I have been reading Peter Goin, Elizabeth Raymond, and Robert Blesse’s book Stopping Time. It is a re-photographic survey of Lake Tahoe. There is a lovely essay by Raymond about the cultural and environmental changes that occurred from the late 1800s to the 1990s when the book was published. Blesse sought out most of the older pictures, and the modern pictures were taken by Goin. The early photographers, who called themselves “operators,” apparently, were seeking out the “best generalized views.” This is a term they used to describe what we might call “Victorian commanding views” today. They are broad views from a high vantage point, proudly showing man’s works (logging, mining, etc.) within the broader landscape (in contrast, Raymond says, today we seek views where human intervention appears minimized). Douglas Nickel, in his article “The Art of Perception,” talks about how this viewpoint reflects male Eurocentric concepts about domination and control. Liz Wells, in her book Land Matters, also brings up this point and imagines, and gives examples of, what a non-white, female landscape might look like. But I am only reaching for low-hanging fruit today. Goin points out that many of these images (from many different photographers) include women… for scale. They are usually in the middle distance and facing away from the camera so as not to distract from the view.
I have been enjoying imagining the conversations these male photographers–sorry, “operators”–must have had with their women counterparts over breakfast before they headed to the high country.
He says: “The weather is fine. We should go to Emerald Lake to get that shot from the mountain.”
She says: “Growl.” (Maybe her back is actually turned in contempt)
She says: “The weather is fine today. We should go to the lake.”
He says: “But we went LAST week.”
She says: “You can bring your camera if you like…”
He says: “Since the weather is fine, we will be going to…to…where are you going?”
She comes back carrying a yardstick: “Just take this.”
He says: “The weather is fine today. We should go to the lake.”
She says: “Sure, but I am wearing your boots this time!”
She says: “Can I come out and take pictures with you?”
He says: “I guess so, but this time please don’t run into the frame at the last minute, you know how expensive this film is.”