Affecting Landscapes

Edward Steichen’s Moonlight: The Pond (1904) is considered a masterpiece of early landscape photography. It’s a classic example of pictorialism with dreamy, impressionistic photograph of backlit trees reflected in the mirror-like waters . Some argue it sparked the evolution of the genre, as we know it today, which spans everything from high resolution drone imagery to smartphone snapshots and multidisciplinary collages.

This exhibition emerges over 100 years since Moonlight was first developed. It demonstrates how cameras have dramatically altered our access to, and understanding of, the natural world. Selected works push beyond “point-and-click” depictions of forests, lakes and mountains, instead favouring images that ripple with meaning. Questions of colonial legacies, memory and environmental anxiety are addressed by a range of leading lens-based artists, many of whom foreground overlooked stories in the process.

For example, Victoria Sambunaris creates large-scale photographs at the intersection of organic and manmade; her subjects are freight trains, motorcyclists and power plants. Xaviera Simmons, meanwhile, uses archival materials to trace threads of American history over several hundreds of years – starting from excerpts of Christopher Columbus’ diary right through to the Antebellum South, Jim Crow era and Civil Rights Movement. Elsewhere, we see Justine Kurland’s pictures of girlhood – cinematic, escapist shots of young women and teenagers exploring wilderness. This show is an opportunity for photography lovers to stop, look back and consider how far the genre has come. Crucially, it presents cameras as tools for change.

Carnegie Museum, Widening the Lens | Until 12 January

Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Image Credits:

  1. Xaviera Simmons American, born 1974, Sundown (Number 2), (2018). Inkjet print H: 38 in. x W: 60 in. (96.52 x 152.40 cm) Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh: WTL.2024.024 © Xaviera Simmons. Courtesy of the artist and David Castillo.
  2. Victoria Sambunaris, Untitled (Dune buggy), All American Canal, CA, 2021; © Victoria Sambunaris. Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson, New York.