Rebirthing Environmental Religion: Photography, the Landscape, and the Construction of Nature.
“You shall top a rise and behold creation.; And you shall need the tongues of angels; to tell you what you have seen.” ; Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall; This is the American Earth (1960); ; The epigraph above is but one example of the way early landscape photographers, environmentalists, and curators described the environment. Visiting these wild lands, seemingly pristine and unmarked by humans, was akin to a religious experience; an experience where only the “tongues of angels” (or the eyes of a talented photographer) were suitable to convey the majesty to others. Photographing the untamed environment became a type of environmental religion. ; ; But what happens when the pristine is, in fact, scarred by human hands? For contemporary landscaper photographers, this seeming conflict offers a form of transformation. Far from being the type of hell envisioned by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, the photographers instead look at spaces of environmental destruction and find a strange, otherworldly beauty.; ; This paper will explore the work of of three female landscape photographers in this context. Camille Seaman photographs icebergs in the Arctic and Antarctica which are melting because of. climate change. One of Nina Berman’s projects explores the devastation fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation has on Pennsylvania. Tanya Marcuse looks at a more intimate type of destruction: the detritus left in an orchard after the harvest. The paper argues that these photographers demonstrate how even within the death of a landscape, a beauty can be found. This results in a type of rebirth, not of the environment but of how we consider it. By pointing out the artificiality of the conceits of what is “natural”, the photographers force the audience to recognize that our concept of nature is, borrowing from William Cronon, a highly human construction.