In the Landscape

CompanyDonna J. Wan
PhotographerDonna J. Wan
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

This photograph is part of a series called "In the Landscape" which explores the different ways people react to, interact with and relate to the landscape. Inspired by the work of 19th century landscape painter Casper David Friederich, I have intentionally photographed people from behind, in shadow, or at a scale where it is difficult to obtain a clear read of their faces. My photographs are not about the individual identities of the people captured but the different ways in which they experience the landscape. My intention is to allow the viewer to vicariously experience the landscape scenes before them.


How do people identify with the landscape? In the past, I have made pictures of the natural world that has been altered by man in some way or another – from subtle incursions to a near annihilation of it. While people were present in some of my previous work, I was concerned more with the evidence of their intervention. They were there in spirit but not in actuality. In this new body of work where people are the focus of my photographs, I investigate how they relate to, interact with, and experience the landscape. Yet I have intentionally photographed people from behind, in shadow or at a scale where it is difficult to obtain a clear read of their faces. These “anti-portraits” are not about the individual identities of the people being portrayed but about how people “fit into” (or not) the landscapes that I have captured. For this series, I was inspired by the paintings of the 19th century German romantic landscape painter Casper David Friederich, who painted people from behind to allow the viewer to project him/herself into the scene before him/her and experience the landscape vicariously - a visual technique called “ruckenfigür.” By obscuring the identities of the people in my photographs, I am hoping to give the viewer a similar experience. I am hoping that they can recognize and explore the sometimes overwhelming, calming, mysterious, peculiar, mundane, social or lonely nature of the landscape. Each of us experiences the landscape in ways unique to us, and these experiences shape who we are and how we see the world around us. Note: None of the photographs in this series were staged. I am not acquainted with any of the people represented, and I did not speak to or interact with any of them during the shooting process.

About Photographer

Economics from Stanford University and MFA. from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2008. She grew up in New York City and only in the past several years has developed an interest in the natural world. Her photographs reflect her continual search to understand how perceptions and identities are shaped by the landscape. She takes photographs in both the United States and Asia and in both the natural and built environments. Her work has been shown at the New Mexico Museum of Art; RISD Museum of Art; Klompching Gallery; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Photo Center Northwest; Newspace Center for Photography; Gallery 1401 at the University of Arts, and Carte Blanche Gallery. She has been named a Magenta Foundation 2007 Flash Forward Emerging Photographer, PDN’s 2013 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch nominee, and 2012 Critical Mass Top 50 Finalist and received a 2012 Honorable Mention award for The Center/ Review Santa Fe's Project Launch category and a 2012 APA/Lucie Foundation Scholarship grant. In 2013, her work received 3rd Place in The Center’s Gallerist’s Choice Awards and a Kolga Award. Her work has appeared in Fraction Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Lenscratch, PDN, Flak Photo, Forward Thinking Museum, Archivo, Profifoto, La Journal De La Photographie, and Conscientious. In 2009, she was awarded an artist’s residency at The Center for Photography at Woodstock and was invited by Catherine Opie to lecture at UCLA. Writings about her work include: "Donna Wan’s In the Landscape project successfully borrows a tradition from landscape painting, that of 19th-century Romantic painters’ introduction of a figure seen from behind to lead the viewer into the scene, to depict a wide range of vacation and leisure destinations. Elevated vantage points and less-than-ideal lighting conditions introduce distancing elements that underscore the investigative nature of her observation of individuals interacting with the landscape." - Virginia Heckert, Curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum "Donna J. Wan does literally put us “In the Landscape.” How we look or how we see is at the heart of this work. Man’s presence is important in this work because it provides us with a sense of scale, the way in which we are dwarfed by the enormity of Nature. She gets it right. Seeing from the photographer’s distant point of view we share that smallness, like little specks of humanity, flies on the wall … of a mountain". - W.M. Hunt