This series challenges the romantic ideology found both in nature and the human body. Visions of pristine landscapes and thoughts of paradise confront and manifest myths of perfection and immortality. The pressure that our natural ecosystems endure to fit an aesthetics standard is similar to the pressure we put on our bodies; both dictating how they fit in contemporary culture. Constructed Paradise provokes viewers to question their own imprint on the land and to examine photography’s role in both constructing and dismantling a mythic vision of landscape as paradise.
In the series, uncanny life-like mannequins disrupt natural settings and operate as human surrogates. The body of work is, in part, an investigation into whether or not human presence or other traces of culture dilute the integrity of the pristine landscape. This apposition of surrogate human presence within the landscape represents the unattainable perfection and harmony of both humans and nature.
The landscapes in this series are not meant to represent the sublime as depicted in the paintings by artists such as Cole and Church, but they do create a similar sense of unease. Unlike Hudson River School portrayals, the landscapes of Constructed Paradise are not threateningly awe-inspiring. However, they do depict human figures as vulnerable within the landscape. They also suggest, like Durand’s paintings, the possibility that nature can be conquered and colonized.
Writer and critic, Rebecca Solnit, suggests that these types of landscape paintings - and similar representations in postcard images, National Geographic posters, and wilderness calendars - portray the kind of access to aesthetic beauty found in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and Playboy magazine. This aesthetic “purism” creates a hyper-real expectation that seduces many new outdoor enthusiasts, vacationers, consumers, and hobbyists. However, finding this virgin wilderness becomes unattainable. Solnit writes, “If Nature is in fact contaminated by our presence, we can never arrive in the calendars’ golden aspen groves, dazzling lakes reflecting snowcapped mountains or flower filled meadows.” Our commercial draw to the landscape obstructs a genuine experience of nature, thus creating a barrier between what is expected and what is genuinely experienced.
Many of the images resemble classic calendar images rather than the unsettling and confrontational sublime. Within this environment, the mannequin becomes a human avatar, residing within these edenic landscapes. Constructed Paradise implies that the land fits the aesthetic standards of human culture. The work suggests a reformed view of the natural world. Our contemporary landscape is an ever changing place that reflects the growing human population and our primal impulse to expand. While creating government-protected areas of nature is a progressive idea, we need to find paradise in our own backyards.
- Marc Newton
Newton’s work work has been in solo and group exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad including the Georgia Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Center for Photographic Art. His work is currently in a traveling group exhibition with fotofilmic.com.
He earned a B.A. from Brevard College. He also studied anthropology at Griffith University (Australia). He earned his MFA in Photography from The Savannah College of Art and Design where he also worked as a staff photographer. Marc currently works as the Photography Specialist/Digital Media Technician at SUNY Binghamton.