As human beings, our relationship to nature is simultaneously full of awe and disrespect. We are struck by the vibrant beauty of grand landscapes and impressive terrain, but we also find ways to dominate it. We are fearful of its misunderstood abilities, and find comfort in harnessing these gifts for ourselves. In photographer Rebecca Najdowski’s ongoing project Ambient Pressure, she asks how humans engage with, relate to, and think of non-human nature.
While going through her own archive of negatives, Nadjowski noticed an overarching trend in subject matter: landscape and nature imagery. But what is a landscape, exactly? Where does it start and where does it stop? Why do we want to contain it within the four sides that make up the frame of a single photographic image? As Najdowski asked herself these questions, she began manipulating the negatives, giving them a substantial life outside the confines of a flat photograph.
“These artworks are formed through studio and darkroom interventions,” she explains. “After mining my archive of negatives, I manipulated their structure—cutting, scratching, burning, tearing, stapling, folding—to give a sense of additive erasure.” In doing so, Najdowski draws attention to the material, substantial components of the photographic process. The negatives themselves become rough landscapes, reminiscent of a raised atlas—its ridges made apparent as your fingertips draw across each surface.
After altering the negatives, Najdowski uses them to create prints, where the damage is made apparent in the final stages of development. Each standard landscape is transformed into something more peculiar, reflecting the overarching human desire to command it. In the same way, Najdowski hopes these works also demonstrate how we use photography to dominate and make sense of nature. “By disrupting the pictorial conventions of landscape photography, I hope to make works that acknowledge how photography projects an illusion of containment and total knowledge of nature,” she explains. “Ultimately, this work is about the relationship between photography about nature, and the nature of photography.”