GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: XDF

Before Laura Gilpin (1891-1979), few women in the history of photography had so devoted themselves to chronicling the landscape. Other women had photographed the land, but none can be regarded as a landscape photographer with a sustained body of work documenting the physical terrain. Anne Brigman often photographed woodlands and coastal areas, but they were generally settings for her artfully placed subjects. Dorothea Lange's landscapes were always conceived of as counterparts to her portraits of rural women.

At the same time that Gilpin's interest in landscape work distinguished her from most other women photographers, her approach to landscape photography set her apart from men photographers who, like Gilpin, documented the western United States. Western American landscape photography grew out of a male tradition, pioneered by photographers attached to government and commercial survey teams that went west in the 1860's and 1870's. These explorer-photographers documented the West that their employers wanted to see: an exotic and majestic land shaped by awesome natural forces, unpopulated and ready for American settlement. The next generation of male photographers, represented by Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter, often worked with conservationist groups rather than government agencies or commercial companies, but they nonetheless preserved the "heroic" style and maintained the role of respectful outsider peering in with reverence at a fragile natural world.

For Gilpin, by contrast, the landscape was neither an empty vista awaiting human settlement nor a jewel-like scene resisting human intrusion, but a peopled landscape with a rich history and tradition of its own, an environment that shaped and molded the lives of its inhabitants. Her photographs of the Rio Grande, for example, consistently depict the river in terms of its significance to human culture: as a source of irrigation water, a source of food for livestock, and a provider of town sites. Also instructive is Gilpin's general avoidance of extreme close-ups of her natural subjects: for her, emblematic details could never suggest the intricacies of the interrelationship between people and nature that mode the landscape a compelling subject. While it is dangerous to draw conclusions about a "feminine" way of seeing from the work of one woman, it can nonetheless be argued that Gilpin's unique approach to landscape photography was analogous to the work of many women writers who, far more than their male counterparts, described the landscape in terms of its potential to sustain human life.

Gilpin never spoke of herself as a photographer with a feminine perspective: she eschewed any discussion of gender as it related to her work and maintained little interest in interpretations that relied on the concept of "woman's eye". Thus it is ironic that her photographic evocation of a historical landscape should so clearly present a distinctively feminine approach to landscape photography.

Question List: 1 2 3 4

Which of the following best expresses the main idea of the passage?

  • A Gilpin's landscape photographs more accurately documented the Southwest than did the photographs of explorers and conservationists.
  • B Gilpin's style of landscape photography substantially influenced the heroic style practiced by her male counterparts.
  • C The labeling of Gilpin's style of landscape photography as feminine ignores important ties between it and the heroic style.
  • D Gilpin's work exemplifies an arguably feminine style of landscape photography that contrasts with the style used by her male predecessors.
  • E Gilpin's style was strongly influenced by the work of women writers who described the landscape in terms of its relationship to people.

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