Nature and landscape photography is in a rut. The same style of imagery that we have seen for decades hasn’t changed. While fun for amateur photographers to engage in and learn how to execute ‘the perfect landscape’, such photography has nothing left to say. It’s time to move on. But where to?
Sergio Muscat has shown us one way – and an engaging and intriguing way it is too. In a project that he titles ‘Soul Searching” he explores a space between abstraction and nature photography.
What makes this approach so intriguing and so interesting? In a previous post about the work of Joan Miró, I said that the Miró work “makes us realize that what is maybe most important when we encounter nature and the landscape is not what we see but rather what we feel”. And so it is with Muscat’s work. When we look at this work, we can make out that it refers to some natural space – field, sea, meadow – but we can’t quite make out where or exactly what. Yet we take in the color, the motion and, sometimes, the dynamism of the natural environment being represented. The skill is in maintaining the clarity that here we are in some kind of ‘natural environment’ while depriving us of the ability to focus on what these natural spaces look like. Rather that being told what these places look like, we are reminded of what they feel like.
In his own description of the work, Muscat draws on Kandinsky’s belief that colours, shapes and lines reflect the inner self, the emotional “vibrations of the soul”. Human interaction with natural spaces (whatever those might be – and ‘parks’ count too!), initiate these vibrations of the soul. Yet they are so difficult to reproduce in artistic expression and impossible to do so in anything that is purely representational.
Imagine standing in the middle of a meadow on a fine Summer’s day. What do we see and feel? We ‘see’ a riot of color; we see our surroundings swaying in the gentle wind; we see some movement – a butterfly maybe. We hear and smell too. But mainly we feel. We feel a sense of pleasure, maybe relaxation, maybe an uplifting of the soul at being there. Seeing is a small part of our experience. So much so that many of us close our eyes and somehow ‘take it all in’ with our eyes closed. We are enveloped by an experience.
These images start to guide us back to that experience. They do not distract us with the reproduction of irrelevant, pin-sharp detail but rather, impressionistic as they are, they allow us to drift into our own thoughts and experiences. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they will, like the meadow itself, cause us to stop looking, shut our eyes, and just feel.