite trailblazing. Bow down before Mt. Mckinley, mortal!
Along with an uber-talented slew of like-minded San Francisco photographers, Adams founded the f/64 Group, dedicated to promoting their Modernist aesthetic of high-contrast, precisely focused natural scenes and found objects. Of the uber-talented slew’s varied work, Edward Weston’s desertscapes stand out because they’re sexy. There’s something sensual about his sandy the curves, just like the fleshy ones he also photographed.
A descendant of the group, Philip Hyde re-invented the photography book in the 1950s and 1960s. An ardent conservationist campaigner, he felt that the nature in his stunning landscapes was something that had to be seen, to fall in love with and protect: “For every place there will always be people that want to exploit it, and there will always be people — hopefully — that want to save it and keep it as it is. Even with the risk of inviting the crowds into paradise, better to publish your photographs and rally the troops. What’s in the frame of the photograph matters artistically, to be sure, but what’s outside the frame can destroy it.”
And now, for something completely different. Contemporary landscape photographer Chris Friel deliberately blurs his images with his f-stop, creating hazy scenes with minimal editing. It’s the direct opposite of Ansel Adams’ technique. There’s something quite ephemeral about it. Is this what dreams look like?
Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes series is part excellent documentarian work, part surrealist modern nightmare, if your sensitivities are so inclined. His scenes of neon-red factory waste running like bloody rivers through what look like post-apocalyptic landscapes and his grand captures of factory workers and their complexes are stunning. Also, perfectly in tune with symmetry and subtle composition. Skilled, devastating.
Pieter Hugo’s famous Nollywood series of Nigerian B-movie actors was just the beginning. Though not limited to landscape photography in practice, his Permanent Error series of a poisonous Ghana junkyard and its daily gleaners, scouring the burning piles of trash for something they can turn in for a little money, like electrical mechanical waste. Even without these gleaners, the landscape shots are heartbreaking. You wish this was another planet.
Japanese fine art photographer Rinko Kawauchi balances her portfolio with macro-shots of daily beauty and strangeness — clear caviar on a spoon, a smashed pigeon in the street — and landscapes like these. Running through her entire body of work is a strange sort of luminesce. Sometimes it’s a glare of the sun or a trapped and cycling ray. Other times, it’s completely unexplainable. There’s a dreamy feel, but more so, as if the images are charged with something mystical.
One of the most evocative contemporary photographers, Guillaume Herbaut has a definitive style. You’d recognize his portrait of a topless Ukrainian protestor that just won the World Press Photo awards precisely for that — that certain angle that renders urban clusters towers as infinite, sprawling on forever. There’s a lot of Chernobyl ruins porn out there, but his study of Chernobyl’s poisoned neighbor town of Slavoutich is particularly poignant, lonely and quietly majestic.
This just a small selection of our favorites, so feel free to suggest your own!