Starting to consider the metaphysical landscape & looking at: Awoiska Van Der Molen

Identifying that I need to develop my approach to photographing the land to then create better links between people and place, I have started to consider key terms in how I might begin to interact with the land and the way that I photography differently.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Garston Nature reserve, Watford.

Much of my recent research has focused away from an anthropocentric interpretation of the object, or at least acknowledging that the object also has an impact on the way that it can be interpreted by humans. Graham Harmon’s view of an object orientated ontology invites us to consider that “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, natural, cultural, real or fictional” (2018: 6). I have given a considerable amount of attention into the way the inanimate has a fundamental impact on the animate reading, without fully appreciating how the conceptual and the metaphysical can also exist in this space (Fig: 1). It has been useful consider ways that the object exists without anthropocentrism thrust upon it however, ultimately my own interpretation will continue to shape the way that I approach anything. Additionally, the idea of giving everything equal attention as Harmon suggests has clearly not been evident in my work up to this point, leading to the feedback on the need for the metaphorical to be more present in my non-portraits – even referring to these images as non-portraits creates the sense for me and for the reader that they are merely secondary to the people I am photographing.


Roger W. Hepburn notes that any aesthetic appreciation of the landscape can also allow for reflection and more cognitive elements to exist alongside its visual appeal (1996: 191) however, there are also times where representation in art versus the reality of the scene might create dissonance in this appreciation:

“the aesthetic assimilation of human artefacts, industrial objects like pipelines, or a power station on an estuary, or a windfarm on a hilltop – drawing these into the world of his painting […] why is it quite different (for many people) with aesthetic appreciation of nature – revulsion at the slicing of a Down, let us say by a motorway cutting?”

(p. 193)

We seem to value the impact – even when negative – of humans on the landscape as if the art creates space for the aesthetic appreciation of degradation, which in some way might explain the appeal of subjects such the vernacular and the banal.

Wanting to start my exploration in the land within the idea of where the rural becomes urban (Beynon, et al., 2016), I could also start to see how the impact of humans starts to build up and become the city. Of course, the idea of rural has its own human trace and impact, especially in a country like the UK; it is quite a rare thing to discover an area that has be untouched by a human presence – in the south east anyway. Showing how the land changes as you move closer to the more urban elements of this area is something that can be explored in a relative straight forward way, allowing to experiment with methods of recording it. My first shoots therefore will aim to show this change and also the build-up of human traces, which may start to reveal how the community interacts with place.

Awoiska Van Der Molen
Figure 2: Awoiska van der Molen (2014) #245-18.

Awoiska Van Der Molen was suggested in the first webinar with Colin to one of my peers however, I decided to also look up her work and found that it really resonated with me. Molen seems to really utilise the medium of black and white film photography and traditional dark room methods (Fig:2), which is where much of my research led me during the last module; in order to better execute my own research project I felt it important to explore the aspects of the medium that I was using, push its boundaries and embrace its limitations. As I have written before, black and white also provides an established series of readings of a work, it also draws attention to the process of photography, which firmly places the photographer at the centre of the work, something that Molen acknowledges in her process. When referring to her exhibition prints and the “traces that someone was working on it” (Molen in French, 2020), which are formed from the traditional printing process that she uses. This drawing attention to the process of her photography is what separates her work from how Hepburn describes as the “aesthetic appeal” of other works that is without the cognitive recognition or “metaphysical imagination” (1996: 191) that Molen has specifically sought to move away from:

“so I found I was feeling really outside the landscape. Trip after trip this happened, until I decided I had to go deeper. I needed to find something beyond the kind of perspective we have learned from landscape painting and find something more personal”


What is interesting about Molen’s comments is in the idea of learned knowledge from established tropes such as painting. I have been openly referencing how black and white draws from a learned knowledge and aim to continue this to a certain degree however, it is important not to fall into the trap of creating work that is a derivative of what already exists. Looking at Molen’s approach, it is possible to continue using the process in a way that still draws the attention to it but also not being a copy if what already exists. My reference to the documentary canon, should now start to develop into part of the process over full emulation.

Figure 3: Awoiska van der Molen (2014) #212-7.

The approach will need investigating. Do I aim to use the qualities of the camera or the qualities of post-production. Molen uses both at different stages to build her outcome (Fig: 3). Not to emulate (as stated above), I do want to see how each of these methods will have an impact on my work.


Beynon, M., Cawley, A. & Munday, M., 2016. Measuring and Understanding the differences between urban and rural areas, a new approach for planners. Environment and Planning B. Urban Analytics and city Science, 43(6).

Harmon, G., 2018. Object Orientated Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. 1st ed. London: Pelican Books.

Hepburn, R. W., 1996. Landscape and the Metaphysical Imagination. Environmental Values, 5(3), pp. 191-204.

Molen, A. v. d. M., 2020. Blanco: Silent Landscapes [Interview] 2020.

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