Manifest Landscape

anifest Landscape is a community-based project that engages the field Environmental Aesthetics to create a methodology for the preservation of natural landscape as open space with the goal of species protection.

The Romantic Movement in the arts during the 19th century shifted cultural perceptions of “land­scape” and nature in the West. No longer was landscape inferior to the human subject in art, but subsequently became the locus of artistic expression and inquiry. Parallel to this investigation of the aesthetics of nature by artists; writers, theoreticians, and philosophers developed concepts for the intimate inter­action between the human subject and environment. Among these writers Henry Thoreau and the tran­scendentalists sought to privilege human interaction and connectedness with nature; where nature is a mirror of the psyche. Earlier Edmund Burke conceptualized nature as the site of the sublime experience creating a view of the natural that the natural world that induced emotional terror and horror.

Counter to Thoreau’s conceptions of the intertwinedness of the psyche with nature, the aesthetics of nature were also enlisted toward the exploitation of the natural world and its classification as resource for consumption. Intrinsic to 19th century Amer­ican nationalism was the ideology of Manifest Destiny. This creed promulgated a belief in the democratic ideal and Amer­ican except­ionalism and was called upon to motivate expansion westward. Drawing inspiration from the ideology of Manifest Destiny artists such as Albert Beirstadt traveled west and returned to paint grand idealized visions of a great wilderness ready to be conquered and exploited. The light in Beirstadt’s work draws the viewer westward toward the divine gift of open lands and abundant resources.

What is active in all of these perspectives and perceptions of nature is the emotional response implicit in each theory. This project draws on the emotional responses to nature and landscape that informs these historical concepts, which continue to influence contemporary perceptions of the natural world. Manifest Landscape functions as an inversion of the expansionist ideologies of Manifest Destiny. Contrary to these historical moves toward the exploitation of land this project addresses preservation of landscape and species through aesthetic practices. Through this work the group argues that species are better protected by reference to landscape and playing on emotional and aesthetic relationships to nature.

For this project the group investigate sites where there are endangered or threatened species - especially those with en­croach­ing development. At those sites the group will photograph the landscape where these species live and produce large-scale photographs that are digitally manipulated to create dramatic images based on the work of 19th century landscape painters. The second stage of the project is to exhibit the work in the communities where they were photographed. As part of the exhibition individuals from the community – homebuyers, developers, civic leaders, and others – will be invited to meet in a forum to dis­cuss open space, environmentally fragile lands, and encroaching development toward creating a dialog about solutions that would allow for the coexistence of these spaces with the needs for housing.

Currently, the group is working in Livermore at sites where the habitats of endangered species such as the red-legged frog, burrowing owl, kit fox, and tiger salamander are targeted for development. The image on this page is an example of a man­ip­u­lated image created from a photograph taken at one of these habitats.

The Landscapes

Upper Elkhorn Slough I


Upper Elkhorn Slough II


Elkhorn Slough

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