Over decades of making photographs, my love of romantic landscapes has been my constant companion.

The elegance and luminous qualities of light, shadow, and story still guides me whenever I’m out searching for compositions that move me. And what I find almost always involves some manifestation of the curious dance that light and shadow play upon old man-made artifacts sitting in a natural setting. There’s just something  about romantic landscapes.

If you think by ‘romantic’ I mean hearts and flowers…. keep reading. 

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My first exposure to visual art was during middle school when I discovered the “H” section of our encyclopedia. Specifically, the Hudson River School and its evocative style of painting. I still remember the feeling of wonder as I engulfed those crude images showing the works of Bierstadt, Cole, Church, and the other Hudson School masters.

It was only later that I discovered–with the same degree of wonder– the images of Ansel Adams, Albert Stieglitz, and Edward Weston, among other great 20th Century photographers, and recognized the same qualities in their B&W scenes; scenes full of light and story and romance that seemed to draw me in for a closer look and just explore, or immerse myself in elegant drama.

I’ve always been drawn to the nostalgic qualities of romantic-style images I first saw as a boy, and my attempts to emulate those same qualities in my photographs has been a decades-long project.



So, what is actually meant by “romantic landscapes?

Academic essays on the subject of the romantic style of art are as varied and contradictory as a modern political debate. Finding little clarity in those essays, I turned to the time-honored process of self-immersion in hundreds of images described as “romantic” and then decided what the style actually meant to me, and why it is that I love this style of imagery. 

  • First, romantic style images are luminous. In fact, the term ‘luminism’ is often used to describe images of the Hudson River School, i.e., the American style of romantic painting. The source of light and subjects bathed in that light are full of delicate rich details and textures. You can almost feel the light in such images; it’s never so intense or “white” that one loses touch with the textures.
  • Second, shadows are a prominent feature of the scene and also are rich in details and textures, and very often the story of the image lies in the shadows. For me, it’s the depth and presence of shadow that make the light seem to come alive. The darkness in the shadows is never excessive; never too black that a sense of presence is lost. 
  • Third, I love how romantic style images most often contain some evidence of man on the landscape. The ‘hand of man’ is so important to telling a story that wouldn’t be told if elements of humanity were not present.  As I interpret and express this quality of romantic landscapes, this almost always means my subject is an old architectural remnant of some kind, including ancient castles, old bridges, barns, churches, or perhaps merely a path or fence.  Such remnants cause me to imagine earlier times. The people who lived then, and there, and what their lives must have been like as they worked, worshipped, played, and ultimately died in that setting. Remnants of humanity can be as strong as the human figure itself in the strength of storytelling that characterizes romantic style images.

So, if you were expecting hearts and flowers, I hope you learned something new about this style of art, and can enjoy the examples you stumble upon even more. Tell me what you think in the comments below.

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