THE POWER OF THE SUBLIME
The natural drama of strong weather and powerful nature can be turned into awe-inspiring images
You could call it ‘how to enjoy a perfect storm’: the sublime is a special case in which we experience a sort of fascinated delight – which is difficult to pin down – at scenes and situations that are overwhelming, vast, and even terrifying.
If you’ve stood on the edge of a volcano’s crater as the ground starts to shake, or been caught out in the open with lightning strikes getting closer, you’ll get the idea. In fact, it was these kinds of natural forces that inspired many Romantic artists and poets of the late 18th century to create an art of the sublime. The essence was described best by one of the first writers on the sublime, Joseph Addison, in 1712, who wrote about scenes and events that were “…at the same time, as Dreadful and Harmless; so that the more frightful Appearance they make, the greater is the Pleasure we receive from the Sense of our own Safety.” Visual techniques for doing this work in both painting and photography, and include making the most of scale and height, towering skies, small figures in big landscapes, areas of low-key lighting (think dark, brooding storm clouds), a preference for backlighting whenever the sun briefly appears, and dynamic movement in the sky.
A dark stormy sky over an equally rough sea at Port Eynon Bay in Wales, with no colour worth speaking of, conveys a sense of the 18th-century Romantic notion of the sublime