Presenter: Simon Warner

Title: Landscape as sign language

Abstract: Newly holistic attitudes to landscape have revived interest in the environmental aesthetics of Jay Appleton, whose pioneering book The Experience of Landscape appeared in 1975. Professor Appleton died in 2015, and his final collaboration was an exhibition ‘Image, Instinct and Imagination – Landscape as Sign Language’ in which he restated the basic principles of Prospect-Refuge theory accompanied by my photographs of the British countryside. The show opened at the Royal Geographical Society, London in 2014 and has since toured to galleries in Edinburgh, Halifax and Bath.

My paper illustrates key points in Jay Appleton’s argument using images from the exhibition. His interests chime with phenomenological perspectives in locating an appreciation of landscape in hunter-gatherer instincts for shelter and vantage, and his classification of different types of ‘Prospect’ offers a cogent explanation for the persistence of certain conventions in landscape art and landscape gardening, for example the continuance of 18th century rules of composition in scenic photography. Above all, arguing from a Darwinian position, Jay Appleton sees beauty as functional and our ‘desire’ for views and open spaces an adaptation of instincts for survival.

I work as a landscape photographer, filmmaker and researcher. I held a NESTA Fellowship 2006-8 and was long-listed for the Northern Art Prize 2011-12. In 2016 I am contributing landscape films to 3 different exhibitions celebrating the Capability Brown tercentenary.


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