Commentary by Simon Hill, president of the RPS
This photographic project, By Degrees, was the inspiration of Mark Reeves FRPS and brought together the science of geography and the art of photography. Geography and photography have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship from the very beginnings of photography and this project provided such a unique manifestation of that relationship. It was exciting to bring together colleagues from the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and from the Royal Photographic Society in support of this project and I hope it's the beginning of a long-lasting and mutually-beneficial relationship between these learned societies. And it was a pleasure to serve on the selection panel for the project along with landscape photographers Vanda Ralevska and Joe Cornish and President of the RGS, Nigel Clifford.
Landscape forms the bedrock, the very foundation, of our social and cultural existence. It connects us to our historical past, provides us with a sense of place, and it has shaped almost every aspect of our individual and collective lives over millennia. The peaks and valleys of diverse landscapes have such influence on our well-being and quality of life as they wash, like a river, a sense of spiritual renewal over each of us. There is perhaps little wonder, then, that the landscape has proved such an enduring inspiration for artists and photographers alike.
As humankind sought to move or migrate over the landscape, drawing ever more varied cultural influence from the landscapes through which it passed or in which it settled and had to defend, it became increasingly necessary to be able to map those journeys, to measure and confirm a precise location, and to define the physical boundaries of any ‘owned’ or conquered lands.
In the third century BC, the polymath and founder of the science of geography, Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c276BC-194BCE), was the first to calculate the circumference of the Earth (which he achieved with incredible accuracy) and develop a precise method for calculating the obliquity (axial tilt) of the Earth. Using information from the campaigns of Alexander the Great (356-323BCE), Eratosthenes combined his geodesic measurements with his cartographic skills to draw an improved world map which, for the first time, incorporated parallels and meridians that derive from a knowledge of the Earth as a spherical, rather than a planar, form.
The Eratosthenian Graticule of parallels and meridians forms the basis of the modern Geographic Coordinate System (GCS) which allows us to precisely measure and communicate (albeit independent of height or depth) the coordinates for any position on the surface of the Earth. The coordinates are quoted in terms of latitude north (φ) or south of the Equator, and longitude (λ) east or west of the Prime Meridian that passes through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, London. Both coordinates are measured ‘by degrees’.
Simon Hill FRGS HonFRPS, RPS President & Chair of Trustees