Sassello January 2009 #14. A sense of place part 2

Located in a small pocket delimited by a river, the "Erro" a chain of low hills, "La Boiazza" was a small and wild area. Along the river runs the border between "Liguria" and "Piemonte".

The builded area grew up from nothing in the last 30 years. Mostly it is a vacation resort. The houses where raised either by small speculators or build around initial placements of caravans or small cabins. To get an idea of the geographic properties have a look here.

The area is no more populated by traditional insiders except few cases. Most of the old houses either are abandoned or have been bought by foreigners (mostly from Lombardy or Savona and Genova).


Sassello January 2009 #13. A sense of place.

This picture closes the first part of the series. The series, as I wrote at the beginning, is a personal view of a familiar place in a point in time. The first part, the one ending here, was geared toward experimenting broad landscape views following some classic composition. In this case I found myself naturally lend to the horizontal format framing while composing. Coming from decades of slides I got used to compose rectangularly. Composing squarely in the viewfinder is made somewhat easier by the grid my viewfinder has. I still have some difficulties pre visualizing in square format. Fortunately the slide and print service times are long gone thanks to digitalization.

On the subject side the views presented till now are about vernacular architecture. The landscape is artificial, several millenniums of human presence adapted it in every aspect. The youth of most of the woods is a clear statement itself. From the seventies there have been a progressive abandonment of several rural areas. My relation with the landscape is that of the outsider. One that not in its direct transformation, although it could be questionable for a photographer to be considered as an outsider along this sole parameter.

While some photographers that I follow are more on the side of poetry I feel myself more oriented to the tale. Maybe it is an heritage from the slide times too.


Sassello January 2009 #11. A sense of place.

Searching the internet I came across this article from Rosalind Krauss about the role of anachronism in Arts. Rosalind is one of the few Art historians that I find credible when speaking about photography. Her writings (more in some next post) have the gift to excite my neurons in several ways.

Not that the ideas in the article are so new. Thomas Samuel Kuhn in his "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" already showed what was wrong in thinking about cultural evolution as a linear accumulation process.

But getting to the point of the post. A couple of days ago Mark Hobson returned to one of his regular, useful, torments: beauty in photography and landscape.

In the meantime, searching for useful anachronisms, I was reading a pictorialist photography book by "Henry Peach Robinson" titled "Letters on Landscape Photography" written and published in 1888 in England. I have to say that he had a pretty clear idea about beauty in photography.

"This faculty of artistic sight, or, indeed, the faculty of seeing anything, only comes with training. The ordinary observer only takes a superficial view of things. He is sensible that the view is "pretty." He may even go so far as to feel the grandeur of a mountain, but he can have no feeling of the exquisite sense of beauty that appeals to the trained mind. The artist can get very real enjoyment out of objects and sights in which the ordinary eye would only see the common-place.

The average man only sees the most gaudy of the flowers and butterflies, the entomologist and botanist see realms of beauty that do not exist for the other, and so it is throughout all the arts and sciences. I will not further enforce this necessity for learning to see here, as I shall, I hope, have further opportunities of alluding to the subject.

I will content myself with saying that to see artistically you must learn art. To do this you must learn what has been considered as the backbone of art for all ages -- composition. Of late years it has been the fashion with a certain school of painters to decry composition as artificial, false, and quite too old-fashioned for modern use; but I notice that the more these painters emerge from their pupilage state, the more do their pictures show that they are glad to make use of the old, old rules. Rules were never intended to cramp th artist's intellect, and I have never advocated that the artist should be the slave of any system; ..."

You can get the full book here, in the Internet archives. Do not miss the "Calling the cows" in page 17/19 of the third chapter.


Sassello January 2009 #10. A sense of place.

"... but it would be better if, in every possible instance, men built their own houses on a scale commensurate ... and built them to stand as long as human work at its strongest can be hoped to stand ..."

From "The seven Lamps of Architecture" John Ruskin 1849


Sassello January 2009 #9. A sense of place.

In "Language Thought and Reality" Benjamin Lee Whorf, advances the interesting thesis that the language either defines a boundary of the thinkable either carries the traces of the needs of the culture deploying it. To speak about something new is possible given an allowance to extend the language in the needed direction.
The sense he gives to the argument is obviously far more reaching, and precise, than my rather poor synthesis.

Landscape photography is mostly (with some exceptions) about spacial relationships. A place where the language to speak about spaces has been developed (in recent times and not so recent) is Architecture.

Among the numerous books read last year two have been, in the above sense, of particular interest.

One, Italian, "Il belvedere" by Monica Maffioli that gives an historical overview of the practice of architecture photography in Italy in the nineteenth century. The overview regards mostly the official side of photography about modern monuments and architecture/engineering work.
An interesting passages, unfortunately not fully developed, is about the introduction of industrial practice in photography. This was done mostly by the "Alinari" one of the first photographic illustration enterprises. They literally had several payed photographers getting around, mostly in Europe, with precise instructions on how to compose views what to take and have to have it look as desired. "Belvedere" equates, more or less, the "scenic viewpoint", mostly on the pragmatic side. It also has some sense of vantage point not properly rendered in the US counterpart.

The other book is "The visual elements of landscape" by "John A. Jakle", a geographer. An interesting book that tries to build a vocabulary to speak about visual properties of landscape. Mostly he draws from Architecture but along the path he gets into urban landscape photography. An interesting point is on space kinds. Positive and negative spaces are investigated along several points of view. Coming to the new ideas department I have to say that the return of the lecture is not very high. Nothing astonishingly new but a nice systematic overview, not a landscape thesaurus but the project of one. One of the pluses is the vast bibliography giving ample space to personal trips along the matter.


Sassello January 2009 #8. A sense of place.

Following the wave here are some technicalities, I understand the needs to have some popular indexing. The frequent reader may leave at this point as what follows maybe of little sense.

I have a special love for manual focus lenses, I like to feel the movement of well greased helicoids. To have the opportunity to buy manual focus lenses (at a very low cost compared to the quality) is one of the reasons I bought Nikon even if I do not like at all their marketing and product policies. But when it comes to manual focus lenses I have to say that those are the best made I ever used. Before DSLRs I was in the Canon side, the manual focus series, they had nice lenses but none of them could compare with the jobs from Nikon.

In this series of landscape pictures I used a 20mm f4 AI, a 35mm f2 AIS, a 50mm f1.8 AF (replaced today with a 50mm f1.8 AIS) and a 28-105 AF zoom. I bought em on ebay for the grand total of circa 400$ before the FX price madness. Fortunately Nikon is pushing some new and heavily gadgeted lenses so we can hope in a sensible price lowering in manual focus oldies again.

My preferred one is the 20mm. Once, in film times I was an aficionado of the 24mm. The 20mm does not give me the same view, on a DX, but at least it has enough DOF for my needs.

Anyway the 20mm and the 28-105 zoom is a nice combination that covers almost everything and can still be cheaply assembled on ebay. Given the size of of the 20mm you wont need a bag. Only the camera with a lens attached, a tripod and the other lens in a pocket. Oh was forgetting, a Spot meter given my inability to fully understand why automatisms work the way they work (actually I skipped in toto the pages on how the various exposure modes worked and that is big plus). The external lightmeter was perfectly compatible with my Canons and now with Nikons :-)

Hope this will be enough for a few months.


Sassello January 2009 #6. A sense of place.

In the past weekend I have been punished for annoying you so much with snowy landscapes. After a circa 3.75 meters of snow along the December and January month in Sassello area the roof of my wife's family vacancy house collapsed. Lesson learned. Snow is wonderful to photograph not so much to shovel.


Sassello January 2009 #5. A sense of place.

Getting back to the tour. The series I am publishing may seem a bit out of my usual range. The somewhat larger views comes from my thinking about how to connect, in a contemporary sense, to the heritage of Italian landscape photography made between the end of the the nineteenth and the beginning of the the twentieth century. The immediate reference in photography is the work of the Alinari Brothers and others like Giacomo Brogi. In landscape painting Giovanni Fattori from the same time segment.


Sassello January 2009 #4. A sense of place.

Even if sometimes I find Jim Johnson surprisingly ingenuous every now and then he writes about things that touch me deeply. In this case he goes on a sad event otherwise unnoticed.

Having spent most of the first years of my life (6-18) in a place where the suicide is, at least, five times higher than any other part of western Europe it had to be somewhat familiar to me. It is not. Every time I feel a sense of human ineptitude whoever was to take such a decision.


Sassello January 2009 #3. A sense of place.

In the last post, writing about projects and themes, I touched the point of finalization in my photographic projects.

In the series about Sassello my finality is twofold. One is simply to take pictures of a snowy landscape. The other is to try to make a theoretical discourse, in pictures, about landscape and photography. The latter is a more general aim that permeates all my picture making activity

Post note: I am not very happy with the overall effect. I am going to rework this out. Did not test correctly for the consistence of the luminance values across the images.

2 Post note: did some corrections to each picture to have at least a similar sky. Reordered the sequence. Seems to work better but I'm still not satisfied. Each singular image has a greater impact if seen alone.