Exploring the Untouched Landscape

While getting lost in the world of internet, I discovered the photographic work of the German photographer, Bernhard Edmaier: http://bernhardedmaier.reacore.net/site/en/home.idx.php.                                         Edmaier is an aerial photographer, and photographs landscapes “which have emerged in the course of natural geological processes, without any human influence or manipulation.”  As Edmaier’s work depicts such scenes, his images appear to be abstract and even surreal.  For example, the photograph of Brennisteinsalda, Iceland, which is part of his series on volcanoes, depicts a landscape that was part of “a volcanic massif that was buried beneath a huge glacial sheet during the ice age […] the rock has been penetrated by hot sulfurous vapors.  After the ice disappeared, rivers carved into the rock.  Around AD 1480, a great hot lava flow […] poured out of the mountain’s eastern flank and solidified.”

Although I do not know very much about, or fully understand the facts behind how certain natural landscapes are formed, this image offers a view of a truly natural landscape that seems impossible to dream up or manipulate.  As the eye moves across this image from the remote, green landscape in the background to the active forms of the barren hills in the foreground, it is confronted with variations of colors, textures, and forms.  The scene is so massive and unique that it is hard for me to imagine such a place existing; it is so surprisingly untouched by humanity that I find it difficult to accept its reality.  At the same time, however, because it also seems impossible to imagine a place that is completely untouched by people or human manipulation, I can’t help but create a scenario in which this barren landscape, which seems to have scoops taken out of each hillside, was formed by people.  As Edmaier introduces us to natural places that are not familiar with human influence, I realize just how difficult it is to recognize a landscape as something that we are not a part of.

Furthermore, Edmaier’s image of the Bering Glacier in Alaska presents us with a subject that is so immense and unique that it appears to be a pure abstraction.  “The Bering Glacier is the largest and longest glacier in North America. […] Giant crevasses cross the glacier surface where the ice stream bends.  Some of the crevasses are filled with clear blue melt during the summer time.”

Although I am given a clear description of what this image depicts, my eye gets lost in the repetitive pattern of the glacial form, and I feel like I am looking at a detailed image of ripples in water as opposed to North America’s largest glacier.  As this photograph exists as a very small piece of a vast landscape, and depicts repeating patterns of protruding, wave-like forms, it may disorient the viewer, and upon realizing that this is a real place, may even inspire reactions such as awe, and may even overwhelm.

As a result, Edmaier’s work consists of images that, without descriptive explanations, are unrecognizable and indefinable.  At first glance I feel like I am looking at microscopic images, only to find out that I am actually getting the privileged view of seeing a vast landscape that defines itself outside of human influence.  Edmaier’s images instill a sense of awe, and lead me to question our place in these landscapes, or rather, our responsibility to them.  I am also struck by one of Edmaier’s statements about his work as he says:

These landscapes are fragile Nature-created formations which, in the long run, will be unable to resist man’s unstoppable urge to exploit – they will alter and ultimately disappear.

I am not one of those environmental activists who point fingers at others and demand protection and conservation of natural landscapes. Each viewer of my images should decide for themselves whether the remnants of intact natural landscapes are worth preserving.

However, those who support the idea of preservation and conservation of Nature should be aware of the fact that the status quo and ‘let`s-continue-as-before’ attitude so well rooted in our profit-oriented world will have to change radically.

As Edmaier leaves the plight of these landscapes in the hands of the viewer, I am led to question what my initial reactions to his photographs mean and how I may feel compelled to act.

Throughout this course we have questioned how we think about and interact with nature.  We have also discussed how the national parks may reflect and contribute to our possibly destructive views of nature as we separate it from ourselves while we attempt to control, and even to consume it.  Based on these class discussions and the issue of trying to figure out how we define nature, I am intrigued by Edmaier’s work and how he chooses to present us with a nature that we are forced to view with an outsider’s perspective since we cannot recognize ourselves within these landscapes.  His photographs do not depict familiar subjects that we can immediately name and categorize; they consist of shapes, colors, and textures that are beautiful but inexplicable.  Therefore, I want to get back to the question of how such a unique perspective and detached view of natural landscapes may influence how we interact with the natural environment.  Is it possible for us to leave these places untouched?  Is the realization of their unique existence, importance, and beauty enough for us to take responsibility for these places and attempt to ensure their continued existence, or would it be harder for us to try to preserve these places because we are so detached from them?  These questions lead me to further consider what it means to be a part of nature and separate from it, and how these opposing attitudes contribute to how we interact with the natural environment.  Edmaier’s work provokes many questions, and encourages us to continue to consider our role in and with the natural environment.


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