Throughout the history of painting and photography, landscapes were often used to convey wonder and awe. Since the 1960s and 1970s, however, photographers have reflected concern about the effects of human action on the natural world by creating landscapes that show the sometimes-uneasy relationship between the wild and the manmade. A new show at the Norton Simon Museum, “Human/Nature: Constructing the Natural World,” features the work of ten photographers who have rejected the conventions of landscape photography and emphasized the way humans have altered or shaped our view of the land.
Some of the artists in the show—like Lewis Baltz, an important figure in the New Topographics movement—have chosen to photograph suburban tract homes, industrial parks and other sites where nature has been nearly obliterated. Others, like Robert von Sternberg, who photographed an orange traffic cone incongruously placed in the middle of a Canadian ice field, show how far human exploration and tourism have extended into remote places.
The show also features conceptual images. Darryl Curran and Jane O’Neal, for example, created prints by combining natural elements—flowers, a vegetable—with manmade objects on a flatbed scanner. In the collage titled “Auduboniana,” Victor Landweber combined etchings of passenger pigeons by the naturalist and painter John James Audubon with a modern cityscape, contrasting the 19th century artist’s wonder at a bird that was driven to extinction soon after his death with the gritty reality of modern life.
The images in the show are drawn from the Norton Simon’s permanent collection of American photographs, and are on view through August.
—Holly Stuart Hughes
“Human/Nature: Constructing the Natural World” runs through August 31, 2015 at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.
Related: The Great Outdoors 2014 Winners’ Gallery;