Which Visual Culture?

Traditions of visual representation of nature in its specific forms were established long before “ecology” or other modern scientific disciplines existed. Landscape painting was of decisive importance here; since the 17th century it has gone through various stylistic eras. Each of these eras is characterised by the specific perspective adopted by the artists concerned and by a collective societal perspective on the landscape. A visual culture is characterised as much by the materiality of the image and its iconic perception in the process of production and reception as it is by its social setting. In this sense, for example, it is possible to identify distinct artistic, scientific, technical and media visual cultures in which different aesthetic and epistemic criteria apply.

It is not just in the current age of image-based digital methods that images have begun to acquire significance for the process of knowledge production and the stabilisation of facts in ecological research. Visual representations have accompanied ecological research in its cognitive activities and methods of representation from the very beginning. Elements of traditional landscape painting can be found here, as can scientific sketches, a variety of photographic techniques such as aerial photography or microphotography, as well as various procedures for representing data in diagrams.

One aim of this project is to describe these procedures and practices as visual cultures in their temporally and spatially limited scientific, technical and social environment. Examples of this might be, say, recent debates in relation to seeking and establishing models for the remediation of former mining landscapes, an analysis of the epistemic role of images in the invention and adoption of the phenomenon of “dying forests”, or the historical reconstruction of visual icons of our blue planet, Biosphere 1, which not only cut across the most varied of discourses but also left behind visible material traces: Biosphere 2 in the Arizona desert and Biosphere 3 in Siberia.