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Filmic Mapping


Professor Christophe Girot, Albert Kirchengast (Chief Editors)
Institute of Landscape Architecture ILA, D –ARCH, ETH Zurich


Annemarie Bucher, ZHdK Zurich

Elena Cogato Lanza, EPF Lausanne

Stanislaus Fung, UNSW Sydney

Dorothée Imbert, Washington University in St. Louis

Hansjörg Küster, Leibniz Universität Hannover

Sébastien Marot, Ecole d’Architecture Marne-la-Vallee, Paris

Volker Pantenburg, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

Alessandra Ponte, Université de Montréal

Christian Schmid, ETH Zurich

Ralph Ubl, eikones NFS Bildkritik Basel

Charles Waldheim, Harvard GSD

Kongjian Yu, Peking University


Manuscript proposals are welcome in fields appropriate for Landscript. Scholarly submissions should be formatted in accordance with The Chicago Manual of Style and the spelling should follow American convention. The full manuscript must be submitted as a Microsoft Word document, on a CD or disk, accompanied by a hard copy of the text. Accompanying images should be sent as TIFF files with a resolution of at least 300 dpi at 8 × 9-inch print size. Figures should be numbered clearly in the text. Image captions and credits must be included with submissions. It is the responsibility of the author to secure permissions for image use and pay any reproduction fees. A brief letter of inquiry and author biography must also accompany the text.

Acceptance or rejection of submissions is at the discretion of the editors. Please do not send original materials, as submissions will not be returned.

Please direct submissions to this address:


Chair of Professor Christophe Girot

Institute of Landscape Architecture ILA, ETH Zurich

Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 15, HILH 54.2

8093 Zurich, Switzerland

Questions about submissions can be emailed to:


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Filmic Mapping



FRED TRUNIGER is a film scholar and curator. He studied Film and German Studies at the University of Zurich and the Freie Universität in Berlin and received his PhD from the ETH Zurich. He is head of the research focus “Visual Narrative” at the School of Art and Design of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts.



For Kristina Trolle

In Memoriam Rüdiger Neumann (1944–2007) and
Gerhard Benedikt Friedl (1967–2009)


Introduction: From the Aesthetic to the Dynamic Landscape

Understanding Landscape and Visual Culture

Landscape Theory as a Complex Science of Images

—  Complex Science

—  “Landscape Two” and “Landscape Three”

—  City and Landscape

Working with Images

—  The Role of the Image in Landscape Architecture: Speaking and Thinking about and in Images

—  Eidetic Images

—  Three Primary Factors of the “Dynamic” Image of the Landscape

—  Secondary Communication of the Landscape

Filmic Landscape Communication

—  Immersion: The Emotional Presence of the Moving Image

—  Motion and its Duration

—  Filmic Montage

Filmic Land Survey

Rüdiger Neumann: Learning to See Landscape

—  Chance and Systematization

—  “Seeing, just Seeing”

—  Images of Nature and Culture

—  At the Transition to the Image of the Dynamic Landscape

The Pedestrian’s Gaze

—  Walking Perception

—  Peter Liechti: Hans im Glück (Lucky Jack, CH 2003)

—  Jem Cohen: Lost Book Found (USA 1996)

Narrating Landscape

—  Gerhard Benedikt Friedl: Knittelfeld—Stadt ohne Geschichte (A 1997)

—  Mattias Caduff: Peiden (CH 2002)

—  Stefan Kolbe and Chris Wright: Technik des Glücks (Technique of Happiness, GER 2003)

—  Patrick Keiller: A Flaneur in England

—  Volko Kamensy: Landscape Myths or the Happy Island in the Roundabout

James Benning: Panoramas of the American West

—  The California Trilogy

—  (Hi)stories of the Landscape: Deseret and Four Corners

—  Typologies: 13 Lakes, 10 Skies, and Casting a Glance

—  Activating the Viewer

Understanding the Landscape Filmically


Film Distribution Information


In this publication, masculine forms are used in the interest of readability. The feminine participles are implicitly included.

Introduction: From the Aesthetic to the Dynamic Landscape

The theory of landscape was changing at the end of the twentieth century. Well into the latter part of the century, the discussion was dominated by considerations of concrete, formal problems, seen primarily from the standpoint of landscape as a natural environment. An aesthetic and small-scale, garden-related nature was of primary concern and interest. In Switzerland, for example, the use of non-native plants in Swiss gardens was a favored topic, as was the debate about whether a garden should be considered “architectural” or “natural”

(Weilacher 2001; Stoffler 2008).

The consideration of larger, more abstract relationships, in which landscape might also be understood, was largely forgotten in this context. The growing recourse of humankind to its spatial (and therefore also landscape) resources, which over the course of the twentieth century came to include increasingly larger portions of the earth’s surface, was mostly ignored for quite some time. Nonetheless, as early as 1950, John Brinckerhoff Jackson had started a periodical entitled Landscape, in which he attacked the idealization of the landscape, still widespread at the time, and focused instead on his immediate, everyday environment. He concluded that this “vernacular landscape” had long ago been comprehensively reconfigured by humans. This fact raised questions of form and identity, with which society would need to come to terms sooner or later. In a brief passage from his 1984 book, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, he describes his vision for the future role of the landscape architect in a world formed by human beings:

I would like to think that in the future the profession of landscape architecture will expand beyond its present confines and concern itself with making mobility orderly and beautiful. This would mean knowing a great deal about land, its uses, its values, and the political and economical and cultural forces affecting its distribution. The environmental designer should be concerned with the spatial changes taking place. It is precisely in the field of land use and community planning that a trained imagination, an awareness of environment and habitat can be of greatest value […]. Environmental design is not simply a matter of protecting nature as it is, but of creating a new nature, a new beauty. It is finally a matter of defining landscape in a way that includes both the mobility of the vernacular and the political infrastructure of a stable social order (Jackson 1984, 155).

Jackson’s work introduced a paradigm shift. He not only described the city, but also the landscape as a space for social interactions, which assumed communicative functions within society. Within Jackson’s tradition, it has been identified as a preferred location of ideological controversy (Mitchell 1994), as a projected space of societal utopias (Schama 1995) and of subjective states of being (Vöckler 1998), or as a corporeally experienced space with specific atmospheric qualities (Böhme 1995).

These new approaches take into account not just the landscape as topography, but also the perceiving, interpreting and socially interactive human being as actual producer of that landscape. Whilst this theory was regarded for most of the twentieth century as a serviceable, moral structure for the design of the landscape, today it has developed more in the direction of a discipline within the social sciences. The scenic landscape1 of the nineteenth century—to which significant moral-pedagogic functions were attributed, in addition to the aesthetic—has given way to an understanding of the landscape in constant transformation, largely detached from originary nature and dominated and reconfigured by human beings. Landscape is a cultural construction—both in material and in mental terms—which enables the human being to access and possess the space in which his everyday life takes place. To denote the contextualizing and spatially based understanding of landscape in this work, I use the term dynamic landscape. 2

This work examines how the shift from aesthetic to dynamic understanding of the landscape has affected the visual culture of the landscape—particularly landscape theory.

When the basis of an entire profession is revised, one can assume the presence of transformations reaching down to its deepest layers. If, as in the case of landscape architecture and its theory, images are omnipresent, it lies close at hand to trace the paradigm shift in the visual culture of landscape architecture as well. Given that landscape architecture cannot avoid having to adapt its use of image-based representation to the changed givens of reality, this study addresses this fact based on the fundamental premise that film and video (or more generally, the moving image) represent perhaps the most important source of images. They provide appropriate imagistic forms with which to address the paradigm shift. Stated in different terms: film and video are better suited than other media to representing the processes of the dynamic landscape. This book is written with the aim of indicating new ways of reading film, so that it can fully develop its potential as a means of representing landscape. The reasons for choosing the moving image are described in the book’s first section.

The uncertain basis of my thinking is the insight that there is no real genre of landscape film,3 to which I will refer in my undertaking. This situation allows me the freedom to attempt my own—admittedly experimental— definition for this not yet existent film genre. I therefore push the concept of landscape film in part further than would normally be the case by not emphasizing the image of landscape.

A semi-pragmatic work on the influence of the landscape film must first make a fundamental decision: it either chooses to approach its subject matter by means of the feature film and therefore to deal with films that potentially reach the greatest audience, but also are also subject to strict rules in terms of cinematographic narration. The other option is to assemble a body of films that can broach the abstract topic of landscape without being beholden to dramatic narration, and are therefore not bound to use this topic as collateral to the staging of action. In the former case, it seems possible to derive persuasive force in favor of the pragmatic influence of the film from its capacity for societal transformation, a capacity rooted in its wide distribution throughout a population. John Ford’s Westerns are certainly the most well-known examples of such a capacity, achieved through sheer broad-based presence within western society. In no small measure, the Midwestern United States as the locale of the historical frontier owes its position in collective memory to its representation in Ford’s films from the nineteen-thirties to the nineteen-sixties (of which the most important is perhaps Stagecoach of 1939).

The focus on little-known films thus occurs at the expense of the advantages gained from the widespread societal acceptance that an idea can achieve through film. I have decided in favor of this alternative and have based my study largely on experimental and documentary films. This decision was based on the conviction that the films chosen represent one or the other (or several) aspect(s) of the landscape with particular purity, because they are not obliged to respect normative filmic forms. Their production outside of institutional contexts and without anticipatory concern for audience statistics gives them the freedom to risk formal experiments and to plumb the possibilities of filmic representation of the landscape in every regard. They transform the way in which we see and create images of our environs by extending the repertoire of both seeing and image production.

In choosing the examples, it was important that their understanding of landscape should match the level of complexity of the dynamic landscape. They all share a primarily open form, which pre-interprets the landscape for the viewer by means of a precise reading of visible and invisible clues, but do so without enforcing a single interpretation. It is the author’s artistic freedom not to attribute meaning to the evidence stringently, but rather to leave the viewer room for his own interpretation. These films address active viewers, who question critically what the film offers and are able to integrate information into a more broadly conceived framework of interpretation so that in the end they develop their own, mutable image of the landscape portrayed.

The target audience for these films is not as broad, as is the case with feature films, but it includes, generally speaking, film aficionados and specialists. In relation to the representation of the landscape, these are influential professionals who, in their daily work, actually change the face of the world day by day. There is a clear affinity between their efforts and those films that focus on the landscape thematically and formally, above those that use it only as a narrative instrument, but in the process achieve a greater degree of audience penetration. The few exceptions prove the rule. I am persuaded that the films described here are more interesting in many respects, for their pragmatic approach within the field of landscape theory, than their fictional counterparts, which enjoy greater audience success.

The same is true of this book. If it can reach these specialists and film lovers, and influence their ways of seeing, then the films discussed here will certainly, in one way or another, have an impact on the way society deals with landscape.


Filmstill from The Searchers (USA 1956) by John Ford

When considering whether or not to include a film in this study, it was not a decisive factor that landscape as image be represented in a particular, or particularly prominent, way. Instead, the criterion was the inclusion of factors that relate to the definition of the dynamic landscape and are at least equally important to the representation of the landscape. These are, on the one hand, the social, historical, economic, and societal contexts in which landscape and its representation are embedded. On the other hand, these are also the haptic qualities of a film, which can provide the viewer with an entrée not only to the image of landscape but also, as I will argue, enable an actual landscape experience in the movie theater. Ultimately, the film analyses in the second half of the book have implications beyond the cinema for the practice of landscape perception—which today is closely associated with the moving image.

These two thematic emphases—the contextualized view of the landscape and the experiential quality of filmic representation—underlie this book’s ambition to describe an adequate (although certainly not the only) form of depiction, with which to gain an understanding of the dynamic landscape. This incorporates the role of theory in creating the basis upon which the necessary modifications of the visual culture of landscape architecture can be implemented. To this end, my study offers some indication of which insights can be gleaned from film. It simultaneously represents a contribution to a new understanding of the visual culture of landscape and brings a series of highly relevant, if little-known, films into the discourse by means of detailed analyses.

The first chapter, Landscape Theory as a Complex Science of the Images, sets out in search of a new self-identity for landscape theory. For the past decade, landscape theory has engaged in a quest intended to find a new locus for a societally relevant area of theory. This search is fraught with problems, especially because of the seemingly strange status of the discipline of landscape architecture at technical universities—at least in Switzerland where this study was conceived—and the relative youth of its theory, which is based in the social sciences. I would like to demonstrate that the theory of the dynamic landscape may be understood as a complex science, which unifies insights from both positivist practices and from social scientific-hermeneutic methods. This is the case because the paradigm shift from an aesthetic to a dynamic understanding of landscape reflects nothing other than a more universal reorientation towards complex models of knowledge in the sciences. The foundation of the understanding of landscape used in this book is both pragmatic and tailored to the practical work of the landscape architect, who makes spaces that are intended to (and must) satisfy aesthetic motivation, as well as the need for an immediately usable environment for human beings. The user of the landscape experiences these spaces in ways that are atmospheric, subjectively filtered, and imprinted with prior personal knowledge and individual dispositions.

The characterization of the dynamic landscape leads me to the question in the second chapter, entitled Working with Images, as to how this kind of landscape can be adequately dealt with in visual terms. The visual culture of landscape must undoubtedly confront changed demands. This chapter focuses on the actual application of images in both landscape architecture and landscape theory and demonstrates the image’s dominance. It becomes clear that the use of images mostly follows a paradigm that does not meet the contemporary requirements of the discourse. A “catalogue of requirements and demands” thus collates the factors relating to the desired representation of the dynamic landscape. The chapter concludes with three theories about the societal relationship to landscape, which in the recent past is increasingly influenced by its secondary communication through media and technology.

In the third chapter, entitled Filmic Landscape Communication, the results of the search, which I describe exemplarily in the two first chapters with reference to the visual culture of landscape, are compared with film theory and the parameters of filmic representation. I wish to demonstrate that film offers an appropriate representational medium for the dynamic landscape, because it communicates three primary aspects: constant transformation, sublation of the polarity between city and country, and immersion. The third chapter’s conclusions form the basis for the examination of case study analyses in the second half of the book.

This second half collects film analyses, in which specific aspects and focuses of the landscape film are highlighted.

The fourth chapter is dedicated to the filmmaker Rüdiger Neumann, who died unexpectedly in 2007. The second half of the nineteen-seventies marks the beginning of his rapprochement with the filmic image of the landscape, which became his sole interest for nearly twenty years. It is worth noting that Neumann’s early work marks an attempt to use formal dictates and chance operations to limit the gaze in such a way that the cultural aspect of seeing ceases to play any role in the act of filming. In the course of his career, however, Neumann turned away from the stringently standardized, quasi-positivistic or scientific gaze intended to make disparate landscapes aesthetically comparable. He gradually replaced chance with trust in his own gaze, that was well-trained (by chance operations). Neumann undergoes a personal and artistic transformation, which, as far as I can see, illustrates exemplarily the movement from the classic-aesthetic to the dynamic understanding of landscape.

The fifth chapter is dedicated to a particular view of landscape. Its topic is The Pedestrian’s Gaze, a fundamental and nonetheless singular form of perceiving our environment. Unlike the experience at high speeds, as in a car or train, the pedestrian perceives himself as part of the landscape. The characteristic of his gaze is its corporeality. This chapter describes films that translate the specific, physically influenced perception of walking into their medium and represent the particularities of this gaze.

The telling of stories is an ancient and fundamental cultural technique, and also has a function in landscape: “strata of memory” (Simon Schama) overlay individual and societal consciousness of the landscape and often prevent the human being from seeing what really is to be seen. The sixth chapter, Narrating Landscape, is dedicated to the function of the narrative form for this kind of depiction, and collects films that tell stories about and based upon landscapes, and set out to lend importance to a specific reading, often based upon a subjective position. If Simon Schama’s observations that cultural memory plays a decisive role in the evaluation of our environment are accurate, then film can be understood as having the potential to influence the formation of this collective memory bank. The power of the medium to propagate images and stories is treated as a factor that can help to determine the value allocated by society to a landscape.

The book’s conclusion, like the beginning of its second part, studies in depth the work of a single filmmaker. James Benning, similarly to Rüdiger Neumann, devoted nearly all of his creative production to the representation of landscape. As in Neumann’s case, his approach has changed constantly over time from 1971 to the present. The chapter entitled James Benning: Panoramas of the American West concentrates on Benning’s oeuvre of the last twenty years and demonstrates how narrations of the landscape can assume the most subtle form, in contrast to which the traditional usage of the concept of narration is inadequate. In his work, narration often occurs through image clusters and thematic sequence. The analysis of the effect of time and duration, and the role of process-based development in both topography and filmic seeing, round off this inconclusive set of observations about the representation of the dynamic landscape in film.

The films that remain on my table are those that would have warranted mention in this study but could no longer be included. Thus, for example, films such as Vom deutschen Rand (On Germany’s Border, GER 1999) by Volker Köster or Gallivant by Andrew Koetting (GB 1996)—both of which document a trip along each country’s border—could be described in terms of our abstract, often mythically imprinted relationship to our native countries. Ursula Biemann’s work on economic geographies in Performing the Border (CH 1999), Remote Sensing (CH 2001), The Black Sea Files (CH 2005), Sahara Chronicle (CH 2006/07), and X-Mission (CH 2008), among others, would also be a rewarding subject for more exacting examination. These films are precise analyses of the way space is structured by political and economic hierarchies. Finally, films on the politics of space, which is in fact strongly determined by actual national and international power relations or through the exercise of discursive power definitions, would also be within the scope of this work. Left unmentioned are the films Limes: Bioborder/Park/ Spektakel (Limes: Bioborder/Park/Spectacle, AUT 2001) by the artist group WR and Unternehmen Paradies (The Business of Paradise, GER 2002) by Volker Sattel, both of which portray landscape spaces as the scene of power enactment.

Films act upon our relationship to the world by transmitting information and by forming habits of seeing in the long term. Using the analyses collected here, I would like to demonstrate that the medium possesses analytical and communicative qualities, which enrich the discussion surrounding the dynamic landscape and can point to a way forward for it within the field of the visual. This study suggests the reading of films within a methodical framework, which in turn can allow this reading to become an extremely productive undertaking with regard to a professional engagement with landscape.

1 The concept “aesthetic landscape” is used analogously to the English concept “scenic landscape,” for which no exact translation is given in German. The “aesthetic landscape” as an approach is described exemplarily in Joachim Ritters’ Landschaft. Zur Funktion des Aesthetischen in der Gesellschaft (1963).

2 This is a variant on the terminology used by J. B. Jackson, who speaks of “systems of man-made spaces on the surface of the earth […] always subject to change.”

3 It is established that there is no actual genre of landscape film, but rather, only groups of films (albeit many of them) at different locations and times that approach the topic of landscape (Pichler/Pollach 2006, 9). In this work, I nevertheless use the term “landscape film”; I do not give this title only to films that depict landscape but rather also to those that narrate landscape. As a genre designation, this use of the term cannot (yet) be definitive, but as an effective designation for the particular, focused landscape interest of each film and as a contribution to the discussion about a later definition of the genre “landscape film,” however, I do not want to relinquish the term.


Understanding Landscape and Visual Culture

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