Temporality and the Landscape Photograph

By Libby Atkins
February 25, 2023
Xuan-Hui Ng, Remembrance #105
Xuan-Hui Ng, Remembrance #105


The emergence of photography as a medium revolutionized the temporality of landscape art. When we talk about photography, we also talk about time. When we talk about nature, we also talk about time. The cyclical nature of the world around us is not easily accepted by many Westerners. We have been taught to only conceptualize and value our human existence in terms of forwardness, linearity, and consumption. (1)  Inland / Outward follows the landscape photograph as relating to and reflecting the complexities of modern consciousness. As an acknowledgement of these complexities, Inland / Outward is appropriately a group show. Featuring seven artists, this collaboration of perspectives from Elizabeth Chiles, Robert Langham III, Libbie Masterson, Xuan-Hui Ng, David Reinfeld, Jane Szabo, and Margeaux Walter represents the subjectivity of relationships each of them have with the land. Through their images, we are called together to reevaluate our own relationships with the natural world.


Nature touches our sense of awe and our awareness of being part of something bigger than ourselves. Not only does nature provoke spiritual reflection, but emergent science on human health, well-being, and happiness shows that spending time in nature has overwhelmingly positive effects on the brain. (2)  We are living through a widespread climate crisis, and the most privileged of us are living through times that make access to nature increasingly elusive. Hope is a powerful resource to draw upon as we are spending a greater amount of our lives on screens and at work, isolated from one another, especially so in post-pandemic times. The images in Inland / Outward come together as both literal and metaphorical windows into our natural environment, prompting the viewer to gaze inwards to the details of our land, and outwards to a deeper sense of belonging with nature. In Margeaux Walter’s works in Don’t Be a Square, Walter places herself into nature, using her body in portals and in dialogue with the land as a parallel conversation with climate change. By staging site-specific interventions in the landscape, the perspectives seen through a camera lens disrupt the landscape, described like a glitch in the image. Of her process, Walter says, “I am able to experience both a deep connection with the land and at the same time a disconnect. I see an inherent cultural disassociation with the environment as directly linked to climate change; i.e. the glitch.” (3)  Walter sees the Anthropocene age as a glitch in time; it is so short in the greater timeline of life, and yet has caused so much havoc.


Given that each of the images exhibited in Inland / Outward are idyllic representations of the natural landscape, nuance is required. While we navigate the information age with newfound access to hundreds of artistic perspectives, it is our collective responsibility to trace the landscape as a sociopolitical phenomenon and provide a deeper understanding of the exhibition’s cultural and material context. The development of photography as a tool for capturing natural landscapes occurred alongside cultural changes in the passage of time and the construction of perception. (4)  Robert Langham’s black and white landscape work captures a single moment of the patterns, textures, and size of New Mexico rock formations. The moon we observe in Langham’s Moonset, Shiprock, New Mexico can never be seen again, but the moon will set again. We only see what Langham shows us, and we can never see what he sees. In the dissertation titled “Time Warped: Photography, History, and Temporality,” Belden-Adams examines photography’s unique capacity to represent the passage of time with a degree of elasticity, simultaneity, and abstraction. We are taught about the motivations for photography’s insistent struggle to reorganize time’s passage, to freeze or slow it for a moment, or to give form to time’s fluctuating conditions. Xuan-Hui Ng’s abstract and literal work challenges a temporality of remembering in both process and product. Of her experience looking through a lens to the natural world, Ng shares, “Sometimes, I do forget what I saw because of the time that has lapsed, so it’s more accurate to say I use Photoshop to recreate what I thought I saw or remember.” Furthermore, Belden-Adams suggests that photography’s struggle to organize time is both symptomatic of modernity as a general phenomenon and a manifestation of the photographic medium’s conditional relationship to reality, a relationship which arguably has been complicated by the use of digital technology. The medium’s ability to represent many levels of temporal experience and indexical slippage illustrates photography’s potential to relate to and reflect the complexities of modern consciousness. (5)  To exemplify the discussion of landscape photography as a temporally complicated tool, we can point to the photographic works in Reconstructing the View by Byron Wolfe and Mark Klett. In Wolfe and Klett’s series, the artists traveled to sites of iconic landscape photographs and rephotographed the landscape. Through documenting the changes in the natural land, artists share with us a rare, yet deeply human reverence for the inevitability of change.


Prior to photography, paintings were the first medium for capturing the natural world. While artists have been painting the landscape since ancient times, the prominence of landscape art grew as a result of the Romantic movement. (6)  The Romantic movement was in part a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, and Romantics advocated for man’s “return to nature” as an escape from the terrors of industrialization and waged labor. (7)  While the glorification of nature held great revolutionary potential, some scholars argue that the sublime representations of the natural world in Romanticism drained the collective spiritual beauty of the landscape: no longer did landscape art function to remind humans of our collective belonging to earth, it functioned to inspire awe and terror. (8)  Potentially, both emotions demand to be felt together. In Xuan-Hui Ng’s inner reflective series Remembrance she writes about the bittersweetness in her work: “In Japan, cherry blossom is the national flower. It is symbolic of the concept of “mono no awa-re” ( 物の哀れ ), which speaks to the impermanence of life, and to the sadness and longing for things that have passed. However, it also recognizes that this very transient nature of life is what heightens our appreciation of its beauty and makes us treasure our encounters more deeply. Lives might have been brief, but they leave indelible marks on our consciousness.” (9)  Taking a painterly approach in the works exhibited in Inland / Outward, Libbie Masterson’s work within the natural landscape appropriately began in a moment of serendipity, (10)  reflecting great potential for the artistic surrender of human control, a surrender that our land continually fights for.


Roland Barthes wrote that the photograph has a peculiar capacity to transport the past into the present and, thus, to imply the passing of time in general. As a consequence, Barthes argued that all photographs speak of the anxious inevitability of our own death in the future. (11)  His analysis poses a challenge to all commentators on photography—what exactly is photography’s relationship to time and to a shifting, increasingly complex temporal perception? The landscape photograph transformed human rendering of the natural world, bringing the natural world into the two-dimensional format, a process only the medium of painting was previously capable of doing. (12)  The two-dimensional format also speaks to the duality of the photograph, but not in a sense of two-ness: the land as a subject demands a deep sense of sameness and calmness found in multiplicity. The subject is beyond our control, and the image is simply the object we capture. Elizabeth Chiles’s work in the Weave series is greatly inspired by the cyclical nature of the land, the ever-changing nature of light, time, and life: an embrace of the fleeting moments in which we might observe flora up-close. Now, photographers can engage with the image nature was given to them in new ways, through manipulation of the natural world in both reproduction and presentation. David Reinfeld’s works exemplify the fluidity of technology’s role in natural images: Feynman’s Notes 96 is fractured by technology, and White Birch 1 is left to be. Both are pleasing: there is no rush in Reinfeld’s images.


Furthermore, Manifest Destiny attitudes towards land as an object owed to man and as an object of conquest have also revealed themselves in the history of landscape photography. In Dr. Jarrod Hore’s 2022 analysis of late-nineteenth century landscape photography in “Visions of Nature: How Landscape Photography Shaped Settler-Colonialism,” Hore explains the mechanisms through which landscape photography fed into settler belonging and produced new ways of thinking about territory and history. During this key period of settler revolution, a generation of photographers came to associate ‘nature’ with remoteness, antiquity, and emptiness, a perspective that disguised the realities of Indigenous presence and reinforced colonial fantasies of environmental abundance. Presently, the logics of growth behind globalization and industrialization have created devastating environmental consequences for human and nonhuman beings. 


Simultaneously, a revolutionary rebirth may come from acknowledging a need to return to our shared humanness. About her series Damaged, Jane Szabo writes “Life is messy. And hard. Sometimes we are faced with personal hardships or tragedies. Other times, we are met with collective challenges that change our world views. And yet, we persevere. Damaged is walking in the forest, escaping from the troubles of the day. It is seeking the beauty of the moment, in spite of the darkness that lingers on the edges. When facing hardship, we seek solace. A walk in the forest is a spiritual experience, and magical transformations can occur as we bathe in the sunlight and feel the wind on our skin.” (13)  Nature reminds us that it is through our shared humanity and kinship that we agree to liberate ourselves from the inhumanness of the Anthropocene.



1  Taylor, Mark C. Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have so Little Left. Yale University Press, 2014.

2   Williams, Florence. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. W.W. Norton & 

Company, 2018.

3   Walter, Margeaux. “Projects.” Margeaux Walter, https://www.margeauxwalter.com/projects#/dont-be-a-square/.

4   Senf, Rebecca; Pyne, Stephen, Wolfe, Byron, Klett, Mark. Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. University of California Press, 2012.

5   Belden-Adams, K. (2017). Time Warped: Photography, History, and Temporality. In: Arias, E., Combrinck, L., Gabor, P., Hohenkerk, C., Seidelmann, P. (eds) The Science of Time 2016. Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings, vol 50. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-59909-0_44

6   Hore, Jarrod. Visions of Nature: How Landscape Photography Shaped Settler Colonialism. University of California Press, 2022.

7   Ronald Rees, ‘Constable, Turner, and Views of Nature in the Nineteenth Century,’ Geographical Review, Vol. 72, No. 3 (1982), 253-269.

8   Oosthoek, K. Jan. “Romanticism and Nature.” Environmental History Resources -, 2015, https://www.eh-resources.org/romanticism-and-nature/.

9   https://www.xuanhuing.com/remembrance.

10   http://www.libbiemasterson.com/bio

11   Berg, Timothy. “Barthes and Time Traveling with Photography.” Honors College Blog, 10 Apr. 2019, https://blogs.bsu.edu/honors/2019/03/12/barthes-time-traveling-with-photography/.

12   Alegria, Federico. “A Brief History of Landscape Photography.” Light Stalking, 28 Oct. 2022, https://www.lightstalking.com/history-landscape-photography/.

13   Belden-Adams, K. (2017). Time Warped: Photography, History, and Temporality. In: Arias, E., Combrinck, L., Gabor, P., Hohenkerk, C., Seidelmann, P. (eds) The Science of Time 2016. Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings, vol 50. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-59909-0_44

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