A Changing Topography: Culture and Nature in New Zealand Landscape Photography
In describing the New Zealand landscape we might point to our Southern Alps, our primordial rainforests, and our pristine glaciers. What often go unmentioned are our growing suburbia, extensively farmed countryside and hydro-electricity operations. This thesis examines how the work of photographers in New Zealand from 1865 to the present day reflects and responds to issues surrounding landscape, centring in particular on images of altered or manipulated spaces that reveal something about the relationship between our culture and our environment. Using a select group of photographers this thesis illustrates how the landscape has been photographed, and by doing so explores changing attitudes to landscape and photography, and how these attitudes have influenced the production of particular landscape photographs. In this narrative it is not only how the space is represented that changes, but our perception of the landscape as it is shaped by these photographs. The 1975 exhibition New Topographics showcased the emergence of a new type of landscape photography, one that captured the contemporary landscape of the United States. The defining characteristic of this landscape was the level of interaction between the natural and the built environment, showing a space that was becoming increasingly developed and homogenous. New Zealand’s history of landscape photography displays an extensive level of interaction between people and the land. This thesis charts New Zealand’s landscape photography’s interaction with the altered landscape from its early history, in the 1860s, up until present day. The work of Joseph Perry and the Burton Brothers demonstrates that culture and nature have intersected in photography since early contact with the landscape. Later, conservation of this landscape became a concern, with photographers such as John Johns and Lloyd Godman highlighting the importance of our landscape, not only for its natural resources, but for its spiritual value. Contemporary photographers Wayne Barrar and Haruhiko Sameshima take their cue from the New Topographics photographers, approaching the landscape as a medium through which to explore the ever-changing relationship between nature and culture. Informed by such writings as W. J. T. Mitchell’s “Imperial Landscape” (1994), this thesis aims to approach landscape in art as a medium through which much can be read about our evolving cultural values. While people may be absent from these photographs, they are by no means empty of the human.
Advisor: Wolf, Erika; Bennett, Judy
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Art History
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; landscape photography; nature; Joseph Perry; Burton Brothers; John Johns; Lloyd Godman; Wayne Barrar; Haruhiko Sameshima; altered landscape; new topographics
Research Type: Thesis