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In the past three decades, American photographers have extended the genre of the pastoral and the documentary to incorporate fresh perspectives on the cultural meanings of the landscape. Such works directly challenge the idea that photography can faithfully capture every detail of a given scene. For some photographers, the landscape is a political rather than cultural or aesthetic subject. As people have become more aware of the impact development has had on the vast American wilderness, the land seems ever more fragile.
Photographers often use the formal aspects of beauty as a strategy of persuasion. Some offer urban or suburban scenes as sites of human activity, offering meditations on the landscape and its meaning. Others photograph constructed tableaus in the confines of the studio; such works remind us of the many ways, both concrete and metaphorical, that humankind has altered the land we rely on.
In 1988, the museum began a partnership with Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation to collect contemporary landscape photography. Eventually more than 300 photographs were acquired. These, added to recent landscapes, urbanscapes, and suburbanscapes already in the collection, provide a significant representation of the work of American photographers who continue to record human interaction with the land.