In Focus: Picturing Landscape – photography at the Getty, review

In Focus: Picturing Landscape, a photographic exhibition currently at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, May 22 – October 7, 2012, offers a rich trove of landscape photography from some of the most innovative photographers in the genre.

Drawn exclusively from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition brings together the work of twenty photographers, spanning the medium from the mid-1800s to the current decade, including Ansel Adams, Robert Adams, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Imogen Cunningham, William Garnett, John Beasly Greene, Eliot Porter, Clifford Ross, Toshio Shibata and Edward Weston.


             “The range of photographs chosen for this exhibition were selected from hundreds of extraordinary landscape works in the Getty Museum’s photography collection with an eye towards the various ways that photographers have responded to the daunting challenge of depicting the natural landscape photographically,” says Karen Hellman, assistant curator, Department of Photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition.


Since the invention of the medium, photographers have turned to the landscape as a source of inspiration.  Changing artistic movements and continual technical advancements have provided opportunities for camera artists to approach the subject in diverse and imaginative ways.

The Getty originally presented In Focus: The Landscape in June 2008, curated by Brett Abbott. Expanding on the first presentation of photographs, this second exhibition on landscape in the Getty Museum’s In Focus series examines how photographers have sought to capture the breadth and perspective of the landscape through a camera lens. The exhibition is organized around three main themes: nineteenth-century technical developments by photographers such as Francis Frith who captured intriguing views of the Egyptian Pyramids in the 1850s; works that show purely photographic approaches such as those by Edward Weston and Harry Callahan; and more recent ways in which photographers have framed the landscape to make environmental and conceptual statements.

One of the earliest works in the exhibition is actually not a photograph but a drawing made by Sir John Frederick Herschel in 1821 with the aid of a camera lucida, an optical device sometimes used as a drawing aid by artists of the period. The exhibition also includes a very early full-plate daguerreotype of a landscape made by Boston dentist Samuel Bemis in 1840.  During the first decades of the 20th century, artistic experimentation flourished and tested the boundaries of the genre.  Photographers such as Edward Weston and Harry Callahan sought to explore the landscape as abstraction and pure form.  In the second half of the 20th century, photographers began to explore the landscape in more socially conscious ways.  Eliot Porter devoted himself to publishing work in concert with conservation efforts. Virginia Beahan has delved into the landscape as a site of human history, rather than simply a subject of aesthetic contemplation.

Contemporary artists continue to be inspired by the rich tradition of landscape photography. Also included in the exhibition is a large-scale photograph by Clifford Ross from his 2006 Mountain series, produced from extremely high-resolution digital files in order to make prints that came as close as possible to replicating reality.

Several works will be on view for the first time, including a photograph taken in the forest of Fontainebleau, outside of Paris, by Charles Marville in the 1850s, and a photograph from Point Lobos, California, by Wynn Bullock, as well as a work by the Japanese photographer Toshio Shibata acquired with funds from the Getty Museum Photographs Council.


In Focus: Picturing Landscape is the eleventh installation of the ongoing In Focus series of thematic presentations of photographs from the Getty’s permanent collection, and includes twenty-two works by twenty photographers.

In conjunction with In Focus: Picturing Landscape, a book co-authored by Brett Abbott and Karen Hellman entitled Landscape in Photographs will be published in 2012. This publication will include all of the images on display from both In Focus shows centering on landscape as well as additional photographs.



Visiting the Getty Center:

The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Monday and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Center is always free. Parking is $15 per car, but reduced to $10 after 5pm on Saturdays and for evening events throughout the week. No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call (310) 440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is (310) 440-7305.

The Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Drive,

Los Angeles, California


Additional information is available here.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations:  the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up here for e-Getty to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit their official site for a complete calendar of public programs.




All events are free, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call (310) 440-7300 or go here.


Gallery Course.

Experiencing the Getty Collection: Inventing Landscape

Explore the evolution of landscape as an essential subject for painters and photographers and the development of a modern vision in this three-part course. Join educators Jennifer Li, Zhenya Gershman, and Clare Kunny to consider the process and the meaning of painted and photographic landscapes.


Course fee $15.00 per session.

Part 1: Friday, April 20, 2:00–4:00 p.m.: Dutch and British Landscape Traditions

Part 2: Friday, May 11, 2:00–4:00 p.m.: A Day in the Country: Impressionist Landscape

Part 3: Friday, June 29, 2:00–4:00 p.m.: Depth of Field: Landscape Photography

Getty Center: Sketching Gallery




Publications are available in the Getty Museum Store, by calling (310) 440-7059, or online here.


Landscape in Photographs

by Karen Hellman and Brett Abbott

The works presented here show how photographers’ approaches to nature have evolved in diverse and meaningful ways over the course of the medium’s history.

(Hardcover, $24.95)



Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


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