The term nature evokes mountains, waterfalls, deep forests, and Ansel Adam’s landscape photographs. This popular association of nature with beautiful outdoor splendor began in the 16th and 17th centuries. The landscaped gardens of the British and French aristocracy, which emphasized the precise control of nature, were an early expression of burgeoning nature and landscape consciousness. The rise of landscape photography and painting in the 19th century coincided with evolving conceptions of nature, underway for several centuries.
Photography’s rapid growth is linked directly to interest in nature studies in the sciences and contributed to the integration of science with the humanities and arts. Romantic artists and poets, in the early 19th century, the French painter Rousseau, the English poet Wadsworth and the American writers Emerson and Thoreau, enlarged the appreciation of nature to include an uncontrolled and wild nature, and travelers began to seek out places to experience wild nature. Interest in natural studies appeared just as new theories of aesthetics, the sublime and the picturesque, encouraged viewers to interact directly with natural scenes. The expanding nature aesthetic fostered a new type of photography and painting made outdoors where nature itself was the primary subject. The appreciation for the wild and uncontrolled nature as wilderness coupled with the themes of the Sublime and Picturesque Movement generated a deep reverence for nature and pervaded landscape photography and painting by the mid-19th century.
In America, the poetry of William Cullen Bryant extolled nature as a work of art and “contributed substantially to the increasingly widespread nature consciousness.” The paintings of Thomas Cole and his students began to represent landscapes unsullied by man and contributed to the associations of landscape photography and painting. In France, painters, photographers, and tourists flocked to the Forest of the Fontainebleau, a place of pilgrimage and refuge from the rapidly urbanized world.
Exploration of nature as a scientific subject, coupled with the intensified exploration of all parts of the globe expanded previous concepts of nature. The budding interest in nature as a separate subject of study was propelled by new discoveries in the natural sciences. Geology, the science of the earth, became the apex of intense controversies.
Charles Darwin set sail on his famous voyage on Beagle in 1832, seven years before the announcement of photography’s invention. He sailed out on the high-water mark of the Romantic Movement during a period of growing interest in natural studies. With the advent of the photographs on glass after 1850, the pleasure of the photograph’s optical truths was instantly seized upon and converted to magic lantern slide shows. These lectures communicated the changing values of human interactions with the natural world. Darwin’s Origin of the Species, published in 1859, was deeply disturbing to the vast public of the 19th century, yet stimulated wide-ranging debates that filled lectures and courses in natural studies. Following the appearance of the first daguerreotypes, photographs took on a privileged position in the public discourses on nature. As a mechanical and chemical apparatus, as a product of science, the photograph was viewed as a guarantor of scientific truth.
“Nature is the incarnation of a thought, and turns to a thought again, as ice becomes water and gas.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature 
Ironically, the small, wild, and remote islands of St Kilda have played an outsized influence on the expanding concepts of nature, especially in Great Britain, and with the aesthetic movements of the sublime and the picturesque developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The unique landscape of St. Kilda and the island’s remoteness have remained important in nature and environmental discourse, and St. Kilda became the preeminent sublime destination for travelers.
St Kilda has fascinated travelers, writers, photographers, artists, and scientists for centuries. The island’s first representation appeared in 1698 in Martin Martin’s A Late Voyage to St Kilda. Most accounts of St Kilda speak to the spectacular remoteness of the island group and to the unique culture which developed in the isolation of the islands. St. Kilda is the remains of an extinct volcano with the ancient crater forming the largest bay of the largest island—Hirta. St Kilda Archipelago, the remotest island in the British Isles ever inhabited, is a stunning group of four small islands and sea stacks located in the North Atlantic Ocean approximately 100 miles off the west coast of Scotland and 40 miles west of the closest Outer Hebrides Island.
St. Kilda is the most important seabird colony in Europe and a remarkable example of “genetic divergence caused by the isolation of small populations”  including St Kilda’s unique human cultural history. The St. Kilda islanders were famous for their diet of sea birds, their climbing skills to retrieve eggs and seabirds from the sheer cliffs of the islands, and for the island’s cultural geography and history. For centuries St. Kida islanders were self-sustaining. Averaging about 180 residents through most of St. Kilda’s history, the islanders who spoke Gallic and little English, lived outside of the European and British religious controversies practicing a blend of druidism and Christianity. In 1705, the first resident missionary arrived and imposed a strict evangelical Presbyterian doctrine. Over the next century, churchgoing dominated the Islander’s existence. Their songs, dances, and games were banned. The Victorian era saw the arrival of tourists and epidemics.  During World War I, the British Royal Navy established a signal station on the island and for the first time established regular communications and supplies with the mainland.
The archipelago is believed to have been continuously inhabited for 2000 years  until 1930 when the 36 remaining indigenous islanders, ravaged by disease, emigration, and the disruptions of their traditional life abandoned St. Kilda for mainland Scotland. Since 1995, approximately 1500-2000 people visit the islands each year. Reached only by boat or helicopter, the islands have been a nature preserve since 1957; a small radar station and National Trust staff are housed year-round on Hirta.  The St. Kilda Archipelago was named a World Heritage site in 1986. As Fraser MacDonald discusses in his essay St. Kilda and the Sublime, “The story of St. Kilda is one to which many groups lay claim, with artistic, environmental and political intent.” 
Edmund Burke’s, A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, (1757) accelerated an unfolding of nature and landscape consciousness. Additionally, the French publication of Dionysius Longinus’s 1st-century Greek manuscript, On the Sublime, in 1764, greatly influenced debate and critical thought concerning the notion of the sublime. The sublime is thought to mark the limits of cognition, reason, and expression, and as Philip Shaw explains:
“Sublimity refers to the moment when the ability to apprehend, to know and to express a thought or sensation is defeated. Yet through this defeat, the mind gets a feeling for that which lies beyond thought and language.”
During the 18th century, the sublime was thought to be the force of the strongest emotion the mind can produce, that did not solely reside in the artist, but also could reside in external objects and in scenes and occurrences in the natural world. Burke was one of the first to define the sublime as inhabiting a space between pleasure and terror, and in the aesthetics of human perception. In Burke’s view, the sublime could be experienced when confronted by the sight of something infinitely large or something infinitely terrible or in the presence of something overwhelmingly powerful, such as a great storm at sea, or in the hands of 19th-century landscape photographers, a mighty waterfall. Survival, in these sublime experiences, must be assured, and ideally, experienced from a safe distance.
Terror and pleasure constitute the dichotomy of the sublime. For Burke, the Sublime engendered awe and even terror, as was best experienced in encounters with wild, dangerous, and uncontrolled nature.
The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case, the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it.
Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect. —Edmund Burke, On the Sublime and Beautiful 
The discussion on the sublime opened a new realm of individually defined aesthetic experience, which proved vital for the growth of artistic expression into the 19th century. Immanuel Kant, the German-Prussian 18th-century philosopher, expanded upon Burke’s notions of the sublime and differed from Burke in locating the sublime entirely in the mind of the beholder. These openings for individual perceptions were extended by the Romantic Movement, which incorporated both Burke’s and Kant’s views. These discussions on the sublime “constituted an essential preamble to the formation of the modern discipline of aesthetics.” Nature for the Romantics extended far beyond the key 17th and 18th-century concepts of Nature’s immutable or unchanging laws.
Nature for the Romantics was “the fundamental unitary principle requisite to reality, the principle underlying all beings and things and any one being or thing.” This association with Nature as a deity and the glorification of Nature would find resonances with artists and photographers throughout the 19th century and into the present day. As literary critic Carl Woodring explains, “the arts and criticism of the arts in our time have inherited both the glorification of nature and the view of art as self-enclosed; without reconciling them, we have tried to live with both the glorification and the self-enclosure” of nature.
The aesthetic appreciation of natural scenes, voiced in the writings of the Picturesque, encouraged viewing nature as a work of art and stimulated the rise of landscape consciousness. The Picturesque Movement greatly influenced both landscape painting and later, photography in the 19th century. Beginning in the 18thcentury, numerous publications and guidebooks on landscape and architecture were published. The Picturesque, as a landscape and nature movement, paralleled discussions on the Sublime. The Picturesque guidebooks were especially popular with a growing mass of urban tourists who toured the roads for beautiful rural scenery. William Henry Fox Talbot and Roger Fenton, two of the first landscape photographers, featured locations in their photographs mentioned in picturesque guidebooks.
“It is an old canon of art, that every scene worth painting must have something of the sublime, the beautiful, or the picturesque. By its nature, photography can make no pretensions to represent the first, but beauty can be represented by its means, and picturesqueness has never had so perfect an interpreter.”—Henry Peach Robinson
As a movement, the Picturesque proposed an aesthetic of beauty positioned as an intermediary between the theories of the overwhelming experience of the Sublime and the smooth, classical beauty of 18th-century Neo-classicism. The Picturesque, especially popular in England and America, gave people new ways to consider the landscape and located beauty within the landscape. As the philosopher, Crispin Sartwell explains, “Whereas the beautiful conveys to us its fragility, the sublime conveys to us our own.” Valuing “roughness, irregularity and decay”,  the Picturesque favored natural scenes that blended “the varied, and strongly marked effects of the broken ground; of sudden projections, and deep hollows; of old twisted trees, with furrowed bark; of water tumbling in a deep-worn channel over rocks and rude stones, and half lost among shaggy roots, decaying stumps, and withered fern.” In associating the aesthetic experience within decay and ruins, the Picturesque is the first movement to acknowledge the modern world’s separation from the past, and links beauty with “the poignancy of loss”caused by the separation from the past. These would become key themes for photographers up to the present day.
The Picturesque assumed familiarity with framing represented in landscape painting and by extension in theatre set design. Theatre design and landscape painting tended to distance the viewer from the scene and frame nature within defined limits. Overwhelming favoring a rectangular format, these compositional conventions remained central to early landscape photography. With few exceptions, though most of the 19th century, early landscape photography was linked to the traditions of established landscape painting and prints, essentially 18thcentury models.
Within photography, the Picturesque aesthetic, with its appreciation of the remote and the unknown, supported the Romantic tradition of individual perception. Photography ultimately broadened these modes of expression. Photography appeared on the scene at the same time as a heightened appreciation of nature and increased opportunities for travel. The photographic fascination for ruins and especially for depictions of decay and roughness can be seen as attributes of the Picturesque. Today, archeological sites represent an important component of tourism and are some of the most visited places on the planet. The widespread interest in the documentation of architectural monuments linked to national identity accounts for the high proportion of ruins appearing in early landscape photography. The long exposure times required for early photography favored landscape views and architectural treasures already popular with Picturesque tourists. The appearance of photography did not immediately generate a new mode of representation of the landscape but fell upon pre-conceived concepts of landscape or architectural scenes, which largely confirmed the tastes formulated in writings on the Picturesque.
The Picturesque exerts continuing influence on landscape art, landscape design, and architectural preservation. The national park movement of the 19th century established first Yellowstone, then preserved quaint and remote Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, an early tourist destination as the second national park followed by Yosemite Valley in California. These first tracts set into place a long-running nature and landscape preservation movement that began with the Picturesque movement. Landscape postcards, scenic calendars, and idyllic tourist villages also include the Picturesque consciousness. Even as it grew in popularity in the late 18th century, writers satirized the Picturesque in the 19th-century writings from Jane Austen to John Ruskin who expressed an ambivalent relationship toward the movement. In photography, the Picturesque is inescapable and continues to exert strong influences on the subject matter and landscape composition, and the success of deliberately anti-Picturesque photographic works hinges on assumptions of beautiful landscape scenery ground in the Picturesque for comparison.
Photographing at St. Kilda
Today, St Kilda is a dual National Trust for Scotland and UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserving the St Kilda landscape and architecture largely as the islands looked when the last inhabitants left in 1930. I was fortunate to visit St. Kilda under calm and cloud-filled skies in May 2022 —conditions where I was able to experience and photograph both sublime and picturesque subjects. I photograph St Kilda with a camera converted to infrared recording, a decision that intensifies the sublime and picturesque visual qualities of St Kilda.
In the morning and anchored in Village Bay, I watch the overcast sky slowly clear as I photographed the rolling hillsides of Hirta Island from Dùn Island and the small sea stack, Levenish. Later, from a Zodiac, I photographed the remarkable bird colonies located primarily on Dùn Island as the skies opened to reveal dramatic clouds over the ridge lines of Hirta Island from Dùn Island. Going ashore, I photographed an abandoned 4-inch naval gun that overlooks Village Bay and then moved to the spectacular rock walls running along the hillsides above the village. I then worked my way down the Main Street of the village as the skies filled as a light rain fell while I photographed the abandoned houses. These ruins are the quintessential picturesque subject matter where I felt a strong sense of loss and separation from the past. I slowly walked to the top of the ridge overlooking the bay and photographed several abandoned cleits (stone storage sheds) and blackhouses (original islander dwellings) where I waited for the skies to open.
In the late afternoon light, I photographed the cliffs, and the sea stacks of St Kilda, the same sublime subjects which fascinated the earliest travelers.
Nothing can prepare the traveler for experiencing St Kilda for the first time.
 Weston J. Naff, Era of Explorations, p. 16.
 Weston J. Naff, Era of Explorations, p. 16.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, p. 52.
 Fraser MacDonald, St. Kilda and the Sublime. p.152 >http://www.frasermacdonald.com/publications/
 World Heritage Site> http://world-heritage-datasheets.unep-wcmc.org/datasheet/output/site/st-kilda/
 Stories from St Kilda> https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/features/stories-from-st-kilda
 Ashley Cowie, Bronze Age, New Discovery Reveals> https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/st-kilda-discovery-0014930
 St. Kilda> http://world-heritage-datasheets.unep-wcmc.org/datasheet/output/site/st-kilda/
 Fraser MacDonald, St. Kilda and the Sublime>http://www.frasermacdonald.com/publications/
 Philip Shaw, The Sublime, p. 2.
 Edmund Burke, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Part II, Section I>https://oen.pressbooks.pub/guidetogothic/chapter/edmund-burke-from-on-the-sublime-and-beautiful-1757/
 James S. Ackerman, The Photographic Picturesque, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 24, No. 48 (2003), p. 79.
 Carl Woodring, Nature and Art in the Nineteenth Century, PMLA, Vol. 92, No. 2 (Mar. 1977), pp. 193.
 Carl Woodring, Nature and Art in the Nineteenth Century, PMLA, Vol. 92, No. 2 (Mar. 1977), pp. 193.
 Henry Peach Robinson, Pictorial Effects in Photography, p.15.
 Crispin Sarwell, The Six Names of Beauty, p. 18.
 Wolfgang Kemp and Joyce Rheuban, “Images of Decay: Photography in the Picturesque Tradition”, October, Vol. 54 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 128.
 Uvedale Price, quoted in James S. Ackerman, “The Photographic Picturesque”, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 24, No. 48 (2003), p. 82.
 Crispin Sarwell, The Six Names of Beauty, p. 18.
 James S. Ackerman, “The Photographic Picturesque”, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 24, No. 48 (2003), p. 82.
 Main Street, St Kilda, screenshot from St Kilda, Britain’s Loneliest Isle, a silent film depicting a tourist voyage to St Kilda abroard the Hebrides, 1923.
 St Kildan climbs the cliffs of St Kilda, screenshot from St Kilda, Britain’s Loneliest Isle, a silent film depicting a tourist voyage to St Kilda abroard the Hebrides, 1923.