For all its big city associations, photography is a medium very much at home in the countryside. The world’s first photograph – executed by the French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in the late 1820s and entitled View from the Window at Le Gras – was taken at Niépce's family’s country house, in Saône-et-Loire, eastern France; for many years the world record for most expensive photograph sold at auction was held by Andreas Gursky’s The Rhine II, his remarkably measured image of a stretch of that German river, captured just outside Düsseldorf in 1999; and the Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah – named after the innovative color film in the late 1940s by National Geographic and later officially adopted, with Kodak’s consent – remains a rare instance of a medium redefining its subject.
Of course, for every perfectly captured mountain range and verdant hillside, there are many less-than-perfect scenic renderings of the not always so great outdoors. This is why we’ve selected some of the finest examples from the Artspace archive. Take the scenic route through our outstanding collection.
Demeczky is a Hungarian-born photographer, based in Zurich, who is deeply familiar with the scenery of central Europe. A graduate of the KREA Contemporary Art School, he tends to favor film, shooting in medium format, and covering everything from studio nudes and carefully executed self portraits, through to Alpine imagery, such as the work presented here.
From a strict, geographical perspective, the Alps don’t actually extend into Slovakia; so, given this work’s title, Demeczky may be using the name figuratively, probably to describe the very Alp-like Tatra Mountains in Slovakia.
Whichever is the case, this crisp, clear, high-contrast image is a perfect, contemporary expression of the awe-struck emotions so many European artists have channelled, when confronted with such snowy peaks. It is also printed on German Hahnemuhle Baryta paper, which is itself bright white, as well as being cellulose-based, and so ideal for the rendering of such detailed photographs.
Lavender is among the few plants favored by both farmers and gardeners, though the aesthetic treatments for the plants vary greatly between these two groups. A couple of lavender plants add scent and color to a flowerbed, while lines of uniform lavender crops lend an almost minimalist detail to many fields in southern France, where the plant is widely cultivated, for its use in perfume, sanitary and beauty products, as well as in food and drink.
Catherine Mead captured the plant in its agricultural setting for her photograph, Rolling Lavender. She travels widely on assignments for such publications as Harper's Bazaar, Conde Nast Traveller and Town & Country, and often finds ways to combine her editorial commissions with her fine-art work. This photograph can be seen as a travelogue and a nature study, while also serving as an exercise in photographic depth of field, with the beds of lavender running towards the picture’s vanishing point, on that far distant horizon.
South African photographer Rudi Gremels ventured through 12 countries (Argentina, Lesotho, Panama and Costa Rica, among others), shot thousands of images and underwent at least two near-death experiences, to produce the 15 exquisite images in his debut fine-art collection, Beyond the Borders. This particular photograph was taken in the Moroccan desert, and derives its name from the ever-shifting shapes Gremels noticed in the scenery.
“Were I to visit this exact spot again today, I would not find these patterns,” explained the photographer, who is now based in Sydney. “They will be gone, and new ones have now formed. However, I’m grateful that this pattern was captured.”
Maria Lax isn’t from the blamiest of climes. This photographer hails from a remote Finnish village and now lives and works in London. However, whatever her local environment lacks in terms of ambient temperature, Lax more than makes up for with her hot, avant-garde color palette. Her pictures almost vibrate with tropical pigmentation, whether she’s photographing snow drifts in her hometown, or cabbage palms like these, in a more clement setting.
Lax has undertaken commercial work for Virgin Records, Glass Magazine and Panasonic, among other clients; was selected as one of the ‘Best New Talent of Photo London 2020’ by the Guardian; and was the recipient of the Finnish Art Promotion Centre’s One Year Grant for 2021. This work, which echoes the imagery of Richard Mosse and Rinko Kawauchi, is another, simple reminder of why she is so hot right now.
Yes, that is indeed Michigan. The waters of Torch Lake, which lies beside Lake Michigan, right up by the Canadian border, are as clear and blue as many a tropical paradise. This particular photograph is of the lake’s two-mile-long sand bar, which lies just off its southern shore, and draws in boat owners and kayakers during the summer months. The LA fine-art photographer Gray Malin took this photograph, as part of his beach scene series.
Eschewing perhaps the most conventional route for contemporary aerial photography–a drone–Malin instead photographs from a doorless helicopter, hooked onto a harness. “I used to get scared,” he has said, “but it's more of a thrill now, and part of the fun.”
Can we find scenic elements within abandoned, liminal spaces? New York photographer Paul Raphaelson certainly can. Throughout his career, he has focussed on the way the wilderness finds its way into the city’s limits, bringing with it a certain, distinct sense of beauty. This particular image forms part of the photographer’s 2005-2009 solo project, Lost Spaces, Found Gardens, which focussed on the derelict lots in his local neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn. “When I moved here in 2004, I missed the grandeur of the factories and bridges from my old waterfront neighborhood,” explains the photographer,” I walked past Bushwick’s lots for a year before finding any inspiration.
I gradually learned to look closely, sometimes through chinks in fences or at the pavement under my feet. I’ve since been seduced by the surprises I find here, including cast-offs of local culture and the relentless thriving of flowers and weeds.” This shot of a discarded van’s bench seat, placed beside the East River, raises questions of where some of us eventually find our individual patches of paradise.
Window to Eternity seems like a strange title for a series containing such a specific and temporary photograph as the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles on a hot summer’s day in 2019. However, for Lia Bekyan, an Armenian art director and photographer based in Brooklyn, this half-way point between the city and the wilderness call forward questions of time, place and selfhood.
“This ongoing series of landscapes and cityscapes don't carry a specific message. Instead, it is a collection of interactions with my surroundings that reflect a state of release and belonging,” she has explained. “When I allow myself to accept everything as it is and become fully present, I feel like I’m dreaming. Because in dreams we don’t think but simply experience. This has led me to an intuitive understanding of the current zeitgeist that urges us to examine our well-being in cities and find ways to reunite with the natural state.”