Regina Flanagan in the Pagami Fire Area

Regina M Flanagan

What makes a landscape beautiful?

Conservationist Aldo Leopold’s most-quoted moral dictum from his essay “The Land Ethic” in A Sand County Almanac urges us to examine landscape questions in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as economically expedient. A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community, and wrong when it tends otherwise.

Philosopher Marcia Muelder Eaton in “The Beauty That Requires Health,” maintains the aesthetic experience of landscapes is informed by ecological considerations of function and fitness and what is perceived as beauty in a landscape includes an ethical dimension. But how individual landscapes work is often inconspicuous, if not invisible. Eaton asks if their workings are imperceptible, how can they be part of an aesthetic experience?

Leopold’s assertion that landscapes should be evaluated on nature’s own terms and Eaton’s challenge that art with landscape as its subject has an ethical obligation to reveal underlying functions – motivate my work. I photograph landscapes over long stretches of time and find them to reveal what ecologists call “landscape disturbance.” Some of it natural like wildfires, but mostly human-caused. I find beauty in how landscapes function, their resiliency.

Why is a landscape memorable?

Long ago, outdoors was our home. Now we live enclosed, within four walls, a roof over our heads, panes of glass between the outside world and us. What do we see when we experience landscapes, or look at photographs of them?

I visit these places because I want to observe what is happening – to invest landscape (through photography) as a subject with new meanings that are more true to its ecological functions, than to our need (that is hard-wired? trained?) to see landscape as scenery, a beautiful object, a surface onto which we project our human psyche.

I photograph landscapes that appear commonplace, often overlooked because they lack grandeur. Images are presented in extended series, asking viewers to slow down and notice differences, sometimes subtle and other times pronounced, between landscape views taken over many years – my life time.