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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Understanding Landscape


Willamette River, Oregon City, Oregon: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), November 2012

The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a cultural group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape is the result. Under the influence of a given culture, itself changing through time, the landscape undergoes development, passing through phases, and probably reaching ultimately the end of its cycle of development. With the introduction of a different -- that is an alien -- culture, a rejuvenation of the cultural landscape sets in, or a new landscape is superimposed on remnants of an older one... Within each landscape there are phenomena that are not simply there but are either associated or independent of each other... the task of geography is conceived as the establishment of a critical system which embraces the phenomenology of landscape, in order to grasp in all of its meaning and colour the varied terrestrial scene.
Carl O. Sauer (1869-1975): from The Morphology of Landscape, 1925

Willamette River, Oregon City, Oregon: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), November 2012

Willamette River, Oregon City, Oregon: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), November 2012

Portland-Milwaukie Max Bridge, Willamette River, Portland, Oregon: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), April 2012

Yaquina River, Toledo, Oregon: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), February 2013

Yaquina River, Toledo, Oregon: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), February 2013

Yaquina River, Toledo, Oregon: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), February 2013

Camas, Washington: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), September 2013

Camas, Washington: photo by Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (el zopilote), September 2013


Nin Andrews said...

I like to think of landscape and cultural as separate entities--sort of like planned and parenthood. Once you let go of the plans, you become a parent.
Don't get me wrong, I am all for the organization. It's just the words don't quite work together in my mind . Once you say to hell with the landscape, well, then you have this other thing, this mess. Of course, I had the luxury of growing up on a farm . . . But now I visiting Arlington, Virginia in the middle of mirrored high rises and paved everything. I suppose this is a cultural landscape of a kind--alas.

Hazen said...

We have little comprehension of the consequences of our actions long-term. We’re victims of our evolution: we didn’t get smart enough, fast enough.

“Aprés moi, le tsunami.” — Leroy “The Frenchman” Borboni.

Wooden Boy said...

Looking over the farmed landscape, it's easy enough to pass over the traces of feudalism, enclosure, alienation, etc. The hedgerows and vanished woodlands say as much about displacement as the factory chimneys and mineshafts.

We need a "critical system" more than ever. The trouble is human geography's been almost PoMoed to death.

The photos are fantastic.

TC said...

These beautiful long shots are also in more than one sense "establishing shots". They place us in a cultural landscape.

The concept of the cultural landscape, and the contemporary discipline of historical ecology, are contributions of the revolutionary American geographer Carl O. Sauer, whose 1925 paper The Morphology of Culture became a foundational document in modern geography.

In his studies of the historical interactions between people of specific regions and their environment, Sauer employed the term landscape in a strict geographical sense to denote an arbitrarily chosen area of the Earth; by morphology he meant the sum of the effects of human actions over time in shaping and altering that particular section of reality.

A useful introduction to Sauer's thought is a lecture composed in late 1940 at Berkeley (where he served as Professor of Geography from 1923 to 1957): Carl O. Sauer: Foreword to Physical Geography: Presidential address delivered before the Association of American Geographers at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, December 1940

Some excerpts:


1) Certain processes of physical geography, involving secular change, may effect man.

a) The most important is the problem of climatic changes or cycles. The other sciences of man expect us to get the answers as to facts, nature, and direction of climatic alteration in human time. The areally specialized geographer has the opportunity to shed light on the controversial subject. In all the dry margins of the world, this topic is of major concern; especially, have their boundaries expanded since the beginning of agriculture? Methods and results in using non-instrumental climatologic data might well constitute a recurrent symposium at meetings of this association.

b) In part connected with this question is the problem of natural changes in vegetation since glaciation; few problems should be more interesting to the geographers of the interior United States than that of the prairies, or of the humid grasslands in general.

2) Man as an agent of physical geography.

a) At present, we incline to deny all effects of settlement and clearing on climate, in contrast to the attitude of an older generation, as shown by the literature of early American forestry. Indeed the science of forestry began largely on the hypothesis that trees diminished climatic extremes. There is, in terms of our present information, no assurance that in certain climatic tension zones, as of dryness, radical alteration of the ground cover cannot affect critical relations of temperature, humidity, and moisture availability at and near the ground level. I should not be entirely sure that man has not extended the limits of deserts by altering the climatic condition of the lowest film of the atmosphere, which may be called the intra-vegetational climate.


7) What of cultural climaxes? Is there in human societies something like an ecological climax, a realization of all the possibilities inherent in that group and its site? What of limits of population growth, of production attained, of accumulation of wealth, even of increment of ideas beyond which the matured culture does not go? We may be skeptical of the more extreme hypothesis of the cyclic character of all culture, but we are too concerned with the recurrence of cultural peaks, of stabilization, and of cultural decline. The rise and fall of cultures or civilizations which has interested most historically minded students of man cannot fail to engage the historical geographer. A part of the answer is found in the relation of the capacity of the culture and the quality of the habitat. The case is relatively simple if destructive exploitation can be shown to have become serious.

TC said...

Duncan's comment reminds that Carl Sauer's demystification of the idea of a timeless, ecologically pristine Golden Age is echoed in Raymond Williams' profound study of historical landscapes in relation to human cultures, The Country and the City. Williams brings poetry into the constellation of disciplines conceived by Sauer as essential to understanding landscape.

Raymond Williams: Where We Live Now: The Country and the City

Still the question arises: do there remain on Earth examples of local groups of people continuing over scores of generations to shape and be shaped in known ways by the areal landscapes about them, as life goes on willy-nilly everywhere else?

There is the Konso Cultural Landscape, a 55km2 arid property of stone walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia. It represents a living cultural tradition adapted over twenty-one generations to a particular dry hostile environment. Despite their persistent efforts to extract a living from the barren hillsides around their village and their careful land stewardship, the Konso People continue to face formidable challenges, deforestation, gradual environmental degradation, unequal distribution of the labour burden, lingering food insecurity. The landscape itself is a kind of cultural document bespeaking these traditional communities' long struggle and reflecting their shared values, social cohesion and engineering knowledge.

Konso cultural landscape: terracing and moringa

ACravan said...

Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga's photographs are indeed beautiful and arresting, especially that car with the headlights staring me in the face in broad daylight. Thank you for supplying the Raymond Williams and Konso "concrete examples," which will make consideration of Sauer's ideas a little easier to do. Curtis