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June 14, 2010

The Horizontal Landscape and the Suggestion of Barrenness

Almost as soon as I'd finished my last post, on the horizontal format it occurred to me that there was something in that post that may have caused some confusion or wonder about whether or not I was thinking clearly, i.e., my insistence that flat land (or the illusion of it) - and I mean specifically flat land that appears to have little if anything growing naturally on it without a struggle, or a manmade landscape that has a similar profile - suggests barrenness, or a place where nothing can be grown...where life is nipped in the bud, so to speak.

Abandoned cotton farm - Texas, 1938

After I read again what I'd written (after the post had been published) I realized that someone might think that flat land might well suggest fertile ground rather than a barren place as it seems so perfect for farming, since many large and productive farms are indeed on flat land.

Crops growing in the Imperial Valley, California - 2009

I'm not an agricultural expert (not that you thought I was one), but after pondering this it occurred to me that what is now flat, or almost-flat, farmland has often been cleared of trees and/or tall grasses and other naturally-growing plants and leveled as much as possible in order to grow crops.

That is to say, before the farmers came along and began cultivating it (perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years ago) that land may never have looked absolutely flat and barren (at least during the time human eyes have been around to see it), because it wasn't...and so what you see now is not what you would have seen when it was in its natural state (when it may not have been "absolutely flat and barren").

In other cases farmers started growing crops on desert land that is naturally flat (except for usually waterless gulleys formed by occasional heavy rain showers, often coming down from nearby mountains), not because the soil is deep and rich (it isn't) and not because there is plenty of rainwater that falls consistently and will support the crops (there is not); they did it because the land was cheap, because it's easier to get around on and care for crops on a flat surface; and, most importantly, because water was available from elsewhere via irrigation canals and drip tubes, etc.

Flood Irrigation in desert - Yuma, Arizona - 2006

In other words, it seems to me that unless you're a rich agriculturalist or have never seen flat land that isn't under cultivation, an unrelievedly flat landscape (especially when mountains that drain moisture from the clouds are seen nearby) will still suggest barrenness...and if it does suggest fertility to some because of the association in their minds between flat terrain and successful farming, it would still suggest uniformity and homogeneity/lack of individuality, a certain dullness, and "no place to hide" (among other things - see the last post, on the horizontal format). This is especially true of large areas of land - what you might call "vast expanses" of land - which, if you wish to emphasize their vastness and flatness are usually best depicted in a horizontal format (i.e., on a canvas that is of a horizontal shape), though views from a high viewpoint can also convincingly emphasize the amplitude of a large area of land even in a square or even sometimes a vertical picture shape.
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I will write more about horizontality in pictures later this month or else in July.

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