Adams’ landscapes can of course be read as fictions — mythologies, in Barthes’ terms, perhaps. The absence of fences, telephone poles, or other traces of the human-made now makes me think of one of Errol Morris’ points about photography: the hypothetical elephant that always might exist just outside the frame. (Thus the famous 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, featuring the work of Robert Adams among others, and dealing explicitly the non-pristine, is often considered a sort of rebuke to Ansel Adams’ and many others' “Edenic” version of the West.)
Many of the examples I was drawn to involved meddling with the landscape in some physical way. Zander Olsen’s series, Tree, Line, is described as “constructed photographs rooted in the forest,” involving “interventions in the landscape,” specifically “ ‘wrapping’ trees with white material to construct a visual relationship between tree, not-tree and the line of horizon.”
I Like This Art quotes Dan Bradica explaining that he photographs “temporary sculptures made from synthetic materials in managed forest preserves,” a practice that inolves “disrupting the natural environment” and results in a “depiction of the landscape that acknowledges the maintenance and control of civic land.”
Myoung Ho Lee’s series, Tree, placed a canvass on the landscape — framing nature within nature.
One way of extending the interest in human-made structures on the natural landscape is to consider human-made structures as landscape. I'm thinking here partly of Edward Burtynsky, whose work in the documentary Manufactured Landscapes, capturing "industrial incursions" on the land and the systems behind them, is particularly notable. Here's a great interview with him from the amazing Venue project, which I suspect is in the process of adding a new and original chapter to the long history of considering what landscapes mean.
Burtynsky's work is revalatory in its documentation of systems. Christoph Gielen and others could be seen as pursuing something similar with aerial views of how the human-made and natural overlap. Thinking about what landscape fiction might encompass, I remembered this Granta piece about the Dutch government’s unusual method of blotting sensitive locations from Google satellite imagry: “imposing bold, multi-coloured polygons,” creating “sharp aesthetic contrasts between secret sites and the rural and urban environments surrounding them.” There's a system here, but it's not being documented, it's being mystified — fictionalized.
Even before Apple’s Maps app became a glitch-art sensation/debacle, Clement Vella was collecting “strange snapshots” from Google Earth. These aren’t actually glitches but hybrid images,” Vella wrote on Rhizome.org, “a patchwork of two-dimensional photographic data and three-dimensional topographic data extracted from a slew of sources, data-mined, pre-processed, blended and merged in real-time.”
Just as I was putting this post together last week, I encountered another instance of what might be accidental landscape fiction: Slate highlighted satellite images compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, for their aesthetic qualities. In this case, "center pivot irrigation systems" in Kansas evidently explain the unlikely patterns visible on the land only by way of the unnatural eye.
Here is a good spot to mention that I am of course aware that "the landscape" pre-dates photography, and landscapes have been visually "fictionalized" by painters for a hundred years, in a hundred ways. On the other side of the spectrum, I'm also aware of the purely digital landscapes created for, say, video games.
But my particular framework for landscape fictions is photography — and while technology is relevant to the category, I think it's interesting how few of the examples here involve Photoshop. David Keochkerian’s surreal landscapes are achieved via an “infrared-sensitive camera,” according to PetaPixel.
And finally: Matthew Brandt (subject of “well-deserved hype,” according to Coolhunting) has a series called Lakes and Reservoirs that involves soaking C-prints in water from the bodies he photographs, “for days or weeks or even months,” until the images attain their “desired look.” Like any number of the photographers whose photos I've collected here, he may well reject the attachment of the word "fiction" to his work: Here is a real image of (American West) nature, altered by interaction with a physical element of the very landscape it depicts. But to me the result of this imaginative process is nevertheless a kind of landscape fiction. And I think that response is only natural.