D A V I D  G E O R G E


Romanticism and the Man Altered Landscape

Since its coming of age in the mid 1970’s, the New Topographic School has become the legitimate, and some would argue only, means of representation of man altered landscape, leaving Romanticism and Pictorialism, side lined as whimsical curiosities in terms of Art photography. The argument around Romantic and Classical thinking in the arts has raged for centuries but this bout seems to have been overwhelmingly won by Classicism making the old school of landscape photographers (such as the F64 Group) seem redundant, irrelevant and out of touch. The arguments circulating around the dichotomy of Romantic and Classical attitudes within the arts were originally the Greek Apollonian versus Dionysian, Apollonian being the celebration of creativity through logical thinking while Dionysian celebrates the art of the chaotic and emotional.

Although a confirmed fan of the New Topographic School I have always been irked by their cold, documentation of topography, an overtly arms length emotional involvement with the landscape producing a “Classical “ reading of the subject and I would argue that it’s pragmatic/teutonic world view has had the same effect on photography as Kraftwerk had on the popular song in the 1970’s and 80’s. Personally I feel a Romantic representation of similar topographies has just as much legitimacy. Which philosophy, if any, has more relevance in trying to photographically describe landscape? The New Topographic’s imagery usually contains an embedded message, an empirical instruction, precursored with “This is…. “ Whereas the Romantic representation invites allegory and metaphor into the viewing, subtly changing the structure of the New Topographic subtext to “Is this… ?” restructuring a statement of unwavering fact delivered by the artist into a question asked by the viewer of the artists image. There is also the contentious point of what “man altered landscape” is, especially in an industrial Nation such as the UK where most of the landscape could be described in this way and is therefore, to me at least, just “the landscape”. Ultimately the argument between these two schools of thought is one that will never be resolved, the New Topographics’ claiming visual hyperbole in the Romantic representation of landscape, while the Romantics’ sense a whiff of accismus in the New Topographic work, but feeding off each other they create energy for debate and discussion in the Arts at many levels, which makes both philosophies not only legitimate, but also essential.

This series of images are some of the 120 plus quarries that run from Frosterly to Cow Green Reservoir in Upper Weardale over a 20km stretch of the River Wear. Now mainly abandoned and flooded, they exist as a monument to the decline in the manufacturing industries of the U.K. over the past 50 years. Once filled with gangs of labourers manually extracting countless tons of minerals to fuel the vast industrial machine that was once Britain, they are now sombre, ring fenced, battle scarred landscapes being slowly healed by nature and drawn back into the land, becoming oases for flora and fauna, the hard rocks softened by ferns and grass and white clouds reflected in dark secluded pools, creating a truly ragged beauty felt by anyone who cares to roam there.