Alan Ward’s day job puts him in a unique position to photograph the landscape – he is a landscape architect at Sasaki Associates and a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. In that capacity, he’s worked on projects ranging from the gardens at the Beijing Olympics to the redesign of the grounds at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool. But his photographic subjects tend toward the classical: there are groves of stately oak in Charleston, South Carolina and the carefully framed view across fields to distant mountains in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, both shot on famous estates. His mostly black and white images are the subject of a new show at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, “Luminous Landscapes: Photographs by Alan Ward,” which runs from February 20 until September 5.
In their careful construction, Ward’s images drive home the point that the nature they depict has been deliberately designed and cultivated to be viewed and traversed. “Ward focuses on the fundamental material that constructs the landscape: grain, texture, bright light, dappled shade. By denying us the familiar green lawns and foliage, colored blooms and surfaces, Ward’s large format photographs challenge us to see the landscape with new eyes,” writes the Museum in a statement. Through his lens, the sometimes subtle work of landscape architects becomes visible. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux are represented by an image of a gently flooded woods and path in Riverside, Illinois, one of the country’s first planned communities, which they laid out. In his image, what might first look like a slice of untouched nature is revealed to be carefully planned. Stanley W. Abbott is the less well-known designer of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the curving road that links Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In Ward’s image, the highway cuts into the rock of the mountains and frames the waves of mountains that recede in the distance. “Through his skill and craftsmanship, combined with a keen artist’s eye, Alan Ward captures the essential intent and creativity underlying the work of the landscape architect,” says Chase W. Rynd, president and executive director of the National Building Museum, in a statement. In Ward’s images, the work of the landscape architect in framing views and inviting exploration and rest, becomes nearly invisible, replaced by the pleasure that comes from transforming these places into photographs.