I have been thinking about the relationship between climate change and a post-colonial photography of late. I have been asking myself how can still photography address climate change, given the convincing account by climate science with respect to the Anthropocene and the climate heating caused by the use of fossil fuels. If photography is to be relevant to the present, then what could an eco-orientated photography say? What kind of story could it visually narrate? I started a Tumblr blog to begin to explore this, but I have struggled with it and pretty much got nowhere.
I thought that photography could start with addressing the aesthetic concepts established during the Romantic era, and which framed the golden age of landscape painting and the visual arts in the nineteenth century; aesthetic concepts that divided the natural world into the 3 categories of the pastoral, the picturesque, and the sublime. The first two represent nature as a comforting source of physical and spiritual sustenance, whilst the sublime referred to the thrill and danger of confronting untamed nature and its overwhelming forces, such as thunderstorms, alps and deep chasms.
Whilst both the pastoral and picturesque reference human kind’s ability to control the natural world pastoral landscapes celebrate the dominion of mankind over nature. The scenes, which are usually peaceful, often depicting ripe harvests, lovely gardens, manicured lawns with broad vistas, and fattened livestock, are in contrast to those of the court or the city. If the roots of the pastoral lie in a form of poetry that celebrates the pleasures and songs of the herdsmen, then this was steadily expanded to a representation of rural nature that exhibits the ideas and sentiments of those to whom the country affords pleasures and employment. Hence Constable’s landscape paintings of the English countryside.
Human kind in colonial Australia has developed and tamed the landscape – the land yields the necessities we need to live, as well as beauty and safety. If Joseph Lycett established the pastoral landscape tradition in Australia, then Arthur Streeton’s ‘The purple noon’s transparent might’ is an iconic example of the representation of the Australian pastoral landscape. In this tradition of the Australian idealisation of settler landscapes — Australia as a Promised Land — Europeans are seen to be in harmony with a fertile land, a land which has been ordered and produced by them and in which they are able to experience leisure. This involved the masking and displacing of environmental pillage and political conquest by nostalgic valuations of the very spaces and biosystems that were being destroyed. This settler pastoralism denies and conceals the colonial exploitation and the dispossession and the genocide of the First Nations people.