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Landscape and Images

Landscape and Images

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Landscape and Images
    Book Description:

    John Stilgoe is just looking around. This is more difficult than it sounds, particularly in our mediated age, when advances in both theory and technology too often seek to replace the visual evidence before our own eyes rather than complement it. We are surrounded by landscapes charged with our past, and yet from our earliest schooldays we are instructed not to stare out the window. Someone who stops to look isn't only a rarity; he or she is suspect.

    Landscape and Imagesrecords a lifetime spent observing America's constructed landscapes. Stilgoe's essays follow the eclectic trains of thought that have resulted from his observation, from the postcard preference for sunsets over sunrises to the concept of "teen geography" to the unwillingness of Americans to walk up and down stairs. In Stilgoe's hands, the subject of jack o' lanterns becomes an occasion to explore centuries-old concepts of boundaries and trespassing, and to examine why this originally pagan symbol has persisted into our own age. Even something as mundane as putting the cat out before going to bed is traced back to fears of unwatched animals and an untended frontier fireplace. Stilgoe ponders the forgotten connections between politics and painted landscapes and asks why a country whose vast majority lives less than a hundred miles from a coast nonetheless looks to the rural Midwest for the classic image of itself.

    At times breathtaking in their erudition, the essays collected here are as meticulously researched as they are elegantly written. Stilgoe's observations speak to specialists-whether they be artists, historians, or environmental designers-as well as to the common reader. Our landscapes constitute a fascinating history of accident and intent. The proof, says Stilgoe, is all around us.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3754-0
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 1-8)

      Landscape inveigles. Trees and highways, rivers and villages, hills and urban sprawl become more than view or setting altered by weather or slant of light or ideology. Looking at landscape, realizing it, perhaps ordering it in painting, photography, and other representation reward a willingness to be cajoled, surprised, reassured, ensnared, but often misled. Analyzing landscape slams traditional academic inquiry against serendipity and intuition. Always analysis begins in just looking around, noticing the nuance that becomes portal.

      Just looking around drifts out of fashion nowadays. Frenzy scars too many over–long workdays, and high–speed or congested highway traffic makes pleasure...

    • TREASURED WASTES: Spaces and Memories
      (pp. 9-26)

      The Bog, The Pit, Mrs. Norris’s Woods, The Swamp, Fuller’s Dam, The Landing, all linger as landmarks in a landscape of childhood. Adults in the 1950s and 1960s knew the places treasured by boys growing up in a small New England coastal town but used other designations, if they applied designations at all, to a collection of semi–used or long abandoned spaces. Only one bog deserved “the” in its name; perhaps fifteen acres in extent, it produced few cranberries but innumerable wild ducks, frogs, herons, and the big snakes eventually identified from junior high school nature guides as the...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 27-28)

      At Halloween Americans carve pumpkins into effigies of Jack–of–the-lantern, the goblin who pulls up boundary markers, creating confusion in landscape and disputes among neighbors. Few carvers know why they hollow a pumpkin, and fewer still seem inclined to ask. Almost all memory of the goblin, indeed of any goblin, has long vanished.

      Centuries ago British peasants carved turnips, and even now a few Americans hollow out a turnip deliberately grown monstrous in a neglected corner of the vegetable garden. Far larger than grocery–store turnips, the craggy turnip replete with leafy stem unsettles children trick–or–treating. The...

    • LANDSCHAFT AND LINEARITY: Two Archetypes of Landscape
      (pp. 29-46)

      Older Americans dislike the man–made environment. They call it monotonous, homogenized, commercial, or chaotic. Their adjectives presume a standard of judgment with which contemporary “built space” is compared and found vexingly inferior. The standard is a remembered spatial order so complete and so perfectly reflective of the good life that it survives as an unqualified archetype in the national memory.¹ It is the primary essence of landscape.

      Landscapeis a slippery word. In the sixteenth centurylandschaftdefined a compact territory extensively modified by permanent inhabitants. Alandschaftwas not a town exactly, nor a manor or a village,...

    • JACK–O’–LANTERNS TO SURVEYORS: The Secularization of Landscape Boundaries
      (pp. 47-63)

      The lighting of Halloween jack–o’–lanterns is one of the last pagan ceremonies performed by modern man. For almost all Americans the meaning of the custom is lost; few know that the jack–o’–lantern is the ghost of a long–ago remover of landmarks forever doomed to haunt boundary lines.¹ The defining, marking, and keeping of property lines has preoccupied family and community for at least three thousand years, and the persistence of the jack–o’–lantern tradition illustrates how deeply man perceives his private piece of landscape by the boundaries he creates about it. Indeed one chief...

      (pp. 64-77)

      Any exit ramp leads away from the interstate highway corridor, away from that singular American landscape of standardized, franchised, trademarked American space into other landscape, into elsewheres, peculiarities, oddnesses. Long–haul order rules the interstate corridor, an order of chain motels, sanitized gasoline stations, fast–food restaurants, an order of broad median strips, green–painted bridges, well–marked junctions. Inside the mowed lawns, guardrails, and chain–link boundary fences of the interstate corridor, Americans know what to expect. Broad curves, wide shoulders, gentle gradients, a million shield signs gleaming with numbers: I–40, I–95, I–20, I–283. Even-numbered...

    • WALKING SEER: Cole as Pedestrian Spectator
      (pp. 78-87)

      In 1836, Thomas Cole wanted a horse. In June he wrote from Catskill to Asher Durand, again about a horse, thanking him for the trouble he had already taken, and asking him to exert himself further. “I am indeed much in want of a horse,” Cole explained before quoting Shakespeare. “‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!’” Not any horse would satisfy him. “I do not want a tame pony, holding one foot to shake hands with you, but a horse rampant, rearing.” And he wanted the horse sent quickly from New York. “If you can obtain one...

      (pp. 88-102)

      Nine years after his first visit to Lake George, Timothy Dwight returned. The president of Yale College, theologian, and determined observer of landscape found the environs of the lake much improved in 1811, indeed so much so that he did not wait out the stormy weather that prevented his boating about in search of fine views. The most casual glance told him that wilderness magnificence had evolved into moral beauty.

      On his earlier trip in 1802 Dwight detailed the spectacular scenery of Lake George, well aware that readers of his projected “Travels in New England and New York” would expect...

    • FAIR FIELDS AND BLASTED ROCK: American Land Classification Systems and Landscape Aesthetics
      (pp. 103-118)

      What is good land? Seventeenth–century North American colonists disagreed about its character; land that husbandmen cherished as rich and warm, miners condemned as barren while pioneering agriculturalists scorned it. Agricultural evaluation dominated colonial thinking, and throughout the eighteenth century Americans frequently classified all land unfit for agriculture—especially treeless mountains—asbad. Their contempt endured for another hundred years, probably warping national aesthetics and divorcing American notions of landscape beauty from the standards dear to European romantics. “The poet and the painter will seek in vain for those objects which they have been accustomed to behold under the influence...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 119-122)

      Open country endures as the most studied and the most highly valued of all United States landscapes. A gentle mix of farms and woodlots and villages supports not only the house–in–a–suburb dream the world knows as peculiarly American, but inchoate attitudes too. American motorists somehow expect an open road, free of congestion, perhaps even free of police, and American children still expect land over which they can range at will, despite being legally trespassers. Hunters and fishermen share the expectations of children, and all Americans casually accept their right to make paintings and photographs from public ways. Openness,...

      (pp. 123-133)

      Pennsylvania is an almost magical land for readers of old travelogues. Foreign observers and its own residents, especially during the century following the year 1750, recorded their impressions of its landscapes in dozens of travel narratives. No other state is richer in evocative memoirs of half–vanished space.

      Between 1756 and the close of the eighteenth century, most travelers across Pennsylvania were chiefly interested in the condition of Philadelphia and other towns, and in the state of agriculture. Often they were interested in the natural environment too, but that was never their chief concern. Like Gottlieb Mittelberger, who published his...

    • MAPPING INDIANA: Nineteenth–Century School Book Views
      (pp. 134-150)

      Indiana sprawls across two pages ofThe New Reference Atlas of the World, a handsome folio volume published by C. S. Hammond & Company in 1924. The map of Indiana gleams in a rainbow of pastel color; yellow, green, pink, orange, and pale violet designate counties; a faint blue marks Lake Michigan; and a deeper, richer blue identifies English Lake,*the Ohio River, and the lesser lakes of Steuben, Noble, and other counties. Intricate webs of black lines trace the routes of rivers and railroads; dashed lines mark county boundaries; and bolder black lines define the edges of the state, the...

    • NARRAGANSETT BAY: A Particular Landscape
      (pp. 151-159)

      Cuttunnummutta. “Let us launch.” The phrase is Narragansett, at least Narragansett as Roger Williams recorded it in his 1643 phraseology,A Key into the Language of America. Williams marveled at the Narragansett skill in marine effort, especially in making long passages in small canoes, and hisKeyrecords his wonder, perhaps because he wrote his book “in a rude lumpe at Sea,” in mid–Atlantic, sailing to England.

      I have in Europe’s ships, oft been

      In King of terrours band;

      When all have cri’d, Now, now we sinck,

      Yet God brought us safe to land.

      But the Narragansetts had frightened...

    • DEEP COLD: Winter as Landscape
      (pp. 160-169)

      New England hatched in winter. Sleet, deep cold, northeast gales, and lodging snow withered it, in the formative years. These were the years of the starving at Plymouth, the great blizzards at Boston. Until early in the twentieth century, the grim certainty of winter torment warped both individual character and regional culture. Cast–iron stoves, tar–papered walls, coal–burning furnaces, and eventually down vests and studded snow tires gradually insulated most New Englanders from the older experience of winter. And now an age of home computers, videotext units, and other electronic marvels confronts blue shadows and white silence, and...

      (pp. 170-192)

      What did our ancestors really know about energy–saving, resource-conserving site design? Were they masters of microclimatic manipulation, able to redirect prevailing winds, shift sunlight, and retain moisture? Were they the lore–educated experts remembered now by energy–short Americans? A backward scrutiny of the domestic site design of past generations suggests not only the complexity of such questions, but the near impossibility of arriving at definite conclusions.

      Europeans arrived in the New World carrying with them a sort of baggage of site–design folklore. The typical European peasant had had scant opportunity to colonize virgin territory; for generations, fathers...

      (pp. 193-202)

      A windbreak of white pine, a barn situated northwest of the farmhouse, a birch planted south of the solar room—such are the landscape details that now speak so strongly to an energy-hungry nation. In ten years, Americans have relearned the siting and construction wisdom so well known to past generations of farmers, carpenters, and other common builders; an outpouring of popular books and magazine articles has reeducated the homeowner, and a similar flood of technical reports has reoriented the professional designer. The rich history of energy-conscious building encompasses details like skylights and porches, philosophies like “rain follows the plow,”...

    • HOBGOBLIN IN SUBURBIA: Origins of Contemporary Place Consciousness
      (pp. 203-214)

      Whatisthe spirit of the place, thegenius locilandscape architects honor by creating “sensitive” site designs? Is it the mood of a locale, the feel of a particular spot, something quantified by visual assessment specialists? Is it a figure of speech only, or is the spirit real, but masked by time and language? “An old house,” writes Gaston Bachelard inThe Poetics of Space, “is a geometry of echoes.” Is the old copse, the old garden, the old landscape the haunt of shadowy figures still shaping design? Whydowe knock on wood?

      Bits and pieces of answers...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 215-216)

      Contemporary landscape defies casual interpretation. In all but the most isolated, often poverty-stricken, rural places, landscape exists as maddeningly complex. Components as seemingly innocuous as up-to-date electric lines or newly asphalted roads transform landscapes that hitherto seemed set pieces from another era. But the pace of living frustrates observation too. Just looking around, absorbing details of landscape in half-conscious ways, becomes difficult when speeding vehicles or beeping cell phones interrupt. In the end, expectation often mars interpretation.

      Landscapes strike many observers as disjointed, muddled, or worse simply because observers want landscapes to be otherwise. Defining wants precisely often involves analyzing...

      (pp. 217-220)

      Landscape preservationists might profit from reading old cookbooks. Consider the designations applied to put-up food, and particularly the distinction between preserves and conserves. Bypreserve, the housewives understood large pieces of fruit canned in thick syrup, sometimes slightly jellied; byconserve, they understood a fancy jam made from a mixture of fruits, usually including some citrus ones, especially orange or lemon. A preserve topped ice cream and other confections; a conserve, being far more runny, topped cakes, perhaps.

      Landscape is not some delicate jelly graced with suspended bits of citrus fruits. It is jam, made from ground or crushed fruits...

    • RENDEZVOUS BY DESIGN: The Automobile City and the Loss of Serendipity
      (pp. 221-224)

      “So how did you two meet?” Couples meeting couples still ask the same question. And anyone interested in urban structure and space must pay close attention to the answer, for the urban fabric no longer facilitates serendipitous encounter. A plethora of communication devices now masks the fundamental meaning of “city.” A city is a communication device itself. But the device works only when people meet each other in a way fundamental to human happiness.

      Until the 1880s, unmarried women stayed at home and met eligible bachelors at orchestrated social events like cotillions and barn dances or through personal introduction—and...

      (pp. 225-231)

      Hard times mock traditional understandings of landscape evolution, significance, and perception. Continued economic inflation and fuel shortages exacerbate unnerving social change; old lifestyles and values alter, often subtly, often suddenly. Already the vernacular landscape reflects trends unimagined a decade ago, and as economic and social problems multiply, landscape architects will confront a rapidly evolving vernacular landscape vastly different from its predecessor.

      Travel patterns began changing after the 1973 gasoline shortages, and the roadside landscape immediately reflected the shifts. Independently owned gasoline stations failed, and many secondary highways now wind past deserted and decaying wooden filling stations. Marginal fast-food establishments also...

      (pp. 232-236)

      Landscape preservation stands now not at a fork in the road, but beyond the fork, in the scrubby, nondescript ground that lies between most diverging paths. No longer is the “historic landscape preservation movement” so weak that it must beg help from other movements; indeed, the “movement” is now so powerful that all sorts of groups ask for alliances. Water-supply advocates, wildlife conservationists, limited-growth alliances, condominium developers, rural poverty reformers, state tourism boards, and others come courting, interested not so much in landscape preservation, but in the spinoff effects of preservation. And the courtship, while exciting, may lead preservationists astray,...

      (pp. 237-244)

      Whatever else the New England rural landscape is, it is for sale. Everywhere in the region, even along “class five” New Hampshire roads impassable to all but four-wheel-drive pickups, the signs of change loom over abandoned pastures or stare out from second-growth oak and pine woods. The rural landscape is, as Emerson put it so long ago, a commodity. But of course it always was, even in colonial days when whole provinces fell into the hands of speculators who surveyed the woods and sold them wholesale and retail.

      Yet something is different now, something difficult to define, to designate, but...

      (pp. 245-252)

      Contemporary Americans abuse the wordcity. Everywhere in the outer suburbs stand businesses named Car Wash City, Ford City, or Tile City, and shopping centers like the gigantic Park City Mall outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The names of such establishments mock the traditional meanings ofcity, and hint at complex perceptual difficulties that will vex urban design in the years ahead.

      Originally,citydenoted the people of a densely settled place. The Latin root word,civitas, designated people living in a sophisticated political order; the word gives English the termscivil, civilized, andcity, all of which connote a refined way...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 253-256)

      These pages reflect light. After 1900 landscape became the subject or backdrop in a variety of media manipulating light. Cinema projected images onto screens that tricked the human eye into seeing motion. Despite the projectors whirring behind the audience, the cinema view is essentially one of reflected light regularly interrupted by blackness in a sequence that produces quasi-hypnogenesis. But television, video, and computer monitors all emit light, the blue light observers of nighttime landscape seen glimmering from behind so many darkened windows. The present fascination with emitted-light imagery exists almost free of any knowledge of the human eye, brain function,...

      (pp. 257-258)

      Books reflect light. From the open page bounces the illumination of sun, candle, lantern, and incandescent bulb, light that suits the reader best when it bounces perfectly. Let light grow dim, let it flicker or glare, and the reader squirms slightly, reorienting the open book or adjusting the lamp. So obvious is it all that few readers consider reflected light any more than the rustle of turned pages. But reflected light insures the survival of the book, the primacy of print on paper.

      Computer, television, and video monitors allemitlight. Fundamentally different from the cinema, in which imagery basks...

      (pp. 259-265)

      Is Locomotive No. 45 haunted? Does the little girl with ringlets know it? Is something seriously amiss? Or do I hold one more flea-market photograph, a glimpse of life down by the depot a century ago?

      Period photographs deserve scrutiny. After George Eastman popularized the snapshot camera with his “You push the button, we do the rest” motto in 1888, photography degenerated into snap-shooting. Susan Sontag argues accurately, and most probably correctly, inOn Photographywhen she catalogues the hunting vocabulary of high-quality photography. Not only does the photographerload, thenaimhis camera, he alsoshootshis subject.¹ But...

      (pp. 266-277)

      Nowadaysscryingfloats free of all but the densest dictionaries, the word itself drifted into near-oblivion. Like crystalomancy and catoptromancy, like daguerreotypy and photography too, scrying is fundamentally optic, something accomplished with the eyes. No dictionary definition catches its nuances, no dictionary definition monumentalizes its long-ago importance. Words do scrying only the slightest honor. But scrying demands scrutiny in these millennial, image-saturated years, for it opens on the shadowy iridescence that is the deep-past but ever-present optic context of photography, and especially the optic context of genuine landscape photography, the photography ofscryed place. And scrying rewards scrutiny, for scrying...

      (pp. 278-285)

      Landscape in daguerreotype is landscape in limbo. Not some mere frozen moment, some space captured with a sunbeam, the daguerreotype landscape hovers in something, beneath the glass. Daguerreotypes put to rest forever the casual charge that no daguerreotypist made a good landscape image, made even one worth more than a hasty glance. But the images raise questions beyond those asked of paintings, lithographs, and photographs. Especially they force the question of visual limbo, the skewed uses of landscape daguerreotypes at the turn of the twenty-first century.

      In the halcyon years of the daguerreotype,limbounderwent a metamorphosis, changing in meaning...

      (pp. 286-297)

      Retrospect welds daguerreotypy and disunion. Antebellum experimenters with the new image-fixing process quickly discovered that it seemed as fitfully out of control as national politics. Within a year or two, the daguerreotype image stood as something other than it appeared to its first admirers. “We have seen the views taken by the Daguerreotype, and have no hesitation in avowing, that they are the most remarkable objects of curiosity and admiration, in the arts, that we ever beheld,” proclaimed aKnickerbockeressayist in 1839. “Their exquisite perfection almost transcends the bounds of sober belief.”¹ Eight years after William Lloyd Garrison founded...

      (pp. 298-308)

      Photography skews most visual assessment studies. Armed with a sophisticated camera to record firsthand impressions, the researcher moves through space making images for subsequent use in comparison testing perhaps, or in a finished lecture or book. But what of the craft of photography itself? What of the American traditions of landscape photography? Has the camera helped shape American notions of scenic beauty? A close scrutiny of popular photography and rural landscape attitudes suggests that photography has indeed helped mold the attitude of the general public toward rural space.

      Terminology devised by art historians to designate nuances of scenery painting has...

    • BIKINIS, BEACHES, AND BOMBS: Human Nature on the Sand
      (pp. 309-319)

      Bikini. No other word more accurately connotes the intricate web of meaning infusing modern ocean recreation.Bikinisuggests sun, tanning lotion, surf, and swimming, all mingled with a zesty vivacity, sexuality, and vague wantonness. It evokes California rock-and-roll music, a series of 1960s beach movies, and echoes of the long feminist struggle for abbreviated beach attire. And only rarely do contemporary Americans recall the other meaning of the word, as the name of the tropical island reduced to ashes in repeated atomic bomb tests. Sexuality and death, bronzed health and charred wreckage—do any more troubling dichotomies thrive in a...

      (pp. 320-328)

      Sunset over the ocean. In American culture the phrase almost invariably connotes sunset over the Pacific. Some Easterners travel to Key West to see the sun go down over the Gulf of Mexico, but the main event lies a continent away. The West Coast sunset, frequently spectacular, quickly came to symbolize not just the Gold Rush, but fertile soils and gentle climates that rewarded hard work, a sort of gold-in-the-sky recompense for the travails of covered-wagon pioneering. What the first farmers, ranchers, and loggers valued soon became a stock tourist icon. Railroad companies pushed the sunset notion, publishing brochures and...

      (pp. 329-334)

      Aboutsparselexicographers once disputed. Long before the Civil War, speakers of United States English used the word to designate something subtly lacking in the British wordscattered. Now long forgotten, the dispute opens on openings, on sparseness, on the spaces between structures, on the arresting spaciousness in the photographs in this exhibition.

      Samuel Johnson and other eighteenth-century English lexicographers omittedsparsebecause they did not know the word. Instead they offeredscatter, what Johnson’s 1755Dictionary of the English Languagedefined asto throw loosely about; to sprinkle: to dissipate; to disperse:andto spread thinly. Yet something vaguely...

  11. END

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 335-338)

      Only a few years ago great card catalogues dignified the first and second floors of Widener Library at Harvard University. Certainly the computer-driven replacement proves more efficient at ordering author, title, and subject information, and already students and even new junior faculty know nothing of the golden-oak file drawers around which everyone once clustered in some railroad depot–like way.

      Automobile commuting is perhaps more efficient than commuting by train. The railroad industry watched riders abandon commuter trains in the 1920s, and by the 1950s many small suburban towns witnessed the end of service. Automobiles offered freedom from schedules, while...

      (pp. 339-344)

      Cats communicate fire. Why else do prudent Americans put them outdoors before retiring to bed? “A cat should not be left in the house at night,” counseled an 1824New England Farmeressayist. “They have often, by getting in the ashes, and having coals stick to them, communicated fire to the house.” Nineteenth-century Americans feared wildfire, especially the fires of nighttime; farmers worried about hay moldering in barn lofts, about lightning, about cats. Wise agriculturalists installed lightning rods, dug “fire wells” next to back porches, and all winter kept ladders propped against roofs leading to chimneys; they slept lightly, boots,...

  12. INDEX
    (pp. 345-354)