Dreamworld and Reality: An Exploration of Environmental Aesthetics in Contemporary Photography

Meaghan Lowe


This paper investigates the photography of Edward Burtynsky and of Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison, included in Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate (2005; 2008). Following from the premise that the ways in which we visually define our relationship with the environment influence how we interact with our environment, this paper explores these artists’ representations of the environment and nature-human relationships, and the significance of such representations to the discourse of environmental aesthetics and ethics. Through placing these works in the context of the historical foundations and modern criticisms of landscape aesthetics, this paper explores how Burtynsky’s documentation of landscape degraded by industry replicates a traditional aesthetic relationship to the environment as a passive object of see-ing landscapes presenting disinterested visions of degradation. Conversely, the ParkeHarrison’s performative photographic works are discussed in relation to an environmental aesthetic of engagement.

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