Photography and Land Art

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 4: Developing Methods - Traces of Time

Photography has a special relationship with art forms that are impermanent such as land art, dance and performance art. Land art is often made in remote places where the artwork is expected to deteriorate or even be completely destroyed by nature over time. Photography and film can be the only records we have of these. Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty for example has been lost to the water, it is somewhere under a lake in Utah, completely submerged. If it wasn’t for the photos and film created there would be no lasting record. Perhaps this is part of the appeal of land art though, and photography takes something away by ruining the completely ephemeral nature. Imagine how much more something like the jetty would be enshrined into myth if we had nothing but oral records of the piece.

It makes me wonder about other great pieces of ephemeral art from the past that we have no record of now. Perhaps there was a great spiral ancient jetty that one day will re-emerge from a remote lake.

We live currently in an age where everything is recorded, most people walk around now with a camera in their pocket and we take more photos than ever before. There is something yearning about wanting to return to a time where things only existed in people’s memory and that memory evolved slightly over time to the amazing myths and legends from the past. Have we lost that now?

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