Recently I came across what Robert Adams (an American photographer) wrote about landscape pictures. He wrote that these pictures can convey to us three kinds of information: geography, autobiography, and metaphor. "Geography" refers to what I've heard described as a "sense of a place." It helps us to have a sense of what it is like to be in a particular place. "Autobiography" means that when someone paints or photographs a landscape, something about that person comes through. And how can it not? A completely impersonal making of a picture is difficult to imagine; at a minimum, I choose to include that tree but not that building, him instead of her, the mountain but not the river. And I make such choices based on what I see or imagine when I'm making the picture.
"Metaphor" is more difficult to get at. Adams suggested that metaphor conveys the significance of a place (not just its geography). We see more that just the geography. He quoted Robert Henri: successful landscapes "seem to be moments of revelation when we see the transition of one part to another, the unification of the whole. There is a sense of comprehension" (it's not just all a "booming, buzzing confusion"). That word "comprehension" is worth paying attention to: when a landscape picture works, we prehend (get, grasp) the whole of what is being presented: the whole is shown to be more than just a sum of the parts. But Adams added that landscape as metaphor reveals how a landscape fits with one's life experience. It helps us to rediscover and reevaluate where we are--I'd say it helps us to see where we fit in to that whole that the landscape uncovers for us. Landscape pictures, wrote Adams, record a mystery; they record Form. (This discussion by Adams of the metaphoric aspect of a landscape picture seems to me another way of what I try to say in my own writing about what I am attempting to do when I make a photograph.)
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