Brian Kosoff: Form and landscape

In a 2012 interview with ND  Magazine,  Brian Kosoff  said:

“Regarding landscape, I will often come across a scene that has all the right compositional elements but not the right light or atmosphere. In that case I take compass readings to determine ideally where I want the Sun to be, and then using astronomical software I will determine what date and time that year that it’s in the spot I want, and I’ll come back then. I will also take into consideration tides, moon position, foliage, weather, atmosphere, geography, agricultural cycles, etc.  I view the process of landscape photography in a more holistic perspective.

As an example for the image “Prescott Trees” I made three trips in a year from NY to Washington State just for that shot. The version I ended up using had fall foliage.


Prescott Trees

Kosoff works almost exclusively in black and white: “Black & White to me is the truest form of photography. I know that may sound contradictory given that B&W is inherently an interpretation of the scene, but B&W is all about light, tone, gradation and composition.  It’s doesn’t get much simpler than that.”

Black-and-white photography also allows the level of abstraction that colour photography does not. Kosoff has preoccupation with form, particularly contrasting form, in landscape. Prescott Trees has echoes of Ansel Adams sand dunes with its sharp edged lines contrasting with the softer  undulating shapes of the hills.

Kosoff is also adept at creating sharp contrasts in shape and form. In this photo, the trees  are situated between the open space of the field and the darker contours of the hills behind. The more defined shape of the trees and the gradations in tone constitute a contrast to the darker and softer shapes of the hills.

 Tuscan Field is photographically and thematically similar to Prescott Trees.  The tonal gradations in the slopes that dominate the foreground of the photograph are a sharp contrast with the line of dark trees silhouetted against the overcast sky. The way that Kosoff layers his pictures is similar in many ways to the technique that Edward Hopper uses in many of his paintings.


 Tuscan Field

The brilliantly composed Hay Bales is thematically and stylistically similar to both Prescott Trees and Tuscan Field. There are the two layers of the hills which give way to the the lower part of the sky scape where the five hay bales are silhouetted. The foreground is dark but subtly muted, particularly around the large hay bale. Overall, it is much stronger and in many ways a far more abstract composition than Prescott Trees and Tuscan Field.  The wavelike shape of the hills the foreground is punctuated by the solid shape of the bale while the silhouettes of the hay bales in the middle ground serve to emphasise and punctuate the shape of the second hill.

hay bales

Lone Pine Peak is a series of layers of contrasting tones and shapes. In the foreground is a fence made up of a series of white rectangles which serve to emphasise the uneven, layered rhythm of this painting.

lone pine peak

Lone Pine Peak

Behind the fence is a field in which a row of trees, similar to those in Prescott Trees. There are three layers behind trees.  The first is a line of black mountains that serves to emphasise the tonal gradations of the trees in the mid foreground. Behind that is range of mountains with sharper lines and contrasts and finally a slightly overcast sky.

In the same interview Kosoff says:”I admired Ansel Adams, but the more I shot landscape the less I was impressed with his photographs. Maybe this is because his work became so copied and was therefore less visually exciting to me. But his contributions to photography and the environment were enormous and no one will ever match that. I believe that photography is accepted as an art today because of Ansel Adams.”

Indeed, there are marked similarities between Lone Pine Peak and Ansel Adams’ Winter Sunrise Sierra Nevada. Although, as is common in many of Adams’s photos, you get the impression that a lot of work has gone on in the dark room to produce this particular print, something that is absent in Kosoff’s work


Ansel Adams: Winter Sunrise Sierra Nevada

Snowy Ridge is another brilliant composition. The structure is defined by the strong white line of the ridge which separates the snow from the dark winter sky.


Snowy Ridge

The feathery line of trees which runs along this dividing line creates a third dimension that runs across the photograph into the foreground. But it also serves to emphasise the strong compositional unity of this photograph.  The line of the ridge runs just below the tops of the trees in the foreground. The brilliance of this photograph rests in its wonderful balance of compositional simplicity and complexity. The photograph is held together by the subtle relationships between its elements: the contrasting foreground and background and the two lines of trees whose relationship to each other is tied together by line between the snow and the skyline.

At first sight, Silos lacks all the subtlety of Snowy Ridge. The foreground of the photograph is dominated by the lines of cut grass running across the plain emphasising the squat, contained solidity of the silos that dominates the centre of the photograph. Yet there is a poetic beauty in the contrast between their uneven orderliness and the clouds streaming across the background.




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