Out There Landscape Photos Capture the Past and the Imaginary
by David Schonauer
Some photographs preserve what is gone. Some capture places that were never there. Both are landscapes worth visiting. Over the past few weeks, there have emerged many stories and projects that deal with landscapes and the people who dwell in them.
We’ve learnt about places from the past that have disappeared — the Hetch Hetchy Valley of California’s Sierra Nevada, the twin of Yosemite that was dammed in 1923 to create a reservoir that holds 85% of the water used by San Francisco.
Elsewhere, we’ve seen documentary work on countries that are unrecognized by other states, such as ghostly Abkhazia, once a holiday spot for the Soviet elite, and the country of Transnistria, which may or may not be part of Moldavia, depending on your viewpoint.
Then there are landscapes that were created for a future that never arrived.
There are some places that only photography can take us.
The Hetch Hetchy Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada was a gemlike replica of nearby Yosemite Valley with an idyllic meadow encircled by cascading waterfalls and 1,000-foot-tall granite walls. In 1923 the valley was dammed to create a reservoir that today supplies San Francisco with 85 percent of its water.
Now an organization called Restore Hetch Hetchy is leading an effort to knock down the dam and bring back the valley. The Verge recently reported on the effort in an interesting article highlighted by photographer McNair Evans’ images of the damn today (above) and vintage images by Matt Ashby Wolfskill and Isaiah West Taber (top).
Located on France’s northwestern coast, the town of Cancale has for centuries been considered the oyster capital of the country. The town, fronted by muddy flats that are regularly covered and then exposed by the tides, supplied oysters to Roman soldiers and King Louis XIV, and remains an oyster-eater’s paradise.
Mashable recently featured photographer Roger Viollet’s turn-of-the-century images of the Brittany town and its people. There isn’t much of a point to the article, but Viollet’s photographs, astonishingly beautiful, are reason enough to look at it.
When American photographer Robert Walton Cooper travelled to Abkhazia, he didn’t quite know what to expect, notes Creative Boom: Once known as a holiday hotspot for the Soviet elite, the region, which won a war of secession with Georgia in 1992–93 and formally declared independence in 1999, is only partially recognized as a state.
Cooper, who lives and works in the Caucasus region — he started a board-game publishing business in Tbilisi in 2014 — captured the area’s abandoned railway stations, former seaside resorts, vacant homes and overgrown pathways.
Transnistria is a country that is unrecognized by any United Nations state: Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, this sliver of land broke from Moldova and declared its independence as a Soviet Republic.
In 1992, a war was fought between Moldovans and Transnistrian separatists, and now the area remains caught between its Soviet history, current isolation and a dream of annexation by Russia, notes photographer Justin Barton, who has been creating portraits of Transnistrian patriots. Barton has also photographed the people and nuclear machinery of the Cold War, which in a sense is another landscape of the past.
What director Christopher Nolan did for dreamscapes in the film Inception, Turkish photographer Aydn Büyükta does for real-world landscapes with his project Flatland.
Büyükta used software to create 3D renderings of a variety of locations in Istanbul, then carefully mapped the many different photographic angles needed to sew together a final image in which landscapes are given what he calls a “multidimensional romantic point of view.” Hyperallergic praises their “uncannily smooth” look.
No matter how shiny with promise the future may seem, its luster will probably fade as time goes by. Photographers Noritaka Minami and Laurent Kronental are interested in this tarnishing process, notes the British Journal of Photographer, and both have undertaken long-term projects documenting buildings that once stood for hope and progress but have missed their mark.
Minami’s series 1972, which has just been published as a book, focuses on the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo’s Shimbashi district. Kronental has spent the past four years wandering the Grands Ensembles housing estates in the Paris suburbs.