It seems a bit reductive, having a favourite colour.
Or so countered a friend of mine recently as we navigated the Meadows’ edges in the search of a quiet pub corner. Among the many things I couldn’t wrap my gin-soaked tongue around to say to him that night was that he had it so wrong. Favourites aren’t reductive.
It’s green, in case you’re wondering. It always has been, from the moment I came to Scotland as a little girl and realised what was missing from the empty spaces cut by Jaen’s arid mountains. Dear green places are the backdrop to the moments, in memory and photograph, that I treasure most.
And I’m not alone in this. Since the 1840s, we have spent thousands of hours and millions of frames trying to capture the landscapes of our lives. To commit to memory and paper the places that hold our hearts.
Such is the effect of landscape, something which the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s new exhibition The View from Here explores in glorious technicolour and muted monochrome. The exhibition takes viewers on a photographic tour de force, from Niagara Falls to the Egyptian Pyramids and everywhere in between. The Fountain caught up with Annie Lyden, International Photography Curator at the National Galleries of Scotland, to find out how she brought together some of the greatest landscapes ever recorded by the camera.
TF: A leading question to start, perhaps… But just what makes the National Galleries of Scotland’s permanent photographic collection special?
It is a wonderful collection that belongs to the nation. Not only is it remarkable in its depth and range – from the 1840s to the present day, Scottish and international – but we also have the largest holding of works by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (two great Scottish photography pioneers) of anywhere in the world. We are in a unique position to share with our visitors the rich heritage of Scottish photography within an international context.
TF: The View from Here marks the start of a new thematic programme from the permanent photography collection. How did the project come in to fruition?
The photography collection at the National Galleries of Scotland has around 38,000 photographs ranging from the early 1840s to the present day. We wanted to share the richness of the permanent collection with our visitors, to give them a sense of the range of material we have and to do so with a series of thematic exhibitions. We’ve hosted a few portrait exhibitions in the last year, so we opted to change things up with landscape as the first theme. The show features a number of new acquisitions, familiar favourites and some lesser-known works that have never been shown before.
TF: Striking a balance between the new, the undiscovered and the favourite must have taken a lot of thought. Did your own favourite make the cut?
Well, it’s hard to say which piece is my favourite – arguably one might say they all are favourites given we are only showing a tiny fraction of the permanent collection. But the aerial view of Edinburgh by Alfred G. Buckham is quite spectacular, especially when you know he was a bit of a daredevil and basically tied his leg to the side of the plane so as not to fall out while photographing!
TF: Scotland has quite the history of daredevil aviators! That’s one of the things I loved most about working in museums, the unexpected histories and objects that strike a modern chord. Are there any other pieces on display that have captured people’s imaginations?
I think the stereographs have captivated people – the immersive quality of looking at these photographs as 3D images is quite engaging. While the 1860s originals are within the display cases, we’ve made modern facsimiles that when used with contemporary stereoscopic viewers mean visitors can recreate the feeling of looking out at landscapes as diverse as Yosemite, California or Dumbarton Castle, Scotland. The Michael Reisch large-scale digital print has also captured people’s attention. Again, it’s quite an immersive experience but on a completely different scale to the stereographs!
TF: What is it about these landscapes that makes them so popular with gallery visitors?
I think there are many different reasons landscape photography remains popular with audiences. It both captures the imagination and has the capacity to act as a memory or record of a visit to that particular site. When it comes down to it, I think we all like a good view and the ability to appreciate nature through the verisimilitude of photography.
TF: It’s so very true that we all like a good view. I spend my days managing digital media and landscape photography now forms such a crucial part of social channels like Instagram. Do you think social media photography might play a role in shaping your exhibitions in the future?
From the very beginnings of photography, the technology has evolved and shaped how we engage and interact with the medium, so in many ways I see the prevalence of social media channels as another iteration in the continuum of the history of photography. Undoubtedly social media does have a bearing right now on exhibitions; from people responding to an exhibition and sharing their experiences online, to photographers using the various social platforms to showcase their work. I think there is the capacity for exhibitions to become more interactive via social media and technology in general, to bring about more engagement and connection with the art.
The View from Here: Landscape Photography from the National Galleries of Scotland runs from 29 October 2016 to 30 April 2017 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Admission free.