Our Own Brutal Use of the Land

In “American Landscapes,” a published collection of photographs from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (1981), John Szarkowski writes about wilderness, wildness, public treasures and our human treading upon them. He also writes about what it means to photograph a landscape, to contemplate our apprehension of the “difference between our special human concerns and the earth’s own compulsions.”

“We have been half persuaded by Thoreau and by the evidence of our own brutal use of the land that the earth is beautiful except where man lives, or has passed through; and we have therefore set aside preserves where nature, other than man, might survive….this is an imaginative and admirable idea, and would perhaps be nobler still if we locked the gates to these preserves and denied ourselves entrance, so that we could imagine better what transpires there. We could then turn our attention to the rest of the earth, the part in which we live, which is not yet devoid of life and beauty, and which we might still rescue as a place worth celebrating.”

“This is perhaps what photographers have begun to do,” he continues. “….and trusting that attention will grow into affection, and affection into a measure of competence, so that we might in time learn to live not merely on the earth but with it.”

Image credit: Henry Wessel, Jr.

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