Nature in our landscapes

This week’s readings were on the polemical landscape, and the ideological debates on the topic of nature and what it means in a manmade world. There is a dichotomy of nature on the one hand and humans on the other, while some may argue that humans are still, in fact, “natural.” This topic is interesting in my site because for the poetics assignment, I looked at how the two coexisted. Different from my other photo sets, I included people, plants, and activity in my photographs, not necessarily promoting the stillness and tranquil beauty of an otherwise natural landscape.

In one photo, I peered through a fence surrounding the nuclear reactor laboratory (next to the railroad tracks), and saw that there was a beautiful wilderness of weeds and tall green grasses. Because it was fenced off and relatively untouched by visitors, the narrow field had been left to grow undisturbed. Tall cattails (or some relative with the tufted ends that wave in the wind), were everywhere and gave the landscape a whimsical and wild feel. Nature, left to its own devices, can take over hardy surfaces surrounding by machinery, rocks, barbed wire fences and industrial buildings.

Other photos showed a strip of green grass that was growing right next to the giant red brick warehouse. Despite being in the shade for much of the morning and afternoon the grass was green and making quite a living next to the rocky surface of the tracks. Nature in this case was also thriving against human interventions.

To me, what intrigues me most about the site is how the sight lines allow the sun and clouds to create very dramatic lighting conditions. The massive warehouse serves as a looming obstructor, blocking the sun to much of the area until it almost starts to set. This creates amazing shadows, that when the camera is metered on the sky, creates dramatic silhouettes and exaggerated contrasts of light and dark (this one didn’t make it into my set, but I wanted to include it here).

In general, I believe in the ideology of Frederick Law Olmstead, who created beautiful and timeless parks where wilderness was controlled in an urban setting, but developed in such a way that appealed to a universal set of human needs. There is a reason why Central Park, Olmstead Park, and other places attract so many people. It is a relaxing place where people can escape the overstimulation of city life and go back to their natural roots. The organic shapes and colors in a natural landscape – where greens, yellows, browns, and blues dominate – are also quite soothing to the eyes. I think both nature and manmade structures can coexist, with some much more reminiscent of more “natural” settings than others. For those places where human neglect has taken over, nature finds ways to get back in control and thrive in places that we wouldn’t normally expect.

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