"Landscape,Writing, and Photography"

Sarah (Sally) Hill
University of Auckland
Italian and Art History

Deep South v.2 n.1 (Autumn, 1996)

Copyright (c) 1996 by Sarah Hill, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the New Zealand Copyright Act 1962. It may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the journal is notified. This consent does not extend to other kinds of copying, such as copying for general distribution, for advertising or promotional purposes, for creating new collective works, or for resale. For such uses, written permission of the author and the notification of the journal are required. Write to Deep South, Department of English, University of Otago, P. O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.

It seems to me an interesting idea: that is to say the idea that we live in the description of a place and not in the place itself, and in every vital sense we do.
-Wallace Stevens

Descriptions and depictions of place are an important part of New Zealand's literary and art history, but although accounts of our literary and painted landscapes are common, photography has tended to be characterised as a footnote to the history of painting, and the theoretical complications of the relationship between landscape, writing, and photography have not been thoroughly explored. Whilst there is a vast body of theoretical writing on each of these individual categories, and whilst any two of them are occasionally treated together, there has been very little written about the ways in which the three of them interrelate. This is perhaps because of the difficulties involved in comparing a visual and a written medium and the ways in which these are both worked out and complicated through landscape. Rather than glossing over these difficulties, this paper will confront and explore them in an attempt to come to terms with the complicated interrelationships between writing, photography and landscape, and to re-examine and challenge the boundaries which traditionally separate them. Part of this project involves bringing together and examining a variety of theories and definitions of the territories of the three terms. By looking at the ways in which landscape, writing, and photography have traditionally been separated, I want to make room for an approach which recognises their similarities as well as their differences, and which seeks to appreciate their complex interactions. One of the most important elements of this is their shared status as cultural constructs, which both create and are part of an intricate network of narratives which are themselves both created and lived by the viewers/readers who help to construct them. It is in the context of these narrative webs that the text metaphor is most useful in attempting to understand the relationship between landscape and its written and photographic representations.

Landscape is inevitably an ambiguous concept; the term itself is a slippery one whose meaning slides between the actual and the virtual, the real and the represented. It means both the physical fact of inland scenery, and the representations of that scenery. Even this distinction between reality and representation comes into question in relation to landscape. S. Daniels and D. Cosgrove see landscape as always and inevitably a kind of representation executed in a variety of materials and on many surfaces, be they paint on canvas or earth, stone, water, and vegetation on the ground. To them "[a] landscape park is more palpable but no more real, nor less imaginary, than a landscape painting or poem." (Daniels 1988, 1) Representations of landscape in visual or verbal forms, then, are in fact representations of something that is already a representation, because

. . . landscape is itself a physical and multisensory medium. . . in which cultural meanings and values are encoded, whether they are put there by the physical transformation of a place in landscape gardening and architecture, or found in a place formed, as we say, by nature. . . . Landscape is already artifice in the moment of its beholding, long before it becomes the subject of pictorial representation. (Mitchell 1994, 14)
As such a medium, landscape includes both scenery and environment but it is considerably more than either of them. For Estelle Jussim and Elizabeth Linquist-Cock, landscapes construed as the phenomenological world do not exist, and landscape can only be symbolic, "both as a construct of the 'real' world and as an artefact communicating ideologies about it." As such, they argue, "landscapes are so saturated with assigned meanings that it is probably impossible to exhaust them." (Jussim and Lindquist-Cock 1985, xiv) The metaphors of landscape further confuse the issue, so that we can speak of 'landscapes of the mind,' and even 'cultural landscaping.'

The idea that a written text or a photographic image is a cultural construct is readily accepted, but the notion that this definition also applies to landscape is a relatively new one. Yet the vast differences in attitudes to landscape over the centuries seem to suggest that landscape and our understanding and use of it are as subject to cultural change as writing or photography. Walt Whitman wrote that

Nature consists not only in itself objectively, but at least just as much in its subjective reflection from the person, spirit, age, looking at it, in the midst of it, and absorbing it: [it] faithfully sends back the characteristic beliefs of the time or individual. . . (Gilman 1914)
The same can be said of landscape, which is necessarily "defined by our vision and interpreted by our minds" (Meinig 1979, 2) and operates in its widest sense as a shorthand term for the ways in which we interpret the external world as it appears to us. As such, W.J.T. Mitchell suggests that we think of it "as a process by which social and subjective identities are formed." (Mitchell 1994, 1) Arturo Carlo Quintavalle has also emphasised the need to study the relationship between landscape and ideology. (Quintavalle 1993, 9)

That this is a very close relationship is evident from the enormous shifts in attitudes to landscape which have taken place over the centuries, and even within our own century. Seven centuries ago, Petrarch's enjoyment of the view from the top of Mount Ventoux was interrupted when he recalled a passage from St. Augustine which reminded him that he was endangering his immortal soul by succumbing to the sensuous pleasures of admiring the landscape. Yet by the early seventeenth century, emblems of an arcadian landscape were being used to contrast the wholesomeness of rustic life with the iniquities of court and city life, with landscape taken to represent God's great benevolence. By the early nineteenth century the notion of the Sublime had taken over, and landscape, rather than a devilish temptation or a sign of God's goodwill to humankind, became evidence of the awesome power of God. In our own century, the ideology communicated by the early American photographer Ansel Adams' version of landscape in photographs, for example in his famous black and white studies of Yosemite, is connected to his Utopian dream of an unspoilt wilderness without traces of human presence. Just a few generations later, another American photographer, Robert Adams, sought to abandon the elitism implicit in the desire for a landscape free of human traces, and recognised the impossibility of such an aim. For Ansel Adams, however, landscape was a "dirty word" because it represented the place "where nature comes to an end." (Ghirri 1989, 47) This position reflects a binary opposition of nature and culture which has been largely taken for granted in Western thought since the middle ages, and which creates a dualism which splits a category called 'humans' from a category called 'environment'.

Yet the photographer's presence in the wilderness itself attests to the fact that landscape is actually the place where this dualism elides. There will always be some trace of human presence in landscape, to a greater or lesser degree, because its existence is presupposed by and relies on ours. There is always a figure in the landscape, because the term landscape automatically requires that a viewer, whether virtual or actual (represented or real), be present in order for landscape to exist. As Simon Schama writes, "it is our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape." (Schama 1995, 10) If we say that landscape is a cultural construct, then we can also say that it can only come into being through the presence of humans. The relationship between humans and landscape is that of the world which looks at the world. We are both in and of the world ourselves, so there can be no objective outside observer. Interestingly, this point is illustrated by the figures viewed from behind who gaze out into the distances of many nineteenth-century landscape paintings, as well as in early photographic postcards. These figures both represent our displaced gaze within the work, and remind us that perhaps someone is peering over our shoulder too.

Nevertheless, the fact that our presence is required by landscape, as it is also required by a written text or a visual representation is generally obscured. One of the problems with landscape is that, like ideology, it masks its status as a construction, inviting us to interpret it as a natural given. As Mitchell writes,

Landscape as a cultural medium . . . has a double role with respect to something like ideology: it naturalizes a cultural and social construction, representing an artificial world as if it were simply given and inevitable, and it also makes that representation operational by interpellating its beholder in some more or less determinate relation to its givenness as sight and site. Thus, landscape (whether urban or rural, artificial or natural) always greets us as space, as environment, as that within which 'we' (figured as 'the figures' in the landscape) find - or lose - ourselves. (Mitchell 1994)
This figuration of landscape situates 'us' as dominant over the landscape, despite the fact that this 'us' is a fiction which ignores differences such as gender, race or cultural identity in favour of a homogenous and unitary identity. At an even more fundamental level, it also ignores or obscures our own simultaneous inscription within and deciphering of the landscape.

It is in the context of this process of inscription and interpretation that our experience of landscape can most usefully be analysed in terms of our experience of any text, although it is also important to bear in mind the limits of this metaphor. As the intellectual historian Dominick LaCapra has said, although the text metaphor involves a certain "linguistic inflation," its usefulness lies in the way in which it helps to illuminate the problems implicit in taking 'reality' as an unproblematic given. (Barnes and Duncan 1992, 7) Paul Ricoeur has argued that the model of the text is a good paradigm of social science, and one to which the methods of textual interpretation are relevant. (Ricoeur 1971) Trevor J. Barnes and James S. Duncan suggest that his model for analysing social life as a text is also applicable to landscape. Ricoeur identifies four main characteristics of written discourse which he uses to analyse social action. These are that meaning in written texts becomes fixed when it is inscribed, that the text inevitably exceeds the intentions of its author, that the text is often more significant than its immediate context and is interpreted and reinterpreted differently according to changing circumstances, and finally that the meaning of a text is unstable, and depends to a large extent on the interpretations of its readers. Duncan and Barnes see landscape as characterised by all of these features, and suggest that 'text' is

an appropriate trope to use in analysing landscapes because it conveys the inherent instability of meaning, fragmentation or absence of integrity, lack of authorial control, polyvocality and irresolvable social contradictions that often characterise them. (Barnes and Duncan 1992, 7)[1]
Landscape shares these textual characteristics not only with writing, but also with photography, and so our interpretations of real, written, and photographed landscapes are inextricably caught up in the intertextual relationships between the three and our understanding of the conventions of each of them.

These relationships and conventions are thus central to the ways in which we can (and often do) decipher landscapes as textual systems, although in order to do so we must first "trace the process by which landscape effaces its own readability and naturalizes itself." (Mitchell 1994, 2) Since the human presence is always figured 'in' the landscape, the experience of 'landscape as text' is always filtered through the experience of 'landscape as environment.' Being visible, landscape "has the effect of making invisible the operations that made it possible," a veiling which "exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able to transform action into legibility," which in so doing "causes a way of being in the world to be forgotten." (Mitchell 1994, 2) Yet at the same time, landscape is caught up in networks of memory and tradition, both obscuring and encouraging its own legibility. In terms of our experience of landscapes as textual systems, landscapes are also bound up in narrative systems. Fredric Jameson believes that it is important "to restructure the problematics of ideology, of the unconscious and of desire, of representation, of history, and of cultural production, around the all-informing process of narrative" which he takes to be ". . . the central function or instance of the human mind." (Jameson 1981, 13) The same could be said of the problematics of landscape and its representations. This is because one of the most effective ways we have of making sense of landscape, even in its most concrete form, is through the stories we tell about it. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the conception of landscape as a kind of geological narrative, written in the earth by the movements of tectonic plates, the changes in our planet's climate, and the ongoing effects of wind and water. This narrative necessarily underlies all of our subsequent understandings of landscape, as it meshes landscape with the environment in which we live, so that landscape becomes our setting, from the relatively unaltered landscapes of the world's remaining wilderness areas to the almost entirely artificial landscapes of modern cities.

The narratives of landscape are also more complex than this, as is the process by which we 'read' them--a process which Roland Barthes saw as inherently political. (Duncan and Duncan 1992) Jonathan Smith suggests that in considering how we might think of landscapes as texts, it may be helpful to think of George Steiner's definition of a text as "something which was read with the intention of submitting a response." (Smith 1992, 79) In the same way, he writes, "[l]andscape becomes a text when the reader intends to respond (whether as a civil engineer or as a writer." (Smith 1992, 79) I would add that whether we intend to respond or not, in Smith's terms, we nevertheless do respond to landscape on a number of levels, including an interpretative level, even if we do not intend to structure that response in words or bridges. Furthermore, as Smith himself points out, we not only interpret the landscapes we encounter, but in addition, "[e]verywhere we look we encounter a pre-interpreted landscape, or a landscape made legible." (Smith 1992, 82) This is not only because of the interpretations and constructions of others which have left their marks on the landscape, but also because we seek to reach an understanding of every new landscape we come across in the context of all of the other real, written, and photographed landscapes we have previously encountered. The narratives we use in making sense of landscape both help to create and are structured around our sense of identity, and it is through this interrelationship that we acquire our 'sense of place.'

This link between identity and our interpretations of landscape is implicit in what W.J.T. Mitchell calls the "pseudo-historical myth" of landscape, which he believes has been "a crucial means for enlisting 'Nature' in the legitimation of modernity." (Mitchell 1994, 13) According to this myth, evident in Ruskin's notion that people did not really see landscape as such until after the invention of landscape painting, landscape is fundamentally constituted as a genre of painting associated with a new way of seeing. As such, it is constructed as essentially a Western European, modern phenomenon, which emerged in the seventeenth century and peaked in the nineteenth century. According to this view, landscape's genesis stems from a particular revelation, a moment of seeing which transformed subsequent perception of the natural environment. For Kenneth Clark, this "originary moment" was profoundly linked to the transition from ancient to modern. For him, Petrarch was the "first modern man," so it is no surprise that he situates the origins of the perception of landscape with Petrarch: "the first man to climb a mountain for its own sake, and to enjoy the view from the top." (Clark, 10) But as Mitchell points out, Clark's version of events misses the point that the fact that St Augustine had written the text which Petrarch felt was chastising him testifies to the fact that people had felt a desire to look at the landscape for its own sake long before either Petrarch or St Augustine had considered the sinfulness or otherwise of such an activity. (Mitchell 1994, 13)

Clark's narrative attests to the ways in which landscape operates as a focus for the formation of identity, in this case a modernist identity which claims that the modern age, and by extension, as Mitchell puts it "'we moderns' are somehow different from and essentially superior to everything that preceded us, free of superstition and convention, masters of a unified, natural language epitomized by landscape painting." (Mitchell 1994, 13) Yet in a postmodern world which has largely lost faith in the kind of 'grand narrative' (to use Lyotard's term) represented by Clark's 'history' of landscape, this kind of approach to landscape is no longer accurate nor appropriate. As the anthropologist James Clifford points out,

A conceptual shift, 'tectonic' in its implications, has taken place. We ground things, now, on a moving earth. There is no longer any place of overview (mountaintop) from which to map human ways of life, no Archimedian point from which to represent the world. (In Barnes, 1992, 3)
Any notion that the representations of landscape of a particular historical period are essentially superior to those of another is clearly no longer tenable, since our value judgements of landscape, like our appraisals of any text, are inevitably based on our temporal, geographical, cultural and social position.

This extension of the text metaphor can also be useful in helping us to understand the limitations of the role of the reader/viewer. Just as there are things that a particular text cannot mean, there are also things which a particular landscape cannot mean. In the case of landscape, this is true to the point of the ridiculous: a plain cannot mean a mountain. Nevertheless, to someone who is more used to mountains than plains, a plain can mean 'not mountain,' which is something different to 'plain.' Our interpretations of landscape are therefore relative and reveal just as much about ourselves as they do about the landscape we are examining. This is especially the case when we come to represent the representation that is landscape. The construction of meaning is complicated by the interpretative acts of the literal or metaphorical reader of landscape 'texts', be they written, photographed, or actual. If we agree with Roland Barthes that social reality is made up of multiple signifying systems, of which the landscape is one, then these texts "should all be seen as signifying practices that are read, not passively, but, as it were, rewritten as they are read." (Barnes and Duncan 1992, 5) The reader thus becomes a central linking feature between landscape and its representations, 're-writing' his or her own concerns into both. As Barnes and Duncan put it, "[g]iven that when we write we do so from a necessarily local setting the worlds we represent are inevitably stamped with our own particular set of local interests, views, standards and so on." (Barnes and Duncan 1992, 3)[2] It is therefore important to consider how the "worlds we represent" act upon and are transformed by the medium in which they are represented, by the maker of that representation, and by the reader/viewer of the representation.

So far I have examined the notion of landscape itself as a kind of text, 'written' in a number of different ways by its inhabitants, natural processes, and artists, and thus representing a construct, or a kind of narrative, even in its most concrete form. Nevertheless, we also need to consider how landscape is different from other texts. At the simplest level, what differentiates landscape as a text from literary or photographic texts is the fact that landscape can be represented by writing or photography, while the reverse is impossible, except through the most convoluted of metaphors. It is important to bear this seemingly obvious distinction in mind when we are engaged in the process of picking our way through the minefield of metaphorical and literal meanings of words like 'text', 'writing', and 'reading' as they are used in relation to landscape, writing, and photography. When it comes to examining written and photographed landscape representations, it is also important to establish that we are here talking about multiple levels of construction where the ideologies which shape acts of representation interact with the ideologies which shape our attitudes to landscape in all its forms.

This ideological process is evident in the fact that our expectations of written and photographic representations of landscape tend to be so different that they are very rarely considered together. Much has been written on the similarities and distinctions between photography and painting, and there has also been a tradition of comparing painting and writing in terms of their approach to landscape, particularly in the case of poetry,[3] and also in relation to travel writing, yet the leap to comparing writing and photography has seldom been made. Mitchell suggests that the reason why the debate between poetry and painting has tended to be an exclusive one, neglecting arts such as music, for example, is because painting and writing "lay claim to the same territory (reference, representation, denotation, meaning)." (Mitchell 1987, 1) This makes it all the more strange that photography, which also lays claim to this territory, has been so marginalised in the dialogue between visual and verbal representation. Photography, when it is considered at all in this context, has tended to be seen as a footnote to the history of painting, or in terms of its dependence on written commentaries for the production of meaning. As a result, very little has been written about the contrasts and points of contact between writing and photography, except in relation to a certain number of primarily visual or performance artists who have worked with both image and text (for example Barbara Kruger, Laurie Anderson and others), and the relationship of writing and photography landscape has barely been touched upon.

Writing and photography, when they are compared at all, tend to be compared in terms of the traditional binary oppositions which divided the terms of the ancient debate over the merits of painting versus poetry. This is because although photography has often been distinguished from painting because of its mechanical nature (either as an improvement upon painting, or as inferior to it), its history and iconography have always been closely linked to the history of painting. Painting itself was a camera art long before the invention of photographic printing techniques. Giovanni Battista della Porta first described the use of cameras with lenses for making pictures in the 1589 edition of his Magica Naturalis. Painters such as Canaletto and Vermeer used devices such as the camera oscura, the camera chiara, and the Claude-glass as aids in rendering perspective and detail.[4] The history of perspective itself is closely bound up with the development of photography, with consecutive developments in perspective theory and practice in painting reflecting changing conceptions of the world and paving the way for the invention of photography. Clearly there was not a simple leap from Leon Battista Alberti to Niepce, Daguerre and Fox Talbot. In fact, by the time these last three began trying to fix the camera image, such images had been used by artists for over two hundred years, and the format which they were to take had been largely established through previous pictorial practice, so that the naturally round, fuzzy-edged image produced by a round lens was cropped to replicate the square or rectangular frames of traditional Western painting. Even today, most photographic print sizes commercially available are based on the classical Greek golden section whose harmonious proportions were believed to possess aesthetic virtue in and of themselves. It is evident that photography as we know it emerged from the culture of nineteenth-century painting with all its Classical and Renaissance traditions. In addition, the extensive use of early cameras to help record 'picturesque' landscapes shows how photography has been linked to landscape from its inception. The intricate links between landscape, photography and writing have a long history, and many of our assumptions about how writers and photographers should set about the business of representing landscape are based on definitions of the verbal and visual arts that have existed for centuries.

The tradition of what Leonardo da Vinci called the 'paragone' divides painting and writing by setting up oppositions between the two on the grounds of the territories they are particularly suited to address. Words and images are established as not merely different, but antithetical. As such,

[t]hey attract to their contest all the dualisms and binary oppositions that riddle the discourse of criticism, the very discourse that takes as one of its projects a unified theory of the arts, an 'aesthetics' which aspires to a synoptic view of artistic signs, a 'semiotics' which hopes to comprehend all signs whatsoever. (Mitchell 1987, 1)
According to this "unified theory of the arts," the visual world is established as the domain of painting, whilst poetry (and, to a lesser extent, literature) is classified as the art of the invisible world of emotions and abstract knowledge. Painting's signs are seen as natural, whilst those of poetry are conventional and arbitrary. As Mitchell describes it, according to this convention, "Poetry is an art of time, motion, and actions; painting an art of space, stasis, and arrested action." (Mitchell 1987, 1) Since photography emerged from the culture and traditions of painting, these have greatly influenced our ideas about photography and writing, so that photography is usually seen as an art of surface and space, writing one of depth and time. Yet this traditional division and its influence on our perceptions of the differences between writing and photography fails to account for the fact that writing and photography are not "sister arts," to use Mitchell's term for painting and poetry. In fact, as Susan Sontag points out, "photography is not, to begin with, an art form at all. Like language [and like writing], it is a medium in which works of art (among other things) are made." (Sontag 1973, 148) As such, it neither fits the binary opposition between poetry and painting, nor aids an attempt to create a "unified theory of the arts." On the contrary, photography's role in the history of art has been to further complicate and expand our definitions of art.

Situated amongst the shifting boundaries between the real and the unreal, between art and non-art, photography has always held a somewhat dubious status as an art form. Furthermore, just as writing has become a ubiquitous presence in most societies today, so that it is virtually impossible to avoid the constant bombardments of the written word, the same is increasingly true of photography, so that both have become a part of the urban landscape. Like writing, photography's multiple functions range from the artistic to the scientific and through all the permutations of journalism, tourism, and nostalgia. It also has different meanings for different social groups. For many people it is primarily a means of preserving the present. That this is one of the major expectations we have of photography has long been picked up on by producers of photographic equipment and reflected in their advertising. "How much are your moments worth?" asks one current advertisement, exhorting us to preserve them with the 'right' brand of film. In other cases, photographs are the objects of aesthetic judgements and endowed with the status of artworks. In yet other circumstances, for example in court or in our daily newspapers, photographs are granted the status of documentary evidence. These socially differentiated forms of photographic practice complicate the question of how we interpret photographs and how this does or does not differ from how we interpret paintings, actual landscapes, or written texts.

Despite the obvious differences that must exist between a depictive and a descriptive medium, these multiple uses of writing and photography suggest one way in which they are not as definitively distinct and opposed as the traditional debate between the verbal and visual arts would suggest. They are also linked in a number of other important ways. Arturo Carlo Quintavalle notes a long tradition of links between verbal and visual representations of landscape, citing the epic poems and painted images of the sixteenth century, from Matteo Maria Boiardo to Torquato Tasso, and in painting up to Niccolò dell'Abate, and pointing out the ". . . singolari coincidenze . . . fra immagine di paese nel racconto di Rabelais, favola di La Fontaine, romanzo picaresco fino a Cervantes e cultura pittorica in Francia e Spagna." (Quintavalle 1993, 14) Victor Burgin emphasises other, more complex interrelations between verbal and visual representation, pointing out that semiology

has irrevocably undermined the foundations of the distinction between 'visual' and 'non-visual' communication. Simply becasue a message is, in substance, visual, it does not follow that all of its codes are visual. Visual and non-visual codes interpenetrate each other in very extensive and complex ways. (Burgin 1982, 83)
This interpenetration goes beyond the sort of reliance on written headings or commentaries which some commentators have seen as a feature of photography. Instead, photography is granted certain linguistic characterisitcs and possibilities through the ways in which the determining conditions for the construction, transmission, perception, and interpretation of the image are manipulated.[5]

This view of photography as a kind of language, or at least as having certain linguistic qualities analogous to those of writing seems implicit in its very name, which means literally 'writing with light.' There has been widespread debate, particularly in the context of semiology, about the extent to which photography can be thought of as a language, but we can see it as such at least to the extent that it is not simply an "analogue of reality," but rather an "iconic code" which we need to be trained to recognise and 'read.' (Eco 1982, 36) Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that the differences between iconic imagery and language are most evident in photographs. Saussure classified linguistic signs as related to their referents through an arbitrary convention, but in the case of the photographic sign, it has often been argued that there must inevitably remain a direct causal link between the sign and its referent. Since its emergence in the late nineteenth century, photography has consistently been both lauded and reviled for this quality. Critics and art historian's have traditionally characterised photography's apparent realisation of the goal of 'naturalistic' and 'objective' representation as primarily significant for having allowed painting to escape the confines of naturalism and thus ushered in the development of abstract art.

This achievement has been described by the philosopher Stanley Cavell in terms of a triumph of mechanical reproduction over subjectivity, a triumph "undreamed of by painting" and "one which does not so much defeat the act of painting as escape it altogether: by automatism, by removing the human agent from the act of reproduction." (Snyder and Allen 1992, 290) Rudolph Arnheim shares this belief in the importance of the 'mechanical' origins of photography. He defines what he calls "the fundamental peculiarity of the photographic medium" as being that "the physical objects themselves print their image by means of the optical and chemical action of light." (Arnheim 1974, 155) For Arnheim, this procedure means that photographs have "an authenticity from which painting is barred by birth." (Arnheim 1974, 154) Although Arnheim refuses the notion of photography as the faithful reproduction of the world, insisting that the photographic process alters the image of the world produced, he takes the most common modern position that "in photography there are certain necessary connections between a photograph and its 'real life' original which simply do not and cannot exist in the 'traditional' arts." (Snyder and Allen 1992, 290) The idea that photography is essentially objective is still regarded as a certainty by many people. This is even reflected in French and Italian photographic terminology, in which the words for 'lens' are 'objectif' and 'obiettivo' respectively.

Yet much recent criticism has questioned this position, asking "whether the photographic process itself really guarantees much of anything about the relation between image and imaged."(Snyder and Allen 1992, 292) Photographs are constructed and manipulated in a vast number of ways, and even photographs which make direct claims to documentary truth are always constructed by the photographer. A good example of this is Joe Rosethal's famous photograph Raising the flag on Iwo Jiwa, February 23, 1945, which shows a group of soldiers raising a large American flag following the American occupation of the island. This photograph was widely used in American patriotic propaganda as a 'truthful' representation of an historic moment. In actual fact, Rosethal's photograph was a reconstruction of the actual event, using a much larger flag that was originally used, and posing the soldiers according to many of the dictates of the Romantic tradition in painting. Even when no such reconstruction is used, and without the aid of any sort of photographic 'trickery' or retouching, any photographer, from the rankest amateur to the most polished professional, as Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen point out, "makes a number of characterizations," whether intentionally or not, through the choice of equipment and its use."(Snyder and Allen 1992, 292) The camera position, choice of lens, filter and a whole host of other technical choices, not to mention the subsequent choices and alterations possible during printing, will determine the way in which the image is "characterized," for instance whether the subject of the photograph will seem to dominate its environment or vice-versa. Given these possibilities, Arnheim's conception of the fundamental peculiarity of photography being the way in which "the physical objects themselves print their image" seems much less plausible. As Snyder and Walsh Allen comment,

[i]t is the light reflected by the objects and refracted by the lens which is the agent in the process . . . . An image is simply not a property which things naturally possess in addition to possessing size and weight. The image is a crafted, not a natural, thing. (Snyder and Allen 1992, 293)
In this respect at least, photographic images are not as removed from written texts as is often thought. The 'crafted' nature of the photographic image is what allows it to be interpreted with some of the tools of textual criticism. Photography uses a language of its own in the same way that writing does so at least to the extent that its viewers are required to learn its codes in order to derive meaning from photographic images.

Yet there are still ways in which looking at a photographed object will inevitably seem closer to the way in which we look at objects in the phenomenological world than reading a description of an object. Kendall L. Walton compares the processes of visually examining people and landscapes in pictures and visually examining actual people and landscapes, finding clear analogies in the facts that both of these processes are visual ones, and that both yield similar types of information, ie. "information about visual characteristics of the world of the picture in the one case, and visual characteristics of the real world in the other." (Walton 1992, 104) He also draws an analogy between the order in which the two viewers acquire this information, so that at a first glance the main elements of the real or represented scene are grasped, a longer study reveals lesser details, and a careful examination yields the most precise and specific kind of visual information. In contrast, the reader of a written description of a person or place, although using his or her eyes, acquires all sorts of information which is not necessarily visual. Even when the description gives only visual information, the reader has virtually no control over the order in which he or she acquires this infomation, and the fact that he or she notices one aspect of the scene or person before another is because the author has determined the order of discoveries. In a picture, on the other hand, the viewer notices the various elements in a certain order because of the extent to which they draw his or her attention through certain qualities, for instance their size, shape or colour, and this response is much more dependent on the particular interests and likes of the individual viewer.

This description of the process by which we perceive objects in photographs and objects in the world seems to link the two in a way which excludes literary representation. Wolfgang Iser, however, draws a similar analogy between the reading experience and our experience of life. As he puts it,

it will always be the process of anticipation and retrospection that leads to the formation of the virtual dimension, which in turn transforms the text into an experience for the reader. The way in which this experiecne comes about through a process of continual modification is closely akin to the way in which we gather experience in life. (Iser 1974, 281)
The careful definition of territories which Walton undertakes fails to accommodate the ways in which written texts and visual images can at times invade, or at least trespass into each others' territories, and the complicated ways in which our experience of them resembles and differs from our direct experience of the world. Rather than seeking simply to define the nature of photography and the nature of looking at the world (and in particular, landscapes) in order to categorise them as particular ways of seeing, I want to suggest that examining them in terms of the kinds of visual and imaginative experience they provoke in the viewer may in fact be a more rewarding basis for comparison. In turn, this kind of visual experience can then be compared to the reader's experience of a written text.

Walton sees both visual and verbal representations as props in games of makebelieve, but says that what makes pictures different is that "they are props in visual games, reasonably rich and vivid visual games." For him, these are games which allow the viewer "to perform a large variety of visual actions." (Walton 1992, 103) Walton argues that written and visual images are different in that although readers are free to play visual games with a text, they are not free to play any game they wish. He fails to note that neither are viewers free to play any game they wish with a visual image. Walton writes that "[i]t would be awkward to say the least to play visual games with texts as props, and next to impossible to use them for visual games of any significant richness and vivacity." (Walton 1992, 103) Yet as Ellen J. Esrock points out, distinctions between visual and written art forms tend to be ". . . informed by a reductive word/image polarity. . . that disguises what might otherwise be provocative reversals and similitudes. Though a literary text is composed of words, these words can bring images to consciousness." (Esrock 1994, 139-40) Iser also discusses the collaborative relationship between reader and text, and the process through which readers create images. He points out that

with a literary text we can only picture things which are not there; the written part of the text gives us the knowledge, but it is the unwritten part that gives us the opportunity to picture things; indeed without the elements of indeterminacy, the gaps in the text, we should not be able to use our imagination. (Iser 1974, 282)
Esrock comments that the ways in which readers imaginativly respond to the text will inevitably be many and varied, and says that although not all readers form visual images, the right combination of context, text, and reader can create situations in which readers do in fact create complex and rich visual images which they use for the kind of visual games which Walton asserts would be "next to impossible."

Esrock builds on the analogy which Arnheim has made between what he calls "direct images" experienced via photographic or other visual images, and the indirect or "mental images" produced through reading, both of which, he argues, are actively constructed by the reader/viewer. (Arnheim 1987, 83) Arnheim distinguishes between the passive reception that is vision, where ". . . we have the primary presence of the total scene, the unselected raw material that hits us when we open our eyes" and ". . . the active perception of searching for the organization of the sight, the tracing of its constituent features, the discovery of the underlying theme, which is the key to meaning." (Arnheim 1987, 83-4) Yet while Arnheim urges the reader not to form overly "concrete" images when reading "literature", because ". . . readers who feel compelled to supplement the indications of the text by their own imagination cheat themselves out of the literary experience," (Arnheim 1987, 85) Esrock points out that he never makes clear the extent to which we should or should not visualise, and argues that this is because any such definitive prescription for how and how not to visualise would be ludicrous given the rich variety of reader responses to any given text. She argues that it is more useful to consider the reader's response ". . . not to what the text does and does not mention, but to the functions served by the features mentioned by the text." (Esrock 1987, 89) Different readers will form different mental images from texts, and will visualise to a greater or lesser degree. A description of a forest will be visualised differently according to both the information provided in the text, and the reader's own understanding about what constitutes a forest. The function of the forest within the text will also affect the kind of visual image produced, so that in some cases the reader will tend to visualise a schematic, map-like image, and in others a more 'concrete' image of trees, foliage, and earth.

Italo Calvino describes this power of "bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colors from the lines of black letters on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images" as "a basic human faculty." (Calvino, 1992, 92) He sees it as part of the "mental cinema" which "is always at work in each one of us" and which never stops "projecting images before our mind's eye." (Calvino 1992, 83) For Calvino, visual imaging thus represents an important part of the process by which, as Peter Brooks writes

[o]ur lives are ceaselessly intertwined with narrative, with the stoies we tell and hear told, those we dream or imagine or would like to tell, all of which are reworked in that story of our own lives that we narrate to ourselves in an episodic, sometimes semi-conscious, but virtually uninterrupted monologue. (Brooks 1984, 3)
In this way, representing landscape is analogous to the re-telling of a story.

The possibilities for visualisations of written texts identified by Esrock and Calvino and the linguistic and narrative possibilities of photographs outlined by Eco and Burgin suggest that the usual distinctions between writing and photography based on their affinity for time and depth, space and surface respectively, are inadequate to the task of explaining how we relate to written and photographic texts, and how they in turn represent landscape. Although photography might still be better equipped to depict space and surface in some contexts, and writing better able to narrate events in time and go beyond surface in order to describe thoughts or psychological states, this does not negate the spatial elements of writing nor the narrative elements of photography. The implications of space, "which intertwine physical, social, and political territories" have been increasingly explored in relation to writing in recent years, particularly in the field of feminist literary criticism. (Higonnet 1994, 2) Both the spaces of the body and the wider spaces in which the body is situated have been recognised as playing important roles in much literary writing. As Margaret Higonnet puts it, "[t]he configuration of spatial arrangements in any particular text reflects the distinctive cultural hierarchies it records." (Higonnet 1994, 7) This is as true for landscape as it is for its written and photographic representations.

Photography's relation to time is also more complex than is often assumed. Roland Barthes wrote of photographs as representing the deaths of moments of life, while André Bazin believed that "photography . . . embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption." (Bazin 1992, 278) Susan Sontag sees photographic knowledge of the world as limited since, she claims it can never narrate because it cannot explain over time. (Sontag 1973, 23) Yet the Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri believed that each photograph represents the possibility of a renewal of the gaze, something which allows for the narrative possibilities of photographs to be explored.(Ghirri, 1989, 17) Douglas Crimp discusses Walter Benjamin's notion of 'presence' or 'aura' of works of art, and suggests that Roland Barthes's definition of the tense of photography as the 'having been there' instead be interpreted in a new way, because "[t]he presence that photographs have for us is the presence of déjà vu, nature as already having been seen, nature as representation."(Crimp 1993, 178) Yet in the context of landscape, nature has already been constructed as a representation, so once again the doubling at work in landscape representation come to the fore.

The relationship between writing and photography and time and space is also tied to the issues of location and identity. Time and space are the axes of location, which plays a vital role in the formation of identity, and so once again the role of the reader/viewer and his or her own history and situation and how these affect the reader's interpretation of a text come to the fore. Michael Hanne discusses "[t]he openess of many fictional texts to quite widely divergent readings by distinct groups of readers, especially groups which differ in nationality, religion, gender or class" (Hanne, 1994, 4) and points out that competing interpretations need not cancel each other out. The same can equally be said of both photographs and actual physical landscapes, and so one of the most effective ways in which we can compare written and photographic approaches to landscape is through tackling the question of how these representations function in relation to the reader/viewer. Photographed and written representations of landscape are bound up with questions about the relationship between time and space which can only be resolved by the reader/viewer, and which impact upon the notion of identity, both in terms of the the maker and the recipient of the text.

Just as in the moment in which the viewer of landscape or landscape photography perceives certain objects, those objects ". . . are placedwithin an intelligible system of relationships" and ". . . take their position . . . within an ideology," (Burgin 1982, 45-6) so too does the reader of a text visualise what is described in accordance with ideology. As Fredric Jameson puts it,

. . we never really confront a text immediately, in all its freshness as a thing-in-itself. Rather, texts come before us as the always-already-read; we apprehend them through sedimented layers of previous interpretations, or--if the text is brand-new--throuh the sedimented reading habits and categories developed by those inherited interpretative traditions. (Jameson 1981, 9)
This is also true of our experience of landscape, both real and photographed. Victor Burgin points out similar operations in terms of how photographs function, in that any meaning, message, or even 'feeling,' which is produced by a photograph,

depends not on something individual and mysterious but rather on our common knowledge of the typical representation of prevailing social facts and values: that is to say, on our knowledge of the way objects transmit and transform ideology, and the ways in which photographs in their turn transform these. (Burgin 1982, 41)
This kind of doubling and transformation is an important part of the process by which a landscape becomes a photograph or a written text, and the relationships and links between the three are similar to the relationships between different translations of the same text.

Since we are considering landscape even at its most concrete as a kind of text, we can think of the doublings at work when landscape is represented in photography or writing in terms of acts of translation. Roland Barthes has said that to describe a photograph is automatically to change structures, because it involves signifying in one code what has been relayed by another. (Jussim and Lindquist-Cock 1985, xv) The same kinds of changes are also involved in the process of translating a text from one language to another and, I would argue, in the process of 'translating' the physical landscape into its photographic or literary representations. J. Hillis Miller points out that, etymologically, translation means "'carried from one place to another,' transported across the borders between one language and another, one culture and another." (Miller 1995, 316) This geographical metaphor is a useful one for looking at the exchanges which take place between landscape and its representations. Not only is the text inevitably changed by translation, but it is also changed through the subsequent interpretations of its readers. As Miller puts it, a work is "in a sense, 'translated,' that is, displaced, transported, carried across, even when it is read in its original language by someone who belongs to another country and another culture or to another discipline." (Miller 1995, 316) He argues that translation takes place not only through the literal transformation of a work from one language to another, or from one code to another, but also through the ways in which works are situated in a new context and appropriated for new uses by their readers. This is what happens to landscape in writing and photography, first through its translation from one code to another--from physical scenery to its written or photographic representation--and then through the translations of these works from one context to another.

In the process, it may seem that the 'original' text gets distorted out of all recognition, but Miller points out that such an 'original' does not in fact exist. This is because any text is always provisional, based on specific contexts and acts of reading, so that even in its original language or code, it is "already a translation or a mistranslation of a lost original," one which "can never be recovered because it never existed as anything articulated or able to be articulated in any language." (Miller 1995, 336) The notion of the 'original,' like the notion of 'authenticity' which Arnheim and many others have ascribed to photography has been cast into doubt in the postmodern era, not only in the field of photography, but across the disciplines. Jean-François Lyotard's analysis of Western European culture in terms of the "crisis of narratives" argues against the self-legitimising metanarratives of modernist criticism in which Arnheim's appeal to 'authenticity' is situated.(Lyotard 1984, xxiii) As a result of this abandonment of appeals to an objective truth, "narrative is affirmed. . . as a central instance of the human mind and a mode of thinking fully as legitimate as that of abstract logic."(Jamseon, 1984, xi) In the context of these translations or mistranslations of mistranslations no one narrative is necessarily better than another, no one landscape more 'authentic' than another. While this refusal of arbitrary value-judgements and acceptance of transformation can present difficulties, such 'translation' can involve a positive, productive transformation, similar to the positive effect of metaphor, in which two seemingly different things are brought together in order to create an interesting, thought-provoking new idea. The intersection of writing and photography in landscape can create the same kind of positive effect. Out of the association of writing and photography, photographic wisdom is used for narrative purposes, and narrative threads are introduced into photography.

Amidst all these textual tropes, it is important to bear in mind the visual elements of the 'texts' we are talking about, but given that this is a written text and I am therefore constrained by the limits of writing, I have used the tropes of 'text' and 'translation' to allow for, in Hayden White's words " both a movement from one notion of the way things are related to another notion, and a connection between things so that they can be expressed in a language that takes account of the possibility of their being expressed otherwise."(White 1978, 2) It is in these terms that I suggest that we think of photography and writing as two different media into which landscape can be 'translated.' Translation involves the transferral of a text into a new context where it is appropriated for new uses. When landscape is put into the context of photographic and literary practice it therefore acquires photographic and literary meanings, which in turn are given new meanings by their viewers/readers. Translations of landscape from one code to another, and from country to another inevitably provoke different responses. Travel writing, descriptions of landscape, and even postcards and sketches are all tied up with the fascination with other landscapes. We translate landscape into these different media in order to be able to see landscapes we might not otherwise have been able to see, and in order to be able to read it in ways which were not previously possible. Our representations or 'translations' of landscape can also help us learn to value it, or at least to reconcile ourselves with it. By seeking out and focussing on the links and gaps between the very different 'texts' of landscape, we are re-thinking the nature of photography, writing and landscape itself, and our relationship to all three. This process raises questions about the traditional boundaries and comparions between the genres, and offering the possibility for other potentially illuminating interdisciplinary exchanges.


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[1] As geographers, these critics are perhaps more aware than most of the cross-overs between landscape and writing, since the word 'geography' itself means literally 'land writing.'

[2] This is also true of the kind of 'writing' represented by our naming of places. For example in one region of Denmark, a remarkably flat country, there is a rather small hill which is known as Himmelbjerg, ie., 'Mountain to Heaven'.

[3] This is especially true of the Romantic period, and a great deal has been written about the links between English Romantic artists and poets, such as Turner, Wordsworth and Coleridge in relation to landscape.

[4] The Claude-glass, a small portable mirror named for the French painter (famous for his harmonious integrations of classical architecture, verdant groves and distant water) and sometimes tinted to recreate the rosy light of his idealised landscapes, was held up to the scenery to help the artist or tourist determine whether the scene was sufficiently picturesque to warrant appreciation or representation.

[5] Umberto Eco identifies ten 'codes' which operate in photographic messages. See his "Critique of the Image." Trans. Peter Wollen. Thinking Photography. Ed. Victor Burgin. Communications and Culture. London: Macmillan, 1982 (originally published as Part One of 'Articulations of Cinematic Code', in Cinematics, no 1,1970), 35.

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