European Photographic Surveys and Man-Altered Landscapes

  • Abstract:

    This paper will consider landscape as a medium for the creation of cultural, social or national identities, and photography as a critical practice which has the power, through representation, of reaffirming or challenging our perceptions and “sense of place” (our roots and routes). In 1975 the American exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape shows vernacular landscapes (common, ordinary, suburban, industrial, commercial…) and expresses the idea of objectivity and stylistic anonymity that will be inherited by many European projects, like the Italian Journey to Italy and the French DATAR Mission, which stands as a reference for a proliferation of surveys in the 90s (the French/English Cross Channel Photographic Mission, the Vinex Photo Project in Holland, Archivio dello spazio in Italy, EKODOK 90 in Sweden, Fotografie Und Gedachtnis in Germany…). In the year 2000 the European Landscape Convention expresses an equality principle for landscape as heritage (natural, rural, urban and suburban; remarkable as well as ordinary or degraded), inviting to integrate it in public politics and to put in place multidisciplinary projects. The technique of re-photography is used for example by the French landscape photographic observatories to gather information for territory management and awareness, but also by the artistic project « Paysages usagés », part of the collective photographic survey “France(s) territoire liquide” (2008-2012), which questions the relation between national identity and landscape in the 21st century, as well as the supposed new fluidity of territories, individuals and images. I will take as a starting point some European surveys of the 80s-90s to focus on this French project and on a similar kaleidoscopic vision provided in Italy by the public surveys Atlante 003 and 007 (Risk landscape, portrait of a changing Italy), in order to see how urban and suburban transformations are redefining European identities in the contemporary “glocal” context.