Landscape magazine: culture through the lens of human geography

In the spring of 1951, a provocative new magazine appeared from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Published, edited, and, initially, written by a single man, it was titled Landscape, and it called itself a magazine of human geography: ``the study of man the inhabitant.'' Human geography? Man the inhabitant? For most people both the term and the concept were probably as unfamiliar as the name John Brinckerhoff Jackson. But through the creation of Landcape, this original philosopher -- who, like his magazine, would never be confined to a single field -- would influence a generation of architects, geographers, and thinkers -- and introduce Americans to a new way of looking at the world.

The word ``landscape'' tends to evoke images of oceans, lakes, mountains -- ``natural'' scenes. But it was the man-made landscape that interested Mr. Jackson: farms and houses, highways and cities, street lights and neon signs.

It seemed self-evident to Jackson that a nation's culture is reflected in this humanized landscape. He, and those who followed him, looked at architecture, for example, for the information it yields about family and community relationships, about morals (which rooms are viewed as private?), about the use of leisure time (why, after all, did the large front porch disappear from American houses?). Cultural history is legible in the landscape, Jackson said, if only we can learn to read it.

During Jackson's tenure, Landscape (1951-1968) became a major forum for speculative essays in the growing field of cultural geography. Today, under publisher Blair Boyd and editor Bonnie Loyd, this beautifully designed and photographed magazine continues to focus a penetrating eye on our relation to the built landscape: How we create it, how we use it, how we perceive it.

A recent issue, for example, included ``The Cowboy and the City: Urban Affection for Wilderness,'' in which Christopher L. Salter examines our attitudes toward the city.

Most Americans are city-dwellers, he reflects, and the city is in so many ways marvelous (``the repository of our grandest expressions of technology, art, economic activity, and human diversity''); why, then, are we so reluctant to give the city praise?

In another article, ``The Burden of the Past: Rethinking Historic Preservation,'' Larry Ford questions whether in many preservation battles the conflict is not really old vs. new but one historic period vs. another, with different groups each trying to establish their preferred version of ``the official past.''

In the lively ``Wish You Were Here -- Map Postcards and Images of Place,'' Hilary L. Renwich and Susan Cutter examine how the distortions and stereotypical symbols (bathing beauties, jumping fish) on these publicity maps try to shape our perceptions of a place. The authors raise the question of cartographic reality: is any map ``objective''?

Landscape is a thoughtful and delightful magazine that compels us to really look at the landscape around us -- at front lawns in suburbia, at billboards along the highway, at porticoes in Bologna, at pubs in Australia.

All aspects of the man-made landscape are subject to the critical scrutiny of Landscape's essays and photographs. But this scrutiny is appreciative. One senses throughout the magazine a willingness to contemplate not only the ``triumphs'' in the landscape but also the ``blunders,'' to paraphrase Jackson.

A regular monthly column in the Book Review.

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