The extraordinary richness of the photography collection at the National Galleries of Scotland is being showcased in a fascinating new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
this autumn. The View from Here, which opened on 29 October, brings together 70 key works which chart the history of landscape photography over the course of 175 years, from the earliest days of the medium to the present day.
Stunning images of the Egyptian pyramids, taken when photography was a relatively new artform; intensely beautiful photographs of the Outer Hebrides taken by the legendary American artist Paul Strand (1890-1976); and thought-provoking landscapes by British-American photographer Sze Tsung Leong (b.1970), which address a growing uniformity in our globalized environment, are among the highlights of this exhibition. Many of the works on show have rarely been seen before, and there also are a number of new acquisitions on display for the first time, including work by one of the foremost contemporary landscape photographers in the world, Thomas Joshua Cooper (b.1946), and Félix Thiollier (1842-1914), a French industrialist who gave up his business at the age of 37 to pursue photography, and whose work was influenced by the landscape painter Camille Corot.
The National Galleries of Scotland is home to an outstanding collection of photographic art, running to some 38,000 examples. The View from Here is first in a series of thematic exhibitions to be held at the SNPG over the next few years. The 70 carefully selected works on show this autumn explores not only the theme of landscape but also the evolution of photographyfrom original calotype negatives and salted paper prints of the 1840s to the large-scale digital format prints of today.
The exhibition begins with a rarely-seen daguerreotype of the Niagara Falls, taken in around 1855 by Platt D. Babbitt (d.1879), which records a group of tourists on the cliffs surrounding the famous North American spectacle. Many early landscape photographs such as this spoke to a growing audience of touristsor armchair travellerswho were eager to see different sights and locations around the world. The early section of The View from Here also includes some remarkable views of the monuments of Ancient Egypt captured by Francis Frith (1822-98), Victorian Britains most prolific photographer working in the Middle East.
Closer to home, Scotlands landscape was also celebrated in the nineteenth century by photographers such as James Valentine (1815-79) and George Washington Wilson (1823-93), whose prints of Highland landscapes and Scottish towns and villages were sold all over the world. Evoking and illustrating many of the settings described in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, these images were universal in their appeal.
Over time many international photographers came to record the Scottish landscape, including the American artist, Paul Strand, who first travelled to the Outer Hebrides in the mid-1950s to record the people and places of South Uist. Although struck by the vastness of the island views at the periphery of the North Atlantic Ocean, Strand realised his photographs as small format printsseemingly intensifying the potency of the scene by attempting to fit the magnitude of the landscape into a small composition.
Another outstanding photographer whose work features in the exhibition, Fay Godwin (1931-2005) began working in portraiture before focusing on landscape. Like Strand, Godwin often collaborated with writers to explore the subject of the land more fully. The photographs of Scotlands rural routes were included in a book project on The Whisky Roads of Scotland, with Derek Cooper providing the accompanying text.
Patricia MacDonald (b.1945) has taken to the skies to capture the Scottish scenery, recognising that the shifts and environmental changes in the landscape were often best seen from above. Her aerial views of hills, glens, forests and rivers are colourful compositions in which the viewer is completely absorbed by the seemingly abstract scene below.
Many of the works in The View from Here explore the concept of landscape from a contemporary perspective that addresses the emergence of a single global landscape. Sze Tsung Leongs Horizons series, illustrates this tendency perfectly, linking up several distinct places around the world in one seemingly infinite horizon. Other practitioners question the use and alteration of the land by utilising technology to change the photographic image. Michael Reisch, who was born in 1964 in Germany, created an intriguing monumental view of the Scottish highlands in which he digitally removed all signs of the built roads to effectively restore the land to its original state.
From major names to lesser-known characters, views of far-off lands or scenes close to home, The View from Here provides a visual celebration of the many landscape views represented in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland.
The photography collection of the National Galleries of Scotland is a wonderfully rich resource which is gradually growing with impressive acquisitions. The wealth of imagery it encompasses will be made accessible in an exciting way through the new series of thematic exhibitions of which The View from Here is the first. They will combine iconic images with less well known works and Scottish and international practice, so inspiring a fresh appreciation of this extraordinary art form. ---Christopher Baker, Director, Scottish National Portrait Gallery