Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Collision Between Man & Nature

Richard Misrach was born in Los Angeles in 1949 and is often credited as being one of the forerunners in the renaissance of colour photography and large scale representation since the 1970s. Much of his work deals with what he describes as “the collision between man and nature”.  In 1997 Misrach began a project from the porch of his home on a steep Berkeley hill in San Francisco with his 8 x 10 camera.  This work took place over a three year period in which time Misrach captured over seven hundred images of the vista beyond his porch which encapsulated the Golden Gate Bridge and the adjacent topography.   Images of the bridge in all states of visibility, luminosity and atmospheric conditions were recorded from a single vantage point at all times of day and night as well as encompassing the seasons of the year. 
The series shows the diminutively scaled bridge in the distance in a multitude of conditions.  Each frame displays a strip of land and sea oppressed beneath a vast sky.  We see iconic images of a global landmark in San Francisco Bay portrayed in flaming orange sunsets as well as being overshadowed by rolling storm clouds passing over head or even obliterated from view as incoming storm systems engulf the structure within their mighty form, leaving the viewer alone with the surrounding hillsides.  Misrach captures the Golden Gate Bridge in its celebrated as well as lesser seen states.  Sometimes the bridge is an eloquent silhouette, sometimes glistening in the sunlight while other times faint and shrouded in mist or cloud.  Each frame displays an extraordinary spectrum of light and colour. Each frame is unique.  Each frame is beautiful.
Richard Misrach - Golden Gate Bridge (1997-2000)
Misrach’s photographs have previously been compared with landscape paintings of the past.  His images of the Golden Gate Bridge have been compared to the paintings of Mark Rothko and Albert Bierstadt, his repetitive approach to subject matter likened to Cézanne, or to Monet’s depiction of Rouen Cathedral at different times of the year.  It must be noted however that Misrach’s concern’s are rooted further beyond the sheer physical beauty of the scene extending out beyond his porch.  His Golden Gate exhibition included a publication in which Misrach notes what is not apparent in his photographs is "privileged position high up in the peaceful, well-to-do, sylvan Berkeley hills." He states that "to own a view is as much about property values as it is about ocular pleasures."  What makes the series of images more powerful for Misrach is the perspective from Berkeley.

Claude Monet - Rouen Cathedral (1890s)

The photographic series offers a commentary on the politics of the view from this particular place in San Francisco, the relationship of wealth, power and privilege at this time as is particularly highlighted when the bridge is obscured from sight by atmospheric conditions and the eye is drawn to the island in the foreground that once housed a prison as well as the luxurious dwellings dotted along the hillside.  One of the recurring themes in Misrach’s works since the early 1980s is that of the “altered landscape” or the condition of aesthetic beauty of the natural world as mediated by human intervention in the landscape as he tries to “reconcile my interests” in topographical and political landscapes.  In this instance Misrach treasures this vista as he believes humans have affected the environment in a positive manner.
“I love it. It’s beautiful to look at, its scale. Everything about it was just magnificently done
Misrach not only photographs the content occupying the frame.  In an interview with Peter Brown, he outlines the great lengths he goes to in making formally engaging pictures, “I pay attention to the frame, to the light, etc. I've always felt that the best of my pictures function in a way that historical painting used to… just as Gericault's Raft of the Medusa was both a remarkable visual experience, it also embodies a specific political event”. 
Gericault - The Raft of the Medusa (1819)

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London in 1775 during the Neoclassical period that saw him trained academically in painting and drawing.  However, it was not long before Turner began to adopt a style of his own and he spent the rest of his life developing this looser style, pulling away from the Neoclassical norms of depicting historical events in great detail, choosing instead a Romantic approach based on emphasised luminosity and atmosphere.  Turner relentlessly studied nature and light and stripped both aspects of representation back to their basic forms.  It was during his extensive travels that the main inspiration for many of his greatest works germinated.  While travelling throughout the British Isles and mainland Europe, he fervently recorded what he saw in writing, drawing and painting.  His tour of France and Switzerland alone resulted in more than 400 drawings from which he later drew information and inspiration from to create magnificent landscape paintings.  Over five decades Turner relied on these sketchbooks to inform even his most abstracted paintings.  Upon his death in 1851, Turner left almost 30,000 pieces of his work to the British Nation.

JMW Turner Sketchbooks

During his career, Turner progressively paid less attention to detail in his paintings and focused more on the effects of light and colour as achieved through his self developed use of watercolour and oil paints.  The result was truly magnificent with images increasingly immersed in strategically selected light and atmospheric conditions. 

JMW Turner - The Slave Ship (1840)