New York

Hamish Fulton

John Weber Gallery

Hamish Fulton’s view of nature has grown increasingly dramatic, now encompassing not merely walks through English lanes but treks across the wilds of central Australia and through the mountains of Nepal and Hokkaido. Most of the eight pieces here are panoramas made up of two or more enlargements of 35-mm frames, butted together or with thin spaces between them; in all of them the sweet rhetoric of pictorialist landscape photography—the use of dramatic lighting conditions and rich chiaroscuro, the references to natural phenomena suffused with emotional connotations—is central. In several the moon rises over a jagged string of mountains, in one or another exotic locale identified by Fulton’s typically evocative, almost incantatory captions. In others the graininess of the enlargements, made from small-format negatives, emphasizes the moody atmospheric qualities or times of day—mist, dawn, twilight—that Fulton favors.

Fulton seems quite sincere in his desire to “protest against the dominance of urban attitudes,” as the press release quotes him. But perhaps it is the lack of irony in these photographs that blinds him to their almost mechanical notion of the picturesque—to the fact that they fit in quite nicely, thank you, with cultural, urban stereotypes about the beauty of nature. In earlier work Fulton seemed to discover, in the course of his long walks, scenes whose beauty did not correspond to timeworn notions of nature as either a theater of transcendent drama or a gentle Arcadia. When Fulton’s photographs stepped outside of the traditions of landscape (which didn’t happen all the time, but often enough), they not only took on added interest as pictures but also pointed to the walk itself—beyond the walls of the gallery where they would be seen, to the fact that Fulton himself had been there, and seen that. It was this, and the incorporation of language in the documents, that gave them their conceptual edge. The effect was to argue, unabashedly, that a surprising, mysterious beauty still existed in nature—that the natural world retained an identity beyond that assigned to it by “urban attitudes,” despite its ever-growing subjugation to economic ends.

Now, though, the relationship between the event and the record has been reversed. The photographs no longer serve as evidence of the authenticity of the experience; instead, the experience has become a pretext for the reinscription of a clichéd romanticism. Fulton’s reverent awe in the face of a conventionalized Nature (and the primitive—two of the photos here celebrate peasant culture in an equally sudsy way) is by now unavoidably sentimental. Fulton goes to the ends of the earth to discover that nature looks just like a black and white version of a Sierra Club calendar.

Charles Hagen