Catherine Hyland has won an exclusive commission to explore Austria

Austria. The Art of Discovery, a competition organised by British Journal of Photography in collaboration with the Austrian National Tourist Office, invited photographers to submit work for the opportunity to travel to Austria on an exclusive commission.

After an impressive number of submissions and a lengthy judging process, London-based photographer Catherine Hyland has been selected as the winner of Austria. The Art of Discovery. A Royal College of Art graduate, Hyland is renowned for her celestial images of rural and urban landscapes captured around the world. An exploration of humanity’s complex relationship with the environment exists as an underlying theme throughout her practice.

Hyland’s ongoing project Universal Experience captures desolate tourist destinations in the mountains of China and Mongolia. From monumental statues of historical figures overlooking the landscape to fences and viewing points demarcating the surrounding terrain, the photographer’s work highlights humanity’s attempts to tame and transform nature, both past and present. “Tackling themes of nostalgia and abandonment, the series captures the intertwining of natural beauty with the artificially engineered viewpoints from which people choose to observe and remember it,” says Hyland.

For Austria. The Art of Discovery, Hyland will embark on a one-week trip across the country through Linz, in Upper Austria, and Vorarlberg. Passing through sprawling cities and striking countryside, the photographer will create a body of work that responds to the people and places she encounters. A former European Capital of Culture, Linz is a UNESCO city of Media Arts and regarded as one of the world’s most future-oriented cities. Five hours away, the mountainous state of Vorarlberg in Western Austria is known for its towering peaks, forests and sprawling alpine pastures.

Below, Hyland shares how she plans to approach the commission. 

From the series Universal Experience. © Catherine Hyland

What intrigues you about Austria?

Austria is a landlocked country with a great variety of different landscapes; it is home to the largest lake in Europe and the soaring peaks of the Alps. The country’s size, at approximately 600 km on its longest east-west extension, is another element that particularly interests me. I’ve long been fascinated by both the landscape and architectural depictions of Austria, by artists including Rudolf von Alt and Franz Richard Unterberger. 

From the series Universal Experience. © Catherine Hyland
From the series Universal Experience. © Catherine Hyland

You will be travelling through the city of Linz, in Upper Austria, and the more rural Bregenzerwald, in Vorarlberg, what are you looking to explore in each of these contrasting locations?

In Linz, I’m keen to document the architectural landscape and the people behind the scenes who keep the city running, particularly those employed in its museums and cathedrals. My central idea is to explore tourism from both sides: authentic and purpose-built representations of the past.

A lot of my existing work examines the notion of beauty within contemporary understandings of landscape. Bregenzerwald, with its undulating hills, expansive plateaus, romantic river valleys and soaring peaks, offers a multitude of vantage points from which to examine this idea.

The vastness and remoteness of this landscape also appeal to me. I’d like to shoot from as high a vantage point as possible in the mountains around Bregenzerwald; photographing above the clouds if the opportunity arises. I’m also interested in exploring the canyons spread throughout the area, the white water trails between Lech am Arlberg and Steeg, and the gorge between Lech and Warth.

Wait-And-See Pudding with Patience Sauce. © Catherine Hyland
Wait-And-See Pudding with Patience Sauce. © Catherine Hyland

How do you plan to approach this commission? Do you have a preconceived idea of what your project’s narrative will be?

One of my main points of interest is looking at Linz, in Upper Austria, and Bregenzerwald, in Vorarlberg, in terms of a topographical spectrum. When tourists first started frequenting Bregenzerwald a valley area of many contrasts, borders and crossings it is said that they extolled the “charming landscape” as an “enclosed park”.

The geographical character of the area, and the touristic interventions within it are particularly relevant to my own practice, which focuses heavily on tourism and notions relating to enclosure, boundaries and exploration. Bregenzerwald is made up of 22 villages. This is something I’m also keen to explore, looking at how these settlements have changed over time, in relation to the availability of resources and the nomadic nature of their inhabitants – both people and animals.

From the series Universal Experience. © Catherine Hyland

Many of your projects explore humanity’s relationship with the natural environment: how we interact with and exploit it. Will you investigate this as part of this commission?

My work is always informed by the understanding of landscape as being, primarily, a cultural construct, and only secondly a natural phenomenon. In this way, it’s important for me to select vantage points that allow for a broadened perspective, whereby the inconceivable scale of man-made environments and their complex entanglement with the natural world are underlined. The people captured in my landscapes serve only as a visual device: providing a point of entry into contemporary landscapes of leisure. This element of my work is definitely something I will have in mind when shooting.

In line with this, while on the commission I would like to seek out a mixture of landscapes. In particular, I’m interested in those that might not be traditionally considered as resplendent. So environments that have been artificially engineered to create hybrid forms of social-nature for the purpose of enjoyment, such as ski slopes or renowned historical landmarks that have been reproduced in new contexts to capitalise on touristic desires.

Wait-And-See Pudding with Patience Sauce. © Catherine Hyland

Austria. The Art of Discovery is a British Journal of Photography commission made possible with the generous support of the Austrian National Tourist Office. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.