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Geographical landscape: further beyond our field of vision

Paisagem geográfica: muito além do nosso campo de visão
Paysage géographique: bien au-delà de notre champ de vision
Luis Antonio Bittar Venturi
Traduction(s) :
Paisagem geográfica: muito além do nosso campo de visão

Résumés

Bien que l'on entende généralement le paysage géographique comme "tout ce que notre vision atteint", cette définition pose certains problèmes méthodologiques, qui limitent l'analyse géographique. Afin d'illustrer ces limitations, nous avons présenté dans cet article quatre contre-arguments à ce concept, illustrant comment chacun pointe vers un problème méthodologique. Premièrement, la conceptualisation de quelque chose doit pointer sur l'objet lui-même. En se concentrant sur "notre vision ou notre champ de vision", l'observateur est placé en tant que point de référence à la place de l'objet à définir: le paysage lui-même. Deuxièmement, cette définition traditionnelle soulève une importante question d'échelle, qui est vitale pour les géographes: si une seule plante ou tout le ciel atteignent notre champ de vision, seraient-ils considérés comme du paysage? En d'autres termes, quelle est la taille du paysage? Est-il défini simplement par la portée de notre vision? Troisièmement, cadrer le paysage dans notre champ de vision exclut de manière arbitraire tout ce qui est en dehors de cette perspective picturale. De nombreux aspects encadrés dans cette perspective peuvent provenir d'aspects et d'objets situés en dehors du cadre, c'est-à-dire en dehors du champ de vision. Enfin, pour aller un peu plus loin, de nombreux aspects non observables peuvent être déduits d'objets visibles. Le climat, en tant qu'exemple d'aspect peu visible, peut être déduit de la végétation, des formes de relief, du modèle de construction de maisons, etc. Les inférences sont possibles lorsque l'on considère le paysage comme le résultat d'un processus dynamique, plutôt que d'une image encadrée par la portée de notre vision. Tous ces contre-arguments sont illustrés par des exemples et des chiffres afin de permettre une meilleure compréhension. Ensuite, nous avançons un concept de paysage que nous considérons comme plus complet, plus complet, exempt des restrictions méthodologiques mentionnées.

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Entrées d’index

Índice de palavras-chaves :

geografia, paisagem, campo de visão, inferências.
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Texte intégral

1Geographical landscape is widely conceived simply as something or even everything that either reaches our sight or is within our field of vision. For a plethora of authors, landscape inevitably entails something visible to us. This is the case of some British geographers such as Matthews and Herbert (2004) who define landscape as “the visible expression or ‘face’ of the Earth” (p.217). It is also the case of Park (2011), who regards landscape as “the expanse of scenery which can be seen from a single view-point” (p.251-252). Mayhew (2009) reinforces this idea by saying that landscape is “all the visible features of an area of land, the appearance of an area, or the gathering of objects which produce that appearance” (p.291).The Dictionary of Environmental Science (2003), in turn, describes landscape as “The distinct association of landforms which can be seen in a single view.”(p.230).

  • 1 “a rigor, paisagem é apenas a porção da configuração territorial que é possível abarcar com a visão (...)
  • 2 “un morceau de territoire que l´onperçoit d´un seul coup d´oeil”

2Santos (1997), one of Brazilian geographers, also asserts that landscape is “precisely, only the portion of the territorial configuration that is possible to reach with the vision.”1(p.83). Finally, not to prolong the illustration of our initial premise, the French geographer Jakob (2008), under the same perspective, states that landscape is “a portion of the territory that we perceive at a glance”2 (p.28).

3Nevertheless, relating landscape to our field of vision depicts a poor and limited conception against which we aim at in this current paper to present four counter-arguments. Following the introduction to the fundamentals of the theme, a thorough explanation of each of them will be discussed to ultimately draw some conclusions and present a more suitable conception on landscape.

First counter-argument

4This first counter-argument refers to an epistemological matter. Scientifically, a concept is “an idea of how something is” (LONGMAN, 2008, p.318). Therefore, a definition of an object, as the explanation of its concept, must target the object itself, not the observer and his or her field of vision. Asserting that landscape is something that is reached by our vision, transfers the focus that should be on the object to the observer and his or her ability of sight, without saying precisely what landscape is. What does ‘a portion of the territory configuration’ mean exactly? Moreover, this definition mechanically reduces landscape to the capacity of our sensorial organ of vision, as if our eyes were only an optical instrument. What if we turn our face a little bit right or left? Things that once were in our field of vision and, therefore comprised the landscape, are not any longer? Those previously described definitions reduce landscape to something similar to a still life painting hanging on a wall where only appearance prevails. As a result, it puts the landscape itself aside, dealing only with its appearance (“appearance of an area”) at the expense of both its components and dynamics. The idea formerly developed by the German geographer Karl Troll as landscape being a product of natural and human process seems to be neglected.

Second counter-argument

5Secondly, conceiving landscape as ‘a portion of an area that is visible to us’ does not define anything. What is really being sought? Anything? If so, we could say that a portion of the sky is a landscape, once it is in our field of vision; or a bacterium that reaches our sight through the microscope lens; or even, a single plant where different insects live on. Therefore, such definition brings us a significant problem of scale, which may jeopardize the geographical analysis. A priori, any object or a set of objects that reaches our field of vision in any scale could be conceived as a landscape, according to the definition we are questioning here.

Figures 1 and 2 – (1) Flower of Brazilian Pequi tree and (2) out space picture.

Figures 1 and 2 – (1) Flower of Brazilian Pequi tree and (2) out space picture.

Are those images ‘landscapes’, just because they are reaching our field of vision?

6In other words, what size ‘everything’ or a ‘portion of an area’ are comprised by? Would the dimension of a landscape be delimited by our field of vision capacity or a definition should recognize dimensions of the landscape itself, as an attribute of the object defined instead? This question remains vague and imprecise in all definitions previously mentioned.

Third counter-argument

7Now, this third counter-argument can be considered as a result of the previous one. Framing the landscape in a field of vision is a rather self-centred attitude towards the object that should be the focus of the definition. This arbitrary perspective leads us back to landscape under a pictorial meaning, as a scenery sought through a window or a painting. This fact generates a methodological issue, since things, facts or objects in the frame may be consequences of or derived from things, facts or objects which lie out of the frame.

Figure 3 – Pictorial landscape framed by the field of vision and the frame itself of the painting.

Figure 3 – Pictorial landscape framed by the field of vision and the frame itself of the painting.

Source: Worpole, K. & Orton, J. (2013) The New English Landscape. Field Station, London

8Neither a picture frame nor a field of vision: the geographical landscape must be framed by an analytical decision given by the objective of the analysis, as we shall see at the conclusion section of this paper.

Fourth counter-argument

9Last but not least, in view of this, we intend to deepen and strengthen the third argument by specifying another important methodological issue. Considering just visible framed aspects we end up neglecting the invisible ones. This fact will cause an underuse of an important tool of the scientific method: the inference. Many invisible facts of a landscape are there, and geographers have to be aware of that. For instance: if we see a sand bank in a river, we have to know that there is an erosion process in course, even if we are unable to see it. Only by making inferences we define landscape as a result of multiple interactions between physical, biological and human components. The illustration below (Figure 4) better depicts this counter-argument:

Figure 4 – Picture of a predominantly rural landscape (State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 2004)

Figure 4 – Picture of a predominantly rural landscape (State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 2004)
  • 3 Some definitions will be presented in the next section.

10Considering landscape as whole, resulting from permanent interactions between its components (climate, vegetation, soils, hydrology landforms, geology and human interventions)3, we can be aware of elements which are not in our field of vision. For instance, in this picture, climate is not seen, clouds and sunshine are out of our field of vision. However, based on a definition that considers not only appearances but also dynamics, we can “see” climate through features of other elements and even assert that it is a tropical one. Some elements of vegetation such as palm trees, banana trees and, concurrently, the absence of conifers trees unravels that such climate is warm and humid. This is supported by the convexity of mountain slopes associated to the well-selected colluvial deposits of sediments, which is only most likely to occur under warm and humid weather. The flat roofs of the houses also indicate absence of snow. Additionally, we have a high degree of certainty about rocks without actually seeing them, but only due to its landform. Mountainous areas are commonly supported by igneous rocks, while sedimentary areas are predominantly flat with layered rocks. We can go further and even forecast some situations just by observing either some aspects or indicators present in the picture. This landscape shows us a high risk of landslide. The withdrawal of the base of the colluvial sediments (on the left side of the picture) associated to a tropical climate which concentrates rain in a short period indicates that this area is under a high risk of strong landslides, threatening the rural community.

11In sum, we can “see” many aspects of the landscape by inferences, based on visible aspects as indicators of invisible ones. Therefore, by mastering the landscape components and its dynamics (which is not obtained by accepting landscape simply as ‘what is in our field of vision’) geographers may reach its essence, regarding both visible and invisible aspects as equally important.

12In order to practice the geographical and dynamic analysis herein proposed, we are going to show another landscape, but now, a painted one (Figure 5).

Figure 5 – O Lavrador de Café (The Café Planter). A famous Cândido Portinari´s painting.

Figure 5 – O Lavrador de Café (The Café Planter). A famous Cândido Portinari´s painting.
  • 4 Due to a concentration of iron, as a consequence of strong lixiviation, which is typically a tropic (...)

13Apart from the fact of this image is framed, we shall focus on the contents and interactions of this landscape, better still, on its dynamics. The black man, the way he is dressed and the extensive plantation lead us to infer that it is a tropical landscape, which is endorsed by the red colour of soils4, the smooth and convex hills and also the high density of clouds. In addition, deforestation is a very clear ongoing process. Going a little further and deeper in the analysis of human aspects, we can infer that this landscape represents a poor country, with high concentration of wealth (inequality), economically based on plantations for exportation, social injustice such as slavery etc. Moreover, the technical objects depicted in the picture turn historical time more precise. The hoe prominently showed in the foreground and the steam locomotive in the back (on the left) bring to us a certitude that this landscape consists of a 19th century colony. If it was possible to move and widen our field of vision, we would probably see other objects, such as the farm owner's stately home; slave quarters, some livestock, a silo, a train station, perhaps a port, etc. All these new objects might be inferred from the visible framed objects, convincing us that frames and borders must be flexible, fluid and porous to a better understanding of the geographical landscape.

Conclusions

14A suitable concept and its definition (as a concept explanation) should say what landscape is, what it is formed of and, most importantly, how it works. Some authors compare landscape as a palimpsest in which landscape is “written” several times, as a parchment that was written many times, before the advent of paper (MATTHEWS; HERBERT, 2008, p.16). That means exactly that landscape must not be conceived as a picture describing a moment, but as a history derived from a number of processes that can be identified by its traces of the past that are still discernible.

15Other authors have defined landscape more scientifically, showing, at least, what it is constituted of. This is the case of Gray (2009) claiming that that “landscape can be viewed as a comprising three, predominantly superimposed, primary layers – physical, biological and cultural” (p.265). Other authors, such as Huggett and Perkins (2004) went deeper when they described landscape as form, process and meaning.

16The Brazilian geographer Carlos A. F. Monteiro went much further by defining landscape saying what is composed of, what size it has and how it works. To Monteiro, landscape

  • 5 É uma entidade espacial delimitada segundo um nível de resolução do geógrafo (pesquisador) a partir (...)

Is a spatial entity delimited according the geographer resolution and their central objective of analysis, always resulting of a dynamic integration, therefore instable of basis and covering elements (physical, biological and human). The landscape is expressed by parts infinitely delimited, but distinguished through the relation between them that organize a whole complex (System), a true interactive and unique ensemble, under an everlasting evolution. (MONTEIRO, 2000,p.39)5

17As we can notice, this definition is much more complete once it shows us everything we need to know about landscape: components, dimension and dynamics. Moreover, here, the landscape does not have a dimension a priori, but it is delimited according to the objective of analysis, which may vary from observation to observation.

18Much before these authors above mentioned, though, Alexander Von Humboldt had a wider concept of landscape as holistic, interdependent complexes of physical and human elements (SHREIBER, 1990, apud MATTHEWS and HERBERT, 2004, p.217).

19In the first volume of Cosmos, Humboldt richly describes the landscapes in South America, detailing elements, density, variety, successions, zones, regularity etc, as shown in this extract:

This portion of the surface of the globe affords in the smallest space the greatest possible variety of impressions from the contemplation of nature. Among the colossal mountains of Cundinamarca, of Quito, and of Peru, furrowed by deep ravines, man is enable to contemplate alike all the families of plants, and all the stars of the firmament. There, at a single glancer, the eye surveys majestic palms, humid forests of bambusa, and the varied species of Musaceae, while above these forms of tropical vegetation appear oaks, medlars, the sweet-brier, and umbelliferous plants, as in our European homes. […]. There the deeps of the earth and the vaults of heaven display all the richness of their forms and the variety of their phenomena. There the different climates are ranged the one above the other, stage by stage, like the vegetable zones, whose succession they limit; and there the observer may readily trace the laws that regulate the diminution of heat, as they stand indelibly inscribed on the rocky walls and abrupt declivities of the Cordilleras. (p.33)

20As a general conclusion, although landscape has a wide range of concepts and definitions, to a larger comprehension of it, we should avoid misconceptions whose appearance prevails in prejudice to dynamics and processes. In other words, we should redeem back the Humboldt’s conception of landscape by understanding it as an integrated and dynamic system that works under natural laws.

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Bibliographie

DICTIONARY of Environmental Science (2003). New York: MacGraw-Hill Publisher.

GRAY, Murray (2009). Landscape: the physical layer. In: CLIFFORD et al. Key Concepts in Geography. London: SAGE Publications.

HUGGETT, Richard; PERKINS, Chris. Landscape as form, process and meaning. In: MATTHEWS, John A.; HERBERT, David T. (2004). Unifying geography – common heritage, shared future. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge.

HUMBOLDT, Alexander von. Cosmos (1858). Vol.1. New York: Harpes& Brothers Publishers.

JAKOB, Michael (2008). Le paysage. Gollion (Suisse): Infolio.

LONGMAN Dictionary of Contemporary English (2008). Exxes (UK): Pearson Longman.

MATTHEWS, John A.; HERBERT, David T. (2004). Unifying geography – common heritage, shared future. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge.

MATTHEWS, John A.; HERBERT, David T. (2008). Geography: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MAYHEW, Susan (2009). Dictionary of Geography.4 ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MONTEIRO, Carlos A. de F. (2000). Geossistemas: a história de uma procura. São Paulo: Editora Contexto.

PARK, Chris (2011). Dictionary of environment and conservation.3 ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

OXFORD Advanced Learner´s Dictionary of Current English (2012). 8th Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

SANTOS, Milton (1997). A natureza do espaço: técnica e tempo, razão e emoção. 2 ed. São Paulo: Editora Hucitec.

SHREIBER, K. F. (1990). The history of landscape ecology in Europe. In: I.S. Zonneveld and R.T.T. Forman (eds) Changing landscapes: an ecological perspective. New York: Springer-Verlag, 21-33.

THOMAS, David S. G.; GOUDIE, Andrew (2000). The dictionary of physical geography.3 ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

VENTURI, Luis A. Bittar (2008). O dimensionamento territorial da paisagem geográfica. In: Ensaios Geográficos. São Paulo: Editora Humanitas.

WORPOLE, K.; ORTON, J. (2013). The New English Landscape. London: Field Station.

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Notes

1 “a rigor, paisagem é apenas a porção da configuração territorial que é possível abarcar com a visão”

2 “un morceau de territoire que l´onperçoit d´un seul coup d´oeil”

3 Some definitions will be presented in the next section.

4 Due to a concentration of iron, as a consequence of strong lixiviation, which is typically a tropical process.

5 É uma entidade espacial delimitada segundo um nível de resolução do geógrafo (pesquisador) a partir dos objetivos centrais da análise, de qualquer modo, sempre resultante da integração dinâmica, portanto instável, dos elementos de suporte e cobertura (físicos, biológicos e antrópicos) expressa em partes delimitáveis infinitamente, mas individualizadas através das relações entre elas que organizam um todo complexo (Sistema), verdadeiro conjunto solidário e único, em perpétua evolução.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figures 1 and 2 – (1) Flower of Brazilian Pequi tree and (2) out space picture.
Légende Are those images ‘landscapes’, just because they are reaching our field of vision?
URL http://journals.openedition.org/confins/docannexe/image/16321/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Figure 3 – Pictorial landscape framed by the field of vision and the frame itself of the painting.
Crédits Source: Worpole, K. & Orton, J. (2013) The New English Landscape. Field Station, London
URL http://journals.openedition.org/confins/docannexe/image/16321/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 404k
Titre Figure 4 – Picture of a predominantly rural landscape (State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 2004)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/confins/docannexe/image/16321/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Figure 5 – O Lavrador de Café (The Café Planter). A famous Cândido Portinari´s painting.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/confins/docannexe/image/16321/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
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Référence électronique

Luis Antonio Bittar Venturi, « Geographical landscape: further beyond our field of vision », Confins [En ligne], 38 | 2018, mis en ligne le 22 décembre 2018, consulté le 20 septembre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/confins/16321 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/confins.16321

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Auteur

Luis Antonio Bittar Venturi

Professor Titular - Dept. de Geografia, Universidade de São Paulo, luisgeo@usp.br

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