The Nelson takes a mystical trip through Human Nature: Recent European Landscape Photography
Leave it to Northern Europeans, with their deeply satisfying landscape tradition, to create luminous photographs of the land. Of the 10 photographers in the Nelson’s Human Nature: Recent European Landscape Photography, the Belgians, Dutch and Germans provide the most emotive and even mystical images.
Each artist approaches the land differently, which results in an exhibition of work embodying many physical, psychological and metaphorical permutations.
Belgian artist Bart Michiels focuses his gaze on the death fields of World War I. In “Passchendaele, 1917, Goudberg,” beautiful pumpkins dot the earth in a showy gesture of fecundity. Yet here, more than 1.5 million men lost their lives. Knowing the horrific number of dead in these placid places charges Michiels’ images with the absolute burden of history. Meanwhile, his cheery orange gourds suggest that while lives are temporal, the land endures and thrives.
On the other hand, Italian artist Massimo Vitale’s scenes are peopled with tourists who compromise the land, changing its shape and purpose. Dense clusters of bodies almost obliterate beaches. Except for the photograph’s specific title, the beach in “Viareggio Tuffo” might be Cancun or Panama Beach on a stupendously crowded summer day. The presence of common-looking tourists homogenizes and flattens the land into something generic rather than specific. Cluttered with humans and hotels, the landscape loses any romantic or historical significance and instead is transformed into a measurement of social and cultural change.
Mostly known for his urban photography, the German Peter Bialobrzeski here captures monumental panoramic views of snowcapped peaks and green hills.
Bialobrzeski’s images are romantic and almost supernatural. They break from the crisp documentary style of the famous Düsseldorf School (Bernd and Hilda Becher, Andreas Gurskey, Candida Höffer, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff), which, in essence, defines German photography in its clarity, precision and documentary sensibility.
The work here is from his Heimat, or homeland, series. Inspired by a teaching post in Bremen, these emotionally intense and psychologically accessible images are essentially opposite from the more objective imagery of Düsseldorf photographers whose works focus on architecture and its various social, cultural and political meanings. Bialobrzeski shares with them, however, the German sense of place. And though his images are peopled, humans don’t overshadow the landscape; they become a part of it, helping shape viewers’ appreciation for our relationship to particularly dramatic places.
Rendered in multiple shades of white, “Heimat 27, Bayerischer Wald” depicts a snow-covered mountaintop surrounded by fantastical snow-drenched conifers. Far from dominating the landscape as they do in Vitale’s photographs, the tiny figures here serve to magnify the natural world and amplify our magical relationship with its perfection.
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