A Fragile Beauty

Photographer Claudius Schulze has documented the concrete barriers that make up today’s landscapes. His photos are a reminder of what we fail to notice.

It takes a while until it dawns on you: These photos are no ordinary photos of nature. Each of them features a man-made structure, some barrier to protect the scenery or to keep us safe. German photographer Claudius Schulze has taken these shots to challenge our very idea of looking at landscapes.

“Idyllic nature,” Claudius says, “is really a product of protection agencies working hard to maintain order”. And humans have shaped the planet’s landscape so dramatically that our tools of protection have become part of the environment, neatly blending into the scenery.

Claudius spent the last five years criss-crossing Europe to document these bulwarks, working with a small crane and a large-format camera. He spent many hours laboring over satellite images and even more in the field, camera at the ready, waiting for the environment to be just right. “I wanted to show people interacting with nature,” he says – and the beachgoers, bikers, or pedestrians really underline the inherent sense of normalcy.

But the photographer’s neutral, almost technocratic perspective accomplishes more than just documentation. Claudius, who admits having been inspired by landscape painting, effectively tips the scales, making the beauty in his photos seem uncanny. And it poses a question to the viewer: Why does it take you so long to notice these structures?

Equally subtle is his message that many of the dams, reservoirs, and concrete fences protect both nature and people from the fallout of human-made climate change – and therefore from ourselves. “I wanted to emulate the perspective of a civil engineer,” he explains, “their job isn’t about finding the cause, but simply about the protection from its effects.”

Take some time and immerse yourself in these photos. See the people in the go about their lives, unaware of the structures around them. Admire the effort that went into their construction. And then try to image the landscapes without them. Chances are that you can’t.

Make sure to check out Claudius’ campaign on Kickstarter, where he is raising money turn this project into a photo book called “State of Nature”. It features many more photos, essays, and an original design. You can support the project here.

Photo: (c) Diane van der Marel

Claudius Schulze is a Hamburg-based photographer. He graduated from the M.A. program Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from LCC, University of the Arts London and has been a guest lecturer in photography at several universities – currently at Leuphana University Lüneburg. See more of his work at claudiusschulze.com