Imperial Landscape


W.J.T.Mitchell (20022): Landscape and Power: United States of America:The University of Chicago Press

In ‘Imperial Landscape’ W.J.T.Mitchell discusses Jean Mohr’s photograph ‘Israel, 1979’. He uses this as an explicit example of landscape art that shows a conflict of ownership. This is discussed towards the end of the essay that focusses on the idea that landscape is an art form already, without a need for subsequent artistic intervention. This claim is made specifically about landscape painting, rather than landscape art in general. He says ‘Landscape painting is best understood…… as a representation of something that is already a representation in its own right’

This is not to suggest that landscape painting does not facilitate an artistic interpretation, but rather that it is an artistic interpretation of something that is not completely neutral in the first place. The subject of the painting, the source location, is already an art form with its own signs and cultural interpretations.

In Jean Mohr’s photograph the cultural interpretation is provided by the juxtaposition of the Israeli condominium on the Arab village. The scene exists outside of the photograph (assuming this is not a composite image) and has a political meaning of its own. The photograph merely brings it to the attention of the rest of the world.

I live in Oxford, a place that is practically synonymous with the University (unless you are a follower of League 1 football). Like the majority of people in the city I am not from the University world. Film and television, as well as tourism, focus mainly on the University as the reason for Oxford’s existence.  Although not a political issue in anything like the same sense as Israeli-Arab conflicts, town vs. gown has always been part of life here. It is not a conflict at all – although there are occasional disputes over planning applications – but there is still a divide. I went out with the intention of trying to illustrate this divide in the same sense that Jean Mohr did in Israel.


In both these photographs I have tried to illustrate both worlds at the same time. I do not try to claim superiority for one over the other but just to show that these are two worlds that have to share the same place.

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