Traversing the states, and more recently the globe, I have experienced in the past three months the urban gentrification in New York, the status quo existence in San Diego, the pastoral bliss of the Yorkshire countryside, and the global character of London’s Bloomsbury district. Deeply interested in tracing the inroads of modernization as they are evidenced in visual culture, I have become increasingly aware of the polarization of geographic stereotypes.
The environments that I have recently inhabited have few outward similarities. The countryside vocally shuns technological encroachment while New York embraces technological trends with vigor. The broad generalizations that I have just made are intended not as absolutes, but rather as an indication that individuals in a specific geographic area tend to staunchly hold the belief that their regional culture is supremely unique. Life is either better with technology or without, it is either rural or urban. This separation of culture is vocalized, but in actuality the poles or urban and rural life are linked by modernization. Ironically, in this desire to be authentic, true authenticity is lost. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that our true origins can best be studied though observing a region’s past record of artistic creation, not its present body of work.
I escaped the modernizing trends of city life for the pastoral obscurity of Yorkshire dales before beginning my year of study at University College London. While in the dales, I took countless pictures the countryside’s present appearance to later contrast with painters previous 18th and 19th century depictions. Still picturesque, the dales, which I observed, have become tainted by products of industrialization. The inroads of modernization have influenced both their psyche and the physical appearance. Yet, glimmers of the regions pastoral pastimes can still be observed if one approaches the landscape with a visual reference of how it was once painted: pure. The grassy pastures, rambling streams, and roaming domesticated animals of the dales still represent the rural stereotype of the region, but this categorization is superficial.
Time and technology have led to cultural shifts in the countryside, which are similar to the larger more evident shifts seen in large cities such as New York and London. Thus, while present regional stereotypes are rampant, they are inherently flawed. Every region is affected to a degree by modernization; however, each region’s true past is not forgotten for it can be referenced in visual records conceived in past generations. Commonalities between the countryside and the city will become more physically apparent, linking our distinct regional cultures to an unprecedented degree. Pastoral pastimes will be preserved in works of art, but past stereotypes will slowly degrade due to the pervasive nature of world modernization.