Why is Sehnsucht an important concept in Landscape Photography?

  Sehnsucht is a Germanic language word with no complete English translation. It means longing or to yearn, combined with a desire for something missing. Often, the yearning pervades the person and is interpreted as a state of malaise. The Welsh word Hiraeth, from the Brythonic language1; is a yearning for a place tinged with sadness over its loss – the person having been removed in space or time. Like Sehnsucht, Hiraeth is personal, and the reflection of the loss becomes the act and conclusion.

  C.S. Lewis in his writings stated that Sehnsucht “was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?” 2. He interpreted this German word as a search for personal contentment, a fulfilment that could be elusive and incomplete. Offering tranquility, it becomes habitual, a pleasurable and potentially painful journey.

  He recognised this search as personal, stating, “Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw – but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him3.

Gadael Dyffryn Nantlle, Gogledd Cymru.*

  Sehnsucht in photography becomes a concept of absence or loss, defined by time and place. Place is where the event is deemed to have occurred; time is when it transpired, and the search is the why. Fay Godwin and Raymond Moore4 both successfully apply these concepts and recognise time; its associations, its presence in a process, and importantly it’s positioning in relation to their search. To visit and capture is not enough, senses have to be attuned to the possibilities – Godwin, through research and observation, and Moore, through scrutiny and reflection.

  Sehnsucht elevates and defines a personal ‘search’, from the mundane recording of dramatic vistas, towards a personal interpretation of what is discovered. The ‘search’ distinguished the proliferation of average imagery towards the memorable; away from replication towards interpretation – where the observed content is often hidden to the casual viewer.

* Leaving Nantlle Valley, North Wales.

1 Old Irish (sírecht), Breton (hiraezh) and Cornish (hyreth, hereth)

2 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955, p.16.

3 C S Lewis. The Problem With Pain, (NY Macmillan, 1938 p.145.

4 See other journal entires and resources for amplification of their contribution.

Further reading and resources:

Barbara Diener. (2014). Sehnsucht.

C S Lewis (1943). The Pilgrims Regress

C S Lewis. The Problem With Pain

Matthew Arnold, On the Study of Celtic Literature, NY: Macmillan, 1907

Corbin Scott Carnell, Bright Shadow of Reality: C.S. Lewis and the Feeling Intellect, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974

Roderick Peters. (1985). Reflections on the Origin and Aim of Nostalgia. Journal of Analytical Psychology. 30 (2)


Understanding Raymond Moore: The Print

A visit to the Photography archives at National Media Museum.


Plenty has been written about the work of Raymond Moore, maybe more than the availability of his photographs, (due to his ‘estate being in storage’). Images are on the internet for inspection; or in his two books, (although in all cases print quality is compromised).

Can an actual photograph reveal more of his intentions?
A detailed study of my copy of Murmurs at Every Turn, 1981, Travelling Light, ISBN10:0906333121 revealed the print quality to be average, probably a cost consideration, but is does not detract from the enjoyment.

The words of the poet Jonathan Williams has always provided insight;
often human,
of something that happened,

then things
got very quiet…

If you balance this idea of something having happened, with “subtle studies of meaning” as Graham Clarke states on p.70 of The Photograph, we have an accepted idea of what Raymond Moore was about. But did Raymond Moore see his images of places, once active, now fallen quiet, or potentially laden with subtle meaning.

As he stated when commenting on the photograph Dumfriesshire, 1985. “The excitement– dare I say beauty? (I hate the bloody word!) – is in the coherence of forms. I nearly froze waiting for that bus to loom out of the mist and work against the sign.”

I visited the Archive department at National Media Museum in December 2015 wanting to believe I understood his work, but after inspecting the print of Dumfriesshire 1985 I concluded I did not.

Typical internet copy, with no indication of the bus, as Moore describes.

The photograph was not of waiting, or even an event passed or introducing subtlety of meaning. It is of something that is happening. The internet or a book barely reveal the approaching bus which provide form, but also activity. The place is alongside an important route, the location is intersected, but not forgotten – maybe important to a few.

He is recognised for his strong sense of place and its conjunction with time; applying aesthetic form within the spatial dynamics offered. Why did he emphasise distance at the expense of foreground; maybe because the centre was not where we first thought.

After studying the prints, I believe something else is also happening; where the composition is solely resting with form, but where the choice of content is unknown. Often a tranquil location, but not waiting for something, nor where an event has passed –  potentially an entrance or an invitation, to see the world differently.

Maybe I should listen to Schubert more, his favourite composer; or take more photographs with these lessons in mind.