Depth of Field, volume 7, no. 1 (December 2015)Maartje van den Heuvel: New ‘Masters’ of Dutch Landscape. Photographs of the Most Man-Made Land in the World

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The most striking differences between the photographs of the New Topographics and those of the Nature as Artifice exhibition are on a formal level: whereas the New Topographics photographs were mostly in black-and-white and in rather small sizes such as 30 x 40 cm, the photographs from Nature as Artifice were largely in color, had monumental sizes or covered large surfaces of the walls as assembled installations. This increase in size of tableau-like landscape 'photoworks' was most famously introduced during the 1980s by photographers of the Düsseldorf Photo School, e.g. Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth, who were also renowned and influential in the Netherlands. Clearly, photography had left the topographic and documentary realms of printed media in order to become a form of art that invited contemplation in a museum environment in the manner of a symbol or icon. Furthermore, differences between New Topographics and Nature as Artifice lie in the subject matter itself. As pointed out before, the Netherlands is a densely populated, sandy river delta landscape that has been completely shaped and controlled by humans. This makes the physical features of the landscape itself very different from the many vast untouched or essentially unalterable desert or rocky landscapes of the United States. The Dutch landscape is very flat and completely covered by man-made, refined patterns and grids for purposes of systemization. The Dutch are famed for their organizing skills and this is visible in the extreme predominance of straight lines and geometrical shapes that often give the land the appearance of a well-functioning hydraulic, infrastructural or industrial system.