The Human Landscapes Project
When does an ant hill or a beaver dam become an unnatural one? When it contains metal, plastic or glass? Those materials were not teleported in from outer space, they were dug up and constructed from the Earth's materials.
Is honey an unnatural substance? It wouldn’t exist if bees didn’t make it. If it is indeed natural, then why is plastic considered unnatural? It too cannot be found in nature and needs to be created by a living being.
Why are the things we make considered unnatural, and the things that other animals make considered natural? Is it because our creations are too abstract? Is it because our creations harm the planet? Is it because we’ve only been creating for a short amount of time? Is it because our creations are unsustainable and to be considered a part of nature you need to persist for more than a few thousand years? Or is it because we are all too contrite with ego and self importance to admit that we are animals like the rest of them, and our ant hills are our cities, and our beaver dams are made of concrete not wood. Where does our reluctance to consider ourselves a part of nature come from and when will it end?
The Human Landscapes project is a photographic series of landscape images that seeks to accurately portray the modern landscapes of our world without any photoshopping or cropping out of the existence of human beings. With this project, I aim to remove the pretty vail that monetizable photography has placed in front of our eyes, and really truly show you what the Earth looks like today. This chapter of the project is focused on Arizona, USA.
The idea for this project first came to me when I was in a nature photography class at Northern Arizona University. In that class, the professor had us split up into groups and told us to define what nature photography was. To me, human beings are entirely from this world. We were not placed here, we evolved here from pond scum and through extraordinarily hard work and a bit of luck we now occupy a position of absolute power within our environment. However, this does not mean that we have transcended nature. Human beings are as much a part of nature as any other creature on this Earth, and we are equally affected by our environment's state as are the Earth’s other creatures. The gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, and weak nuclear forces are among the most natural forces in the universe. It is through our specie’s technical mastery of these forces that our modern lifestyle exists at all. Sure our modern lives don’t feel natural, we don’t wander through the forests looking for berries anymore, we go to air-conditioned grocery stores filled with artificial food, but all of the food, and lights, and steel beams which surround us in a grocery store are from this Earth. We pulled their raw materials out of the ground and augmented them with our understanding of the world.
This was my thinking and so I concluded that nature photography could theoretically be a photograph of anything, as being ourselves a part of nature, it would be impossible to construct or photograph anything in this universe that was not also a part of nature. There may be things that we don’t like in this universe (including ourselves) but that does not make them unnatural. The fact of the matter is, as strange or unrecognizable as objects and beings can become, the fact that they exist in our universe makes them naturally occurring. Needless to say, these were not the ideas that the other nature photography groups came back to the discussion with and understandably so. As a genre within photography, nature needs to have a more rigid and monetizable definition, that definition being everything in the universe that isn't human, and humans didn’t create. That's what people want to hang on their wall, that's what Old Spice wants to advertise their forest deodorant with, and that's what people think nature is, but they're wrong. The truth is, we are nature, we have an impact on nature, and we belong in the landscape. I aim to portray these thoughts with my project and look forward to the day that humans are no longer considered apart from something so crucial to our past survival and our continued evolution.