• Steve Ball

Emotional Connections to the Landscape

Why do certain locations generate an emotional response in us? Long before I ever became a photographer I can recall that visits to particular places would stimulate feelings that were out of the ordinary, that made me feel good, and which would be uplifting almost to the point of euphoria. In my earlier life I never questioned what such feelings might mean, nor where they may have emanated from, however as time has gone by I have started to wonder about the source and meaning of those reactions. My curiosity was triggered whilst making numerous visits to a relatively quiet and secluded area on the fringes of the Peak District National Park. It is an area away from the popular gritstone edges and is frequented by far fewer visitors. I have visited the area on numerous occasions and while I always have an optimistic outlook, I have actually only captured one decent photograph in all that time. So why do I keep going back? There is obviously some emotional connection that keeps me interested, but what is it? The truth is....I don't know.

Academics have created a theory called 'Place Attachment'. It is defined as 'the emotional bond between person and place' and is a main concept in environmental psychology. There is a considerable amount of research dedicated to defining what makes a place "meaningful" enough for place attachment to occur, but it is believed that it is highly influenced by an individual and his or her personal experiences. Schroeder (1991) notably discussed the difference between "meaning" and "preference," defining meaning as "the thoughts, feelings, memories and interpretations evoked by a landscape" and preference as "the degree of liking for one landscape compared to another".

I have to acknowledge that I am far more a pragmatist than an academic, and consequently pay far less attention to academic theory than I do to my own sense of personal judgement. However, when I consider Schroeder's thinking I can align his thoughts on "meaning" to my own personal observations. Certain landscapes generate specific thoughts and feelings, and in some cases which I can link to specific memories of certain times in my life. For example, every time I visit the Lake District I am taken back to my childhood and my early introduction to hillwalking and the mountains. When I visit Scotland the landscape creates a connection with my family ancestors, which in turn generates an emotional reaction. In both cases, the emotional connection is not necessarily consistent in every area of those regions, but more likely to be linked to a specific place or personal memory.

In summary, I would acknowledge that I don't know the answer to the question I posed....."why do certain locations generate an emotional response in us?". In many ways it doesn't really matter, the fact that a specific location can generate an emotional reaction is a good thing, and one that I hope to experience long into the future. From a photographic perspective, the emotional connection can only help to stimulate our creativity, regardless of the source of the emotion.

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