Nature & Culture

When we try to define ‘nature’ we automatically think of the landscape - rolling hills, forests, rivers and seas, or we think of all the species of animals and plants, which are all great examples of nature but they don’t actually define it. 

I would define nature as the natural occurrences that happen without human interaction. 

We tend to think of ourselves as opposite to nature - but why do we separate ourselves from the animal kingdom which we are ultimately part of? We have evolved further, but only by our own standards. I think when we oppose human nature from the natural world we are referring to things that are ‘man made’. As a species we have created things that are harmful to nature, and we have learnt that we are the reasons behind the natural downfall like global warming and climate change. Yet ultimately we are part of nature, it is the secondary things we have created that oppose it really.

Jo Spence’s collaboration with Terry Dennett titled ‘Remodelling Photo History: Industrialisation 1981-82’ shows two images side by side of naked figures in the landscape. The work is a feminist statement about the patriarchal cultural and societal structures at a time where concerns for the planet were just heating up and the diptych plays to the common representations of nature. Her image, on the left, shows herself naked lying in the grass, she is beautiful lying in a beautiful landscape. She is seen through the male gaze, romanticised and there for his pleasure. She blends so elegantly into the natural scene, being a part of nature. Dennett’s image on the right is harsher, straight to the point. He stands there, his powerful stance filling the foreground of the frame and mirroring the electricity pylons in the background. Man and industrialisation as one. 

Landscape as a genre can call on a few different themes; traditional landscapes - beautiful sea or mountain scapes for example, industrial landscapes - looking at the human made development areas within the landscape and then the sublime - dramatic and beautiful which can overlap either of the other two. 

Edward Burtynsky’s industrial landscapes are a fine example of this. They comment on pollution and the lengths we go as humans to get what we want, but looking at the damage this causes the to the world we live. The subject matter is harsh and powerful, the scenes he captures are not traditionally beautiful but that doesn’t mean they are not dramatically alluring. The man made patterns in the landscape express their own kind of beauty, yet with sinister and sobering undertones. 

As stated at the beginning, my initial response to the word nature was to separate the natural occurring world from human intervention. To an extent I still believe this to be the case but I think this is problematic because we start to disassociate ourselves  from being a part of nature. 

Location and place features very strongly in my practice, a lot of my work is about the environments of my subjects and how the space reflects and is a part of them. Although this may mean their houses or studios, it can also mean the natural landscape too. Anywhere my subjects feel connected too, that is what I enjoy showing in my work. 

My work doesn’t have a direct link to the topic of human consumption, but this is a topic that links to everything we do. We as a species are greedy, we have taken exactly what we want for so long, and it is only when we start to see the serious effects of these actions that we realise what we have done. My work is about telling individual stories, and no matter who we are, we have played a part in this. One project that I have started and yet to progress further with is looking at those who choose to live off grid, these people are actively making better choices for themselves and the planet. 

  • Edward Burtysky (2021) Photographs: Mines . Available at: (Accessed: 25th March 2021).
  • Museo Reina Sofía (2021) Jo Spence Terry Dennett - Remodelling Photo History (The History Lesson) Available at: (Accessed: 25th March 2021).
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