"Looking at the Land," a Digital Survey of 21st-Century Landscape Photography

"I worked on this coal project because it was an immediate way to understand something abstract (where does energy come from and what does it look like? What is my relationship to its origins and what does it say about power?). By setting out to photograph this industry from start to finish, I, by default, established a process to explore many different aspects." Read more here.© Daniel Shea
"I'm much more interested in culture than landscape but there are some who have married those two ideas amazingly well – Robert Adams, Walker Evans, Bob Thall, and Dan Holdsworth, to name a few. Landscape can be a profound metaphor." Read more here. See more of Brian Ulrich's work on American Photo© Brian Ulrich
"I've long been attracted to the badlands near where I grew up...It's not a place that particularly gave me solace while grieving for my brother. In fact, quite the opposite — the badlands unsettled me in a way I can't fully explain." "That summer afternoon, I remember sitting in my car with the door ajar. I was waiting for another small squall to pass. Watching the stormy sky, I noticed this image — the badlands broken in half by my car's tinted window." Read more here.© Rebecca Norris Webb
"It's difficult to pass by 45 miles of sand and not be compelled to make a picture...It definitely reflects my attitudes about the relationship between nature and culture and is emblematic of the way I usually see that relationship, which is to say, deeply connected." Read more here.© Josh Dudley Greer
"Big clouds mesmerize me, so I was looking in that direction and as I rounded the corner I saw this image. I slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road to get a better look and promptly found a place to park as I scurried for my camera." Read more here© Christine Carr
"I come from a studio-based practice so getting out into the landscape allows for a larger scale. It also forces me to embrace a site for what it is. Often I select these sites pragmatically, places I can use and feel comfortable in (i.e. family land, friends' backyards, etc.). The landscapes become more of a cradle for the exploration or revelation of certain phenomena." Read more here.© Caleb Charland
"I'm drawn to the land and the sea as I have a general tendency be an escapist. I'm always looking for a way to escape technology and the life behind the glowing box. I suppose I harbor a romantic lust for the nature in its rawest forms. This doesn't mean that I'm striving to idealize nature, but I'm not afraid to show its beauty in the same way that I find beauty in its scars." Read more here. See more of Corey Arnold's work here on American Photo.© Corey Arnold
"I created this particular image in a dry river bed (wash) and angled the mirror towards the stars. This area is at a high altitude around 3,500 feet and has very little light pollution, so the night sky was particularly vivid. While I was making the photograph I remember thinking how strange it seemed to see the cosmos restricted by the edges of the mirror. It's impossible to hold a frame to something as great and vast as our universe." Read more here.© Daniel Kukla
"I found this view by following a stream of cars turning into an obscure place off a highway road in Maui...Although it was fascinating to watch the surfers, I was more interested in observing the people who were watching the surfers. There was so much excitement, awe and anticipation in the air; I suppose the scene affected me similarly." Read more here.© Donna J. Wan
"I don't consider myself a traditional landscape photographer but one of urban, industrial, and architectural landscapes. This particular photograph is an early favorite from my personal project, Ocean Beach. There I walk up and down rows of cottages looking for patterns, relationships, or anything else that captures my imagination." Read more here.© Douglas Ljungkvist
"The project [from which this image was taken] is constructed around utilizing the setting of the suburbs as a vehicle to create imagery and while I am interested in exploring notions of land use and environmental degradation, this image, for me, is primarily about aesthetic possibilities." Read more here.© Justin James Reed
"[This] was a picture made in fear. I walked for over a half hour up a culverted creek beneath a suburban Californian town, all the while in pitch darkness following the beam of a flash light and the sound of pedestrians overhead. When I finally came to this beautiful light shaft coming from a storm drain above, I could hear tejano music from a taco truck filter down as well." Read more here© Eirik Johnson
"This image was taken in Las Vegas. It was one of those images that I had to take; it really jumped out at me...Vegas is the ultimate artificial landscape and I like this alternative view, more intimate, the other side of the facade." Read more here.© Kate Peters
"I made this picture while working on my Consumed series, which looks at America and its relationship to fast food. I was looking for images that showed daily life and the ubiquity of fast food iconography on the landscape, how we are always playing in the shadow of the giant." Read more here.© Susana Raab
"I combine photographs of various locations to create my own view of a landscape. My images are not about a specific physical space, but about a place in the mind, like visual allegories. They explore an unstable and mutating connection to the world around us." Read more here.© Lauren Marsolier
Landscape photography can't help but evolve as the landscape itself changes. We've seen a shift from photographers focusing on the pristine natural environment, which at the time was exotic and new to many viewers, toward photographs that show man's imprint on the landscape...It's increasingly difficult to find places that have not been somehow impacted by human activity." Read more here.© Noah Addia

The oldest surviving early photograph, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's "View from the Window at Le Gras (La cour du domaine du Gras)" captured via camera obscura in 1826, depicts the photographer's house nestled into the idyllic French countryside. It's a fitting first subject; civilization's place in the natural landscape has proven to be one of photography's most commonly addressed themes.

A new hybrid exhibit, on view at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art and online, explores this subject from an interesting new approach. Visitors to the museum will find "American In View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now" a survey of the American landscape genre from the school's extensive archives. But in a unique move, the museum will offer a companion exhibition online (and also via a video slideshow projected at the museum) focusing exclusively on contemporary landscape photography. This companion exhibit, entitled "Looking at the Land: 21st Century American Views," was curated by Andy Adams, keeper of the Flak Photo Collection and one of online photography's most active figures.

In curating Flak Photo's daily look at fresh new work in contemporary photography since 2006, Adams has often been drawn to images that reflect his “personal interest in the environment and how humans respond to the land.” Photographers like Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, whose work in the 1970s under the banner of New Topographics depicted the encroachment of man-made civilization into landscape of the American west, continue to serve as a prominent influence and starting point for anyone making landscape photos today. But in “Looking at the Land’s” 88 images, culled from the Flak Photo Collection and from over 5,000 responses to an online call for submissions, Adams found a new paradigm emerging in the landscape photography being made in the last ten years, by photographers who were “born and raised in suburban sprawl.”

To this crop of young photographers, with whom Adams himself identifies, “wilderness is a foreign concept,” he writes in the online exhibit’s accompanying essay. “Our environment has been significantly altered. We live with nature at arm’s length.”

As you can see above in the selection of 16 images drawn from the online exhibit, the story is now focused on how we live in this new hybrid landscape, in which the distinction between the natural and the man-made is blurred or nonexistent. It's fascinating to see each photographer working through their approach to this common idea in Adams's refreshingly straightforward photographer interviews that accompany each photo in the online exhibit.

“Many of these images aren’t that dire—they’re absurd and ironic and many of them are humorous,” says Adams. “That may suggest something about our attitudes about the way things are now. We’re not necessarily happy about it,” Adams says, speaking of the 21st century landscape’s seemingly inescapable bond with man-made civilization, “but we can’t change it either.”

“America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now” is on view at the RISD Museum of Art through January 13. Its online companion, “Looking at the Land: 21st Century American Views,” is shown via video projection at the museum and in expanded form online at FlakPhoto.com.

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