Karen Hellman and Brett Abbott
Like painters and draftsmen before them, photographers turned to the landscape as a source of inspiration after the invention of the medium in 1839. Since then, changing artistic movements and technical advancements have provided opportunities for camera artists to approach the subject in diverse and imaginative ways, as illustrated by the wide range of works from the extensive collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Landscape in Photographs.
Until the nineteenth century, landscape was seen merely as a backdrop to a main subject, but with the rise of industrialization, natural settings became increasingly rare in urban life and, therefore, more valued and frequently represented. Plein air photographers recorded landscapes near and far, while Pictorialists, such as Edward Steichen and Imogen Cunningham, added emotional resonance to the scenery with their painterly style. During the twentieth century, the lenses of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Minor White discovered lines, shades, and textures, and the landscape became a creation of rich tones and graphic compositions. Artists such as Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind went further and cropped nature into purely abstract images.
Landscape in Photographs accompanies the exhibition In Focus: Picturing Landscape, on view at the Getty Center from May 22 through October 7, 2012.
Karen Hellman is assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Brett Abbott is curator of photography at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the author of Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography Since the Sixties (Getty Publications, 2010).