Reconstructing the View

Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Reconstructing the View


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The landscape has been a source of artistic exploration and contemplation since the earliest cave drawings. Represented in paintings and photography as well as film and the tourists snapshot, a variety of perspectives have all contributed to building within our collective imagination a sense of the places we inhabit and visit, potentially sparking our awe and imagination. Add to that the information gathered by the observations of geologists, cartographers, seismologists, and others trained in scientific observation, and we have a multifaceted and layered understanding of the land. An informed artist can remind us of how our perceptions are constructed and thus cast new light on the debates that arise over the meaning and value of particular landscapes and the importance of protecting them.

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Since 1995, the collaborative team of photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe has explored questions of constructed perception, time, and change. As early as 1997, they focused their visual inquiry on the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. They analyzed the work of early creative practitioners who have documented the region for various purposes and identified the exact locations portrayed in these historic photographs and drawings. For example, they discovered that the 1882 lithograph by draftsman William Henry Holmes of the view of the Marble Canon Platform was so precise that it allowed them to create and insert new images into the original, matching the forms. The circular images that Klett and Wolfe chose to insert in this particular piece were taken through a military spotting scope, suggesting another perspective in viewing the land. From the exact same geographic point used by Holmes, they created a new photograph that incorporates the original view. A digital version of the historic image was inserted within the contemporary photograph, asking the viewer to consider the changes that have happened over time, not only in the land but in our perception of it. …

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