Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ruined apartment building, Khabul

Simon Norfolk was another landscape photographer talking at Tate Modern on Friday (as part of ‘Art Photography Now: Landscape’) and like Elina Brotherus he draws on the work of earlier landscape painters. As he says in the ‘Et In Arcadia Ego’ section of his website, the techniques of Claude and Poussin provide an inspiration for the way he composes his photographs of Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq. See for example, the image of a partially ruined apartment building in the Karte Char district of Khabul, with its pastoral sheep and golden light. This is a war zone seen through a Claude glass. On the face of it his use of these pastoral nostalgic references is ironic. It tempts the viewer to see the images as beautiful before the accompanying text provides the grim context. However, Norfolk also wants to associate these images with the ‘dark side’ of classical and picturesque landscape painting, where even the ruins in old paintings are understood to reflect real histories of decline or destruction.

Postscript: since writing this it has become possible to add videoclips from YouTube.  Here is Simon Norfolk talking about the way his photographs relate to those of the nineteenth-century British photographer John Burke.

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