chapter  5
12 Pages

Reading landscapes: cartesian geographies or places of the heart?

Cartesian geographies or places of the heart? ‘Seeing’ landscapes

In viewing landscapes, it is easy to revert to a naïve common sense as the basis for interpretation and judgement. For many observers a landscape can appear empty when the artefacts of one’s own culture’s presence cannot be seen. In shifting from visual observation to material engagement with these real-world geographies, miscues and hidden colonialism are easy to resurrect. Let us consider a series of images (Plates 5.1-5.12) from Australian resource landscapes, arbitrarily (but not categorically) classified into four types – ‘natural’, ‘Aboriginal’, ‘industrial’ and ‘signed’. Such labels are used for discursive convenience, but they may hide more than they reveal. To some extent, what one sees reflects much of what one already knows or expects to see. Potentially, each viewer will see and understand different things in each image, and in each place. As symbolic representations of places, these images present us with a range of challenges. For example, distinguishing what is ‘signed’ from what is ‘unsigned’ depends on what signs you are adept at reading; and what is natural/Aboriginal/industrial is not always obvious.