Contemporary Landscape Photography


When I read a question asked by Miguel Garcia-Guzman on his blog Exposure Compensation (2014 update: the Exposure Compensation blog has been removed and has a new owner) regarding what constitutes Contemporary Great Portrait Photography, that started a kernel of thinking as to how does that same question (and maybe the same answers) apply to Contemporary Landscape Photography?


Photograph: Winter Field, JiaShan (Wo Zhi KanKanI am just Looking) copyright 2008 Douglas Stockdale

Postscript 03/25/14: It has been about five years since I have last looked at this photograph that I created in JiaShan. Recently another blogger decided that this image (actually the one below is the image they grabbed for their post) was not as good as a classic modern landscape photograph of a mountain with a lake in the foreground (there fore a “good landscape”). Okay, they even labeled my image as a “Bad Landscape” for a whole variety of reasons. Too funny, yet so sad.

While looking at this photograph again, I realized that in 2008 I was not paying enough attention to the color temperature as it is a bit too warm. As I now recall, I had edited this with the Raw convertor for Photoshop CS or maybe even earlier. So it is time for a do-over in PhotoShop CS3; adjusting the color temperature, increasing the black set point and adding a bit more exposure in the Raw conversion, then a little more sharpening and a slightly different curve layer. It now appears more in line with what I have in my memory of this place and time, as it was a darn cold morning just before a snowy blizzard hit this region really hard.

As to the 2008 question as to what constitutes Contemporary Landscape Photography: one short answer is there is no absolute answer, it’s really about the question. (see some of the comments with this post).

Note: The initial photographic image of Winter Field, Jashan that was in the original post from 2008 is below.

Jiashan landscape


15 thoughts on “Contemporary Landscape Photography

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  1. Man! That’s a good question. I’m not even sure of what contemporary photography is. All that I know is that when I’ve seen photography that has been labeled as such, I haven’t like it.

    So, I guess that I don’t like what I’ve seen. Contemporary, meaning modern, I suppose.

    I have seen some in downtown Charlotte at a couple of galleries. One, in particular, that I remember was of abandoned shopping carts. It was contemporary urban landscape photography. To me, it looked like a bunch of snapshots of, well, abandoned shopping carts.

    Contemporary photography seems to reek of anti-establishment, or anti-aesthetics. IMHO. It seems to go against the grain … just because. Perhaps I do not understand it.

  2. Oh, hopefully Chantal will stop by. She likes contemporary photography. So, she can possibly spread a little more light on the subject other than my obviously jaded view. :-)

  3. Paul, I think that I would agree on the equivalence of the use of the word ‘Contemporary’ to the word ‘Modern’. As to Chantal, I have not ever received a comment from her, so I am not sure that this blog is on her radar;- )

  4. Hi Doug!

    That’s a loaded question and if you ask 100 photographers, you’ll likely get 100 different answers. Contemporary photography, I don’t think, is easily defined. But it’s more like photography without emotion…like a “way I see things” kind of thing. I think the idea of CP is to simply show the world, or snippets of the world, as objectively as possible. No easy task, imo. Personally, I don’t particularly like contemporary portraiture, since to take the emotion away from a person is essentially photographing a corpse.

    But in terms of landscape photography, I think CP is the best way to approach it. Contemporary landscape photography, I feel, is the most truthful way to show our world, as it is…the good, the bad, the pretty, the not so pretty. There’s no pretense with CLP, and with how rapidly our landscapes are changing I feel it’s important to document the world just as it is.

    Mark Hobson, I think, is one of the best contemporary landscape photographers around. If you don’t know his work, his site is:

  5. Chantal, thanks for your comment, it is very much appreciated. The reason for my question is exactly that, CLP not so easily defined. My concern is the ‘objectively as possible’, implicent with taking the emtion out. And I am not sure about it being truthful, per se, either. I don’t know that you can ever remove the bias of the photographer…

  6. I agree Doug, and therein lies the debate. Many believe that CP is without bias. I suppose it’s a matter of interpretation. I do believe that you can remove a lot of bias, or at least *appear* to have removed all bias and emotion. But then again, it’s up to the viewer to decide if its successful or not.

  7. Doug, I knew that she would stop by as soon as I pointed her in this direction. She and I have had similar discussions about contemporary photography. We greatly differ in our tastes. :-)

    I, like you, don’t think that you can take out the photographer’s bias. And truth, is a very relative term and based on opinion. Also, I think that photographs, no matter what the type, without some emotion are less appealing, but this is just my ‘truth’.

  8. It would seem that a successful CP is a skillful ‘slight of hand’. As Chantal states, “at least appear to have removed all bias and emotion” and “up to the viewer to decide if its successful or not”.

    The implication is that you are contriving a photograph to look a certain way and it may take a lot of thinking and work for someone to creat the illusion of being ‘objective’. And you are being judged by the viewer as to your success in pulling this off. So you have to photograph per the ‘being objective’ rules.

    Kinda harkens back to the old ‘fine art’ painting game in the 70’s; it does not matter what you paint, just as long as you do it differently, because that is what you are being judged on.

    Seems shallow.

    Anyone else want to add to this??

  9. Hi there,
    I am late to this discussion as I am just now finding your site, but I wanted to add another voice to this interesting conversation.

    Photography and art in general has built up a significant vocabulary which evolves from decade to decade—I think a contemporary photograph must take this into account and build upon that as well. We tend to move in fits and starts… someone like Stephen Shore comes along, and we’ve all suddenly got a new way to look at things. But for the most part people who are making art are looking at other art and we develop our vocabulary based on what we see and appreciate.

    So I think that, by definition, a contemporary photograph should be part of an overall movement. There will be outliers, and those outliers may be significant enough to stretch the boundary of what is considered contemporary, but that happens rarely and after the fact.

    All that is to say, it’s much more difficult to analyze this while you’re in the middle of it than it is to take a long hard look at work from a decade or two past and make connections and learn how things have evolved. Personally, I find much of the work that I see today to be overly intellectual and hyper-stylized, and it bores me. Two landscape photographers that come to mind that I admire very much, Beth Dow and Jem Southam, would seem to be outliers in that regard, but that’s the kind of work that I find interesting. I should add that what little work of yours that I’ve seen (I’ve just discovered your site about 20 minutes ago) looks great and I will be looking at more.

    Just my two cents, sorry if I rambled a bit, but I do find this topic quite interesting.

  10. I agree that this is an interesting topic and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. And I think that it can be difficult to analyze the relevance of what is happening right now at the detail level, but we have to try.

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