The View From Here: Landscape Photography From The Collection Of The National Galleries of Scotland is a well selected collection of 70 photographic images from NGS’s far larger collection of over 38,000 images.
This exhibition features work from the very beginning of photography in the 1840s and features rarely seen (due to conservation issues) Daguerreotypes and Calotypes of both local and further afield landscape images from this period. With their long exposure times, there is something almost ghost like about some of these early images as they capture a time and often places now long gone. Looking at some of these images you feel that if you look too hard they might just disappear. There is something very fragile and almost magical about them, so it is perhaps fitting that one such image photographed by David Octavius Hill is a local image called “Ivy Covered Tree Collington – The Fairy Tree”.
Many of these early photographs are still very clearly influenced in their composition by the work of landscape painters of the day, and these early pioneers of landscape photography are very much “painting with light”. The speed of change in the chemical and technical improvements of photography in less than twenty years can clearly be seen in three outstanding photographs of The Great Pyramids of Egypt taken by Francis Frith in the late 1850s. These incredible photographs with their careful use of people in the foreground to give some impression of the sheer scale of these enigmatic structures are still powerful and instantly recognisable image over 150 years later. Still there though composition-wise are many elements of contemporary painters of Middle Eastern landscapes. Our photographers are still seeing the world with a painter’s eye.
The images captured in these early works are haunting glimpses into the past, but still many years away from photographers defining photography as an independent art form in its own right. We have to move forward to the 1920s and the work of people such as American photographer Paul Strand and the “Straight Approach” to photography which saw a change to sharp focus and crisp details beginning to emerge...an approach of course perfect for landscape and in particular mountaineering photography.
Photographs by their very nature capture people, places and structures that are no longer with us, but sometimes, like The Pyramids, the structures are still with us and instantly recognisable. One of those classic images is “Aerial View Of Edinburgh” by Alfred G Buckham taken around 1920. With the image of a bi-plane soaring top right of picture just below the clouds and Edinburgh Castle and surrounding Edinburgh far below, this is an image that at its time would have captured the pinnacle of modern technology but now captures a vintage long ago time and technology. Photographs have a way of reminding us all just how swiftly changing the world around us really is.
This exhibition is not only about the work of early photographers. The landscape still draws contemporary photographers and this exhibition reflects that in the works shown. Alongside haunting images of the past there are also works by photographers including Thomas Joshua Cooper (an amazing photograph of a waterfall) and Sze Tsung Leong.
Images in this exhibition range from the very small “cabinet card” shop images and Victorian stereo viewer photographic cards to the massive colour digital landscape image by photographer Michael Reisch in the form of Landscape 7/001.
This free exhibition runs from 29th October 2016 to 30th April 2017 in the Robert Mapplethorpe Photographic Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street. Named after the renowned photographer and supported by a very generous donation from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, this space is the first purpose-built photographic exhibition space of its kind in a major museum in Scotland.
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Review by Tom King