Banner image from the game Skyrim developed by @Bethesda Game Studios
Write a 2,000-word essay (excluding any quotes) on one of the areas of landscapeThe brief
practice you have encountered during this course so far.
The critical review is an opportunity for you to gain a greater insight into an area, theme, debate or other issue relating to landscape photography that is of particular interest to you. You must choose a topic that’s relevant to your own practice in some way, in order to help you to contextualise your practice and to show that your understanding of landscape photography is informed by relevant practitioners. You should include an in depth evaluation of the work of key practitioners that you reference in your essay. Where appropriate, also reference your own individual images, bodies of work and ongoing or forthcoming projects.
Your written work should clearly show that you have engaged with theoretical, historical and cultural debates around landscape practice within photography and visual culture, and demonstrate that you have developed academically as well as creatively.
To sum up, your critical review should demonstrate that you can:
• understand relevant topics and issues around landscape practice
• use research skills competently
• analyse appropriate resources
• articulate your own, informed ideas at a level commensurate with HE5 level study.
Remember to include:
• correctly cited references and quotations (Harvard referencing system)
• referenced illustrations
• word counts, both excluding and including quotations.
Finally, make sure that your essay is critical rather than narrative. This means that you should focus your efforts on evaluating, comparing, contrasting and questioning the work and theoretical ideas, and not on recounting biographical or historical information, unless it has a significant relation to practice.
This blog entry is my response to the assessment brief above. I describe my approach to the essay; the essay itself and a discussion of how well I think I fulfilled the brief.
I have supporting blog entries:
- Background research can be seen here.
- The rationale for the selection of essay topic can be seen here and here).
- My initial submission (here) and tutor feedback (here)
Having identified the topic and the question that I wanted to address I brainstormed the areas that I felt I needed to research and an approximate breakdown of words to different sections (see below).
I then performed research using the UCA library and ResearchGate as a means to find primary sources. I followed up with additional Internet resources and references. I collected interesting articles and facts in my electronic notebook. The relevant PDF extracts are here:
I then structured my essay using bullet points which also gave me an more detailed indication of the number of words in the essay and allowed me to adjustment. In order to progress I made assumptions about house style e.g. bullet points and headings allowed that the essay should conform to. Ideally knowing where the essay is to be published would have provide guidance on style. I then filled out bullet points to create a draft version of the essay. I reread this version and also asked my wife to check for readability and typo’s. I then checked the total number of words in the essay, excluding quotes and references and found this to be under two thousand. As a final check I used a plagiarism check program (Plagiarism Checker | 100% Free and Accurate – Duplichecker.com) to ensure that I had not inadvertently copied text. The reports indicated no plagiarism.
After submitting to my tutor I received a very helpful feedback. I subsequently updated the essay addressing the points that had been raised. Specifically I removed detail text concerning the background and context and added additional details to artistic intent.
Why bother taking photos outside?
Can manufactured digital landscapes make more successful images than traditional landscape photographs?
In this essay I will try to answer the question of whether manufactured landscape images are, or might soon become, more successful than traditional landscape photographs. I will explore the contemporary digital landscape world with reviews of current exponents in order to give context; I consider how the manufactured landscape world might evolve; I develop a framework for judging the success of visual art and in particular landscapes and finally form a conclusion to the question I pose.
The contemporary digital landscape world
Since the evolution of digital technologies, computers, smart-phones, and digital cameras we have an ever-increasing number of options to create images through a variety of digital means. Alongside this capability we now have various possibilities to manipulate the image, ranging from nearly no manipulation to completely manufactured (for an overview see (Alexander, 2015)). In this essay we will be focussing on the completely manufactured images, or nearly so, particularly those that aspire to be photorealistic images.
In the digital world the art of creating manufactured images may be referred to as CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) or Digital Art or CG (Computer Graphics). There are no universally-agreed definitions and the terms have a large overlap (Digital art – Art Term | Tate, n.d.; Computer-generated imagery, n.d.) so that we will treat them as synonymous. Below are a few examples of representative work from these areas.
(Click to expand)
In the images above a number of common themes can be seen regarding the artist’s intent: Portrayal of an idealised, often sublime landscape; humans or human objects playing a secondary role, often being present to give scale to the glorious landscape; there is often a feeling of a hyperrealism, which is a significant trend in modern popular landscape photography. The images are simple in the sense that they do not contain ambiguity; the viewer is left enjoying the scene, perhaps being amazed that it is not real but that is all, which some may find unsatisfactory. This general lack of sophistication, I would argue, is primarily because of the novelty of the approach.
Manufactured images have become commonplace in certain areas, particularly computer games and cinema where there are strong commercial pressures to produce environments that are exciting, realistic, and immersive to the viewer. The primary function of many of these images is as a backdrop where characters (real or created) act out their roles, rather than the landscape providing the focus. Individual created images tend to concentrate on the aesthetic, with little other engagement for the viewer.
There are, however, some notable exceptions to the focus on the simple aesthetic (e.g. Halso, n.d.; Joan Fontcuberta – 114 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy, n.d.)). There are a few competitions (CGMood, CGTrader) for artists in this field, and some online fora for display of images (e.g. CGTrader, Behance). With time I think more creativity and a wider artistic intent will develop.
How are such images created?
Cameras themselves can be used to manipulate images, from simple operations such as adjusting contrast or colour to overlaying of multiple images to fabricate a new view (Smith, n.d.; Stanley, 2020). With the use of tools such as Photoshop, existing landscape photographs can be manipulated almost beyond recognition, with the final image looking unrealistic, hyper-realistic or even altered but realistic. To create photorealistic landscapes from scratch in two or even three dimensions, several tools are already available, primarily aimed at sophisticated users. (7 great ways to create CG landscapes, 2014).
There are also emerging business models where landscape environments and elements can be bought and sold, e.g., CGTrader, Turbosquid or 3DExport. Images can also be seen in popular photo sharing sites such as Flickr or ViewBug
A giant gorilla swinging from the Empire State Building in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and the entire world of Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar, would have been impossible to produce without CGI (computer-generated imagery)—which utilizes computer graphics to create or enhance special visual effects. Often, magical movie moments come to mind when people think of CGI, but did you know that the process has been implemented in the art world for over 50 years?(Hochberger, 2020)
The art market as a whole has not yet broadly embraced manufactured images, see for example the number of digital works in Artsy compared to other genres. In fact, the art market generally is rather slow in embracing new technology opportunities, although through the Covid epidemic it has shifted more online (The Contemporary Art Market Report 2020, 2020).
How the manufactured landscape world might evolve
As CGI technology develops, this will inevitably result in the increased use of these tools, which will in turn have an impact on the visual art ecosystem. There are, however, a number of open questions. We will discuss these points in turn.
It is fairly certain that in the near future the tools will become easier to use, becoming more accessible to more people. They will become more intelligent and increasingly relieve the user of more mundane tasks. A similar development can be seen in the digital camera itself. A sense of the direction of change can be seen by considering GauGAN, an AI tool from NVIDA (Salian, 2019; NVIDIA’s AI Can Turn Doodles into Landscape ‘Photos’, 2019), which is capable of taking simple drawn sketches and creating high quality images.
Example of doodle being converted into a photorealistic landscape (Salian, 2019)
Computers are capable of generating visual art by themselves (Elgammal, 2017) and in some cases their work has been deemed more successful by viewers than those produced by human artists (Voon 2017); We can see the same possibilities for landscape photography.
To test their system, the researchers showed the generated artworks to a pool of 18 people to judge, mixed with 50 images of real paintings — half by famous Abstract Expressionists and half shown at Art Basel 2016, a fair that represents “the forefront of human creativity,” as Elgammal told Hyperallergic. The results: participants largely preferred the machine-created artworks to those made by humans…(Voon 2017)
As the technology improves, we can anticipate that more artists and/or photographers will take up these tools, extending their use from the cinematic and game worlds into the (fine) art world. It will soon be possible to create conceptual landscape art in 3D, allowing different forms of art, as well as extending the reach of the artist. The landscape being digitally stored will potentially allow others to build on or change these views, perhaps creating new forms of collaboration. All these changes will impact the broad art market and affect the prices of these manufactured landscapes as the concept enters the mainstream.
As these changes occur, some questions will need to be addressed: If a machine is creating most/all of the content, who is the author, who owns the copyright? To what extent will change be needed in the existing art ecosystems of physical or virtual galleries, curators, sellers, and artists? Will the current online, peer to peer model for manufactured landscapes, where artists sell directly to customers, continue to prevail? It is surely unlikely that the existing art market will remain unchanged.
Framework for judging the success of art
It is clear that there is no single measure of success in artin general; instead, there are many ways that this can be addressed (How can one measure the quality of art? 2016). Criteria of success can be broadly classed as either subjective, e.g. the satisfaction in producing the work, or objective, e.g. number of pieces sold, number of likes on social media etc..
The purpose of art might encompass many things, ranging from communication of ideas or stimulation of emotions to simple entertainment… depending on one’s belief in what art is all about . How well an individual piece of art succeeds in its purpose is naturally just as difficult to define. I will concentrate on the criteria of how well the landscapes represent reality, the economic value, and reaction of the broad populace as measures of success. They cover the dimensions I consider most important; however, I know very well that other criteria may be considered valid.
The Theory of Representation (Davies, 2009), where art is judged by how well it represents reality, is particularly relevant for manufactured landscapes; without the ability to appear real, I would suggest that this approach loses a lot of potential. Computer graphic images are already comparable in realism to traditional photographs. In fact, scientists and technologists are now being forced to develop tools for deciding whether images have been manufactured – humans cannot tell the difference (Tokuda 2013).
Economic value is an interesting area to investigate further, since it can be argued that it is a single measure that encapsulates many of the factors listed above. However, the idea of art being judged by money is anathema for many; it has often been argued that price does not represent many fundamental human values including art (Cho 2012). There is extensive literature (Beech, 2016; Findlay, 2012; Art valuation, n.d.) that examines the applicability of economics to art and art valuation.
Llewellyn Smith’s point of departure, nevertheless, identifies a fundamental question for any economics of art: can market forces (his ‘economics of quantity’) feasibly be expected to perform as a mechanism for allocating resources to the arts on merit (his ‘economics of quality’)?(Beech, 2016)
Reaction of the broad populace to art must, to my mind, be considered as a key point in measuring success. An aesthetically appealing landscape will be popular, no matter whether it is taken from the real world or created as CGI. As the manufactured landscape becomes more realistic it will be able to move away from its current hyper-realistic feel, becoming able to emulate existing locations, if desired.
As stated above, in the film or games world there is a high acceptance of manufactured landscapes and one can even say that the digital images are required. As a primary source, only a few CG artists have a high profile, but even they are only known within a narrow circle of devotees. This is probably less than the popularity of landscape photographers as a whole. However, as a group, photographers are hardly household names; how many contemporary landscape photographers are known to the wider populace?
For many artists, however, the focus on beauty, a key factor for broad popularity, is rather simplistic. All too often, other aspects such as meaning, emotional impact or reflection of subtler aspects of reality are lost. (Ottley and Hanna, 2017). In my opinion, developments in CGI currently under way will increasingly allow these artists too enough scope for their personal vision.
It is clear that technology has always and will continue to progress; this is not specific to landscape photography or even photography in general. Art can embrace and employ the new possibilities. A case in point is the impact photography had on painting. Some will prefer to use older technology, as is today the case. There will always remain a market for authentic landscape images and traditional photography will continue to fill that gap. However, many practitioners will embrace the newer technology because of its creative potential and use it to create innovative forms of art. The images that they all produce will be looked at for creativity.
The new possibilities will lead to democratisation of the landscape, there will be less/no need to visit locations physically in order to create specific images, thus allowing more people to realise their vision. However, this comes at a price; there will be a lack of the serendipitous experience which supports the creative process. In addition, as discussed by Benjamin (see Larsen, n.d), there will be a lack of the aura intrinsic to the unique landscape, which would be replaced by a simulacrum. Is this sufficient to prevent creative thinking and art? I would argue no. The subtitle of this essay posed the question Can manufactured digital landscapes be more successful images than traditional landscape photographs? The three criteria identified above (verisimilitude, economic value and reaction of the broad populace) can be applied specifically to computer created landscapes. I believe that the answer to that question is currently maybe but in the near future, with all the coming changes, it will be a resounding YES. As we have seen by the work of Voom, computer manufactured art is already preferred in some cases to human developed work. Artists will raise to the challenge but will (probably) need to embrace new approaches.
For a true artist, mastery of a particular tool is not sufficient; more important is that the results of using the tool fulfil the artist’s intent and communicate to the intended audience. The developments currently under way in Digital Art are making this possibility more and more of a reality.
 We will consider manufactured landscapes e.g. in films as visual art and use art criteria as a means to judge.
Alexander, J., 2015. Perspectives On Place. London: Bloomsbury, pp.90-115.
Artprice.com. 2020. The Contemporary Art Market Report 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.artprice.com/artprice-reports/the-contemporary-art-market-report-2020/digital-agility> [Accessed 13 January 2021].
Artsy.net. n.d. Joan Fontcuberta – 114 Artworks, Bio & Shows On Artsy. [online] Available at: <https://www.artsy.net/artist/joan-fontcuberta> [Accessed 14 January 2021]
Beech, D., 2016. Art And Value. Chicago: Haymarket Books.
Cho, S., 2012. Cognitive Transformation As A Value Of Art: A Study Of The Cognitive Value Of Art. PhD. Temple University.
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Davies, S., 2009. A Companion To Aesthetics. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.
Elgammal, A., 2017. Generating “Art” By Learning About Styles And Deviating From Style Norms. [online] Medium. Available at: <https://medium.com/@ahmed_elgammal/generating-art-by-learning-about-styles-and-deviating-from-style-norms-8037a13ae027> [Accessed 13 January 2021].
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Number of words
Total number of words excluding quotes and references: 2001; words in quotes: 186
In the discussion I look at the strengths and weaknesses of the work, how it fulfils the brief, how it might be developed further, and finally my main learning.
Strengths and weaknesses
I think the strength of the work is:
- The topic contemporary, interests me and I hope relevant for my assignment 5.
- I think my approach and structure of the essay is logical and easy to read.
- The essay is based on a significant amount of background research
- Although I have tried to be judgemental I have had to supply a reasonable amount of contextual information.
- There is a risk that the essay is too broad and that I have not gone deep enough into specific topics
How my work fulfils the brief
In this section I take the key points from the brief and discuss how well I think I have fulfilled them.
Understand relevant topics and issues around landscape practice
I think the topic I have chosen is relevant to contemporary landscape practice and the issues I raise are pertinent to the topic.
Use research skills competently, Analyse appropriate resources
I think my approach of using authoritative sources, followed up by more general references and recording and summarising pertinent information shows competence.
Articulate your own, informed ideas at a level commensurate with HE5 level study.
I have tried to include my ideas as much as possible within the essay, I felt constrained by the need to synthesize the current state in order to provide context. With a higher word count I would have been able to provide more of my own ideas.
How the work might be further developed
I think this work could be progressed by delving deeper into a two topics: economic view of art, how artists embrace new technologies to create innovate work.
What did I learn
My main learning from this assignment was the revelation that manufactured landscapes were so prevalent and that with the increased ease of use that they have the potential to significantly impact mainstream landscape photography.