THE RHETORICAL FORCE OF LANDSCAPE ART Kevin DeLuca Pennsylvania State University
Why talk about a rhetoric of images? The most obvious answer is that we live in an image-saturated society and a relevant rhetoric must pay attention to images, that W. J. T. Mitchell is right when he suggests that the rhetorical turn is being displaced by the pictorial turn. Beyond the obvious, the answers are multiple and layered. I want to suggest some answers by looking at some old pictures: Carleton Watkins' landscape photographs of Yosemite and William Henry Jackson's landscape photographs and Thomas Moran's water colors and paintings of Yellowstone. At a basic level, if rhetoric is, at the very least, about persuasion in conventional politics, images merit a look and have for centuries. The cases of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran are instructive. The fundamental role of Watkins' landscape photography in the creation of Yosemite as the world's first wilderness area "for the benefit of the people, for their resort and recreation, to hold them inalienable for all time" (the bill quoted in Schama, 1995: 191) is evident in the story that California Senator John Conness, when introducing the bill to preserve Yosemite to Congress in March of 1864, also passed Watkins' photographs around the halls of Congress (Palmquist, 1983, pp. 19-20; Fels, 1983, p. 34). The legislation passed and was signed into law on June 30, 1864 thereby deeding Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California. Watkins' role in preserving Yosemite extended well beyond the Congressional floor. Thousands of people on the East Coast saw Watkins' photos, either in art galleries or as reprints in their homes. His images garnered such popular support that it led Edward Wilson, editor of the Philadelphia Photographer, to comment, "It has been said that&emdash;the pen is mightier than the sword,' but who shall not say that in this instance, at least, the camera is mightier than the pen?" (Quoted in Palmquist, 1983: 20). Moran and Jackson accompanied the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories to Yellowstone in 1871. Their presence was not accidental. Jackson had recently become a permanent member of the expedition. Moran was sent with the backing of the Northern Pacific Railroad and Scribner's to join the expedition. Ferdinand Hayden, the expedition's leader, was aware of the value of public relations and was also under orders from the Secretary of the Interior to "secure as full material as possible for the illustration of your final report, such as sketches, photographs, etc.,"(quoted in Kinsey, 1992, p. 49). As photographer Jackson recalled, "No photographs had as yet been published, and Dr. Hayden was determined that the first ones should be good. A series of fine pictures would not only supplement his final report but tell the story to thousands who might never read it" (1940, p. 196). Jackson's photographs and Moran's watercolors and illustrations were instrumental in the successful lobbying effort to get Congress to designate Yellowstone the country's first national park. More significantly, I contend that the landscape art of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran are not merely evidence in a conventional political argument. They are not simply representing reality or making an argument about reality. Instead, I am making the stronger claim that the pictures are constituting the context within which a politics takes place^÷they are creating a reality. In this position I am taking a cue from John Hartley's analysis of the politics of pictures. Hartley suggests that there is no real public, but, rather that the public is the product of publicity, of pictures. The public's fictional status, however, should not be "taken as a disqualification from but as a demonstration of the social power (even truth) of fictions" (Hartley, 1992: 84). Pictures, then, are important not because they represent reality but create it: "They are the place where collective social action, individual identity and symbolic imagination meet^÷the nexus between culture and politics" (Hartley, 1992: 3). In pushing this perspective in my reading of the pictures of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran, I understand their images not to be representing nature but creating it. Watkins' pictures do not represent the reality of Yosemite. Instead, in conjunction with the discourses of tourism, nationalism, romanticism, expansionism, and religion, they construct Yosemite. Yes, Half Dome exists, but its meaning as icon of pristine wilderness is the result of the work and confluence of multiple discourses, especially a photographic discourse of which Watkins' images are paradigmatic. Crucial to Watkins' imagining of sublime wilderness was his erasing of the marks of human habitation--no Native Americans or their homes, no sheepherders, no miners, no loggers. Considering that the military had just purged Yosemite Valley of its native human inhabitants in the preceding decade, the absence of Native Americans constitutes an imagistic genocide that echoes the military one. These absences are the foundation for Watkins' creation of Yosemite as pristine wilderness. This creation, in turn, becomes Yosemite. As cultural historian Solnit remarks, "And so on man who had never seen the place [Senator John Conness] induced more who had never been near the state [Congressional members and Lincoln] to preserve it for a public which had hardly reached it" (1994, p. 243). What was true then is even more so today, as millions make touristic pilgramages to the iconic sites of Yosemite wilderness to confirm the images of Yosemite that have created "Yosemite" for them. The park itself has been developed to make accessible and preserve these iconic images. In other words, the park is managed in its own image. Similarly, the images of Jackson and Moran created Yellowstone, crown jewel of the national park system. Known for the first half of the 19th century as a fabled land of damnation, Yellowstone was called "Colter's Hell" in response to the description of geysers and bubbling cauldrons by John Colter, the first "white man" to see Yellowstone. In a matter of months, Jackson's scientific photographs and Moran's brilliantly colored sketches transformed Yellowstone from a fabled Hell to a fabled Wonderland (tirelessly promoted by Northern Pacific Railroad as a tourist Mecca). As art historian Kinsey notes, Yellowstone "was transformed from a remote hell on earth into America's wonderland in the public imagination" (1992, p. 58). Moran's creation of Yellowstone is most evident in his famous painting, the Grand Canon of the Yellowstone, an image reproduced, copied, and promoted endlessly. Although assumed to be representing the view from Artist's Point toward Yellowstone Falls, it is actually a composite of that perspective and the view from the top of the falls looking toward Artist's Point (Kinsey, 1992, pp. 54-58). In emphasizing the creative force of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran's images, I am suggesting a sense of rhetoric that exceeds a narrow notion of rhetoric as political persuasion, so that the realm of rhetoric entails the articulation of identities, ideologies, consciousnesses, communities, publics, and cultures. I want to close with a quick consideration of the benefits of images for retheorizing rhetoric. Most clearly, images dissolve the basic speaker-text-audience model of rhetoric. Even a glance at these images undermines the notion of intentionality at the heart of such a model of communication and meaning. Intentionality has rested on a humanist subjectivity. The landscape pictures of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran announce not so much the death of the author as its fragmentation, so that the labels Watkins, Jackson, and Moran name corporate entities and unfold a plethora of intentions. For instance, Watkins and Moran clearly aspired to create high art. They also wanted to create commercial art that would grant them financial security. The geologist Hayden, the leader of the Yellowstone expedition, wanted scientific pictures to document the territory. He also wanted pictures that would fan public interest, thus securing continued Congressional funding of his expeditions. Both Watkins and Moran were directly funded by business interests. In the case of Moran and Yellowstone, the Northern Pacific Railroad sponsored his trip, publicized his work, prevailed on Hayden to recommend the establishment of Yellowstone Park in his official report to Congress, and orchestrated lobbying efforts. The railroad conceived of Yellowstone as a gold mine of tourist profits. They were correct and later nicknamed themselves the "Yellowstone Park Line." The proposal was also seen by business and congressional interests as the key to development of the region. Given the swirl of intentions surrounding Yellowstone, it is worth noting that none were explicitly environmental. The point is that neither an exhaustive accounting of multiple intentions nor an elaborate construction of the "original" context would sufficiently explain the rhetorical force of these images. Exceeding any discernible intentions, the landscape art of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran become founding documents of the environmental movement, creating a pristine wilderness that becomes environmentalism's sublime object. REFERENCES Fels, Thomas (1983) Carleton Watkins: Photographer. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Jackson, W. H. (1940) Time Exposure. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. Kinsey, Joni (1992) Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press. Palmquist, Peter (1983) Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American west. Albuquerque: University Of New Mexico Press. Schama, S. (1995) Landscape and Memory. New York: A.A. Knopf.