Sellicks Beach + empire

 The picture below is from a 2015  autumn  photoshoot at Sellicks Beach, a southern coastal beach in Adelaide: 

Photographing the coast is an example of how photography has appropriated the language of  painting---in this case the landscape, in which nature is seen for its own sake.  The  pictorial representation of the landscape in painting  emerges in the 17th century in Europe and reaches its peak in nineteenth century  with Romanticism. The  genre 'landscape' is a way of seeing and there are different views of the land--eg., those of the aboriginal people, white settlers, tourists etc. 

 Landscape in Australia  has its roots in  the imperial power of Britain and its subsequent  colonisation of Australia and  so it is part of a network of codes and not just a specialised  genre of painting and photography. The physicality of the landscape (sea, sky, stones, earth, vegetation, light etc) is encoded with cultural meanings and values  put there by the physical transformation of the space by human beings; by  it being a  marketable commodity to be presented or represented in tourism; or as an object that Is bought home in the form of postcards and digital images of natural beauty.  Landscape, then, is a body of signs capable of being invoked and reshaped to express the meanings and values of a particular class of people.   

The imperial construct of the landscape understands its expansion into  the new territory of Australia as an inevitable, progressive development in history, an expansion of culture and civilisation into a natural space, in a progress   that is itself narrated  as natural.  The aboriginal people were seen as the last remains/refuge of a prehistoric, precivilized people in a state of nature. If  the Pacific Islands were seen as an arcadian paradise in the style of Claude Lorrain, and New Zealand was a romantic wilderness modelled on Salvator Rossi complete with Maori 'banditti',  then Australia was more complex. 

Was it a fearsome, desolate prison for transported convicts or  an attractive pastoral protect for colonial settlers? No matter the contradiction,  the British imperial vision of the colonized landscape was understood as the naturalistic representation of nature--a movement from convention to nature, from the ideal to the real. The shift from cultural colonialism  and dependency to national independence saw the visual rhetoric of a false and a true Australia: there is a real Australian landscape with its own unique qualities of light and atmosphere. 

The classical and Romantic genres of landscape painting  during the age of European imperialism now seem exhausted  with the naturalistic representation of nature being replaced by abstraction in the twenty century. The traditional conventions of landscape painting (the picturesque, the sublime, the beautiful, the pastoral etc )  live  on in the world of kitsch---amateur painting, postcards, tourism, and amateur photography.