“This Is Hope”: See How Nature Survives Development in Sebastian Wolf’s Photo Series

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Sebastian Wolf’s Waterfront Wonderland captures suburban sprawl from an unconventional perspective.

Words by Yael Cohen

Photography by Sebastian Wolf

‘Waterfront Wonderland’ is a portrayal more telling of the landscape that surrounds it than of the city itself. The city in the images is Cape Coral, Florida. Its tropical landscape and winding canals set the stage of this holiday paradise. Quiet suburban life is featured in every image yet the subject that commands each frame is nature’s arresting force. 

In a time where humankind’s imprint on the natural world is perpetually increasing, Wolf decidedly diverts his lens from man-made structures and instead emphasizes the lushness of the environment. Here, luminous water and a capacious green are the central subject.

This series was shot with a Canon 5DS camera and Sigma Art 35mm and 50mm lenses.

This mirage of mundane daily scenes echoes a long tradition of capturing a changing landscape. Interestingly, the city’s evolution shares a common thread with the history of landscape photography; former grassland turned suburban development, Cape Coral was established in 1970. In the same decade, in 1975, landscape photography marked a paradigm shift when the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York, held the group show New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. The exhibition marked a move away from traditional depictions of transcendental nature and instead showcased images such as Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ stark industrial landscapes, Lewis Baltz’s suburban sprawl, and Robert Adams’s changing American west. 

“In the height of heedless development the series reminds us of surviving light.”

This series was shot with a Canon 5DS camera and Sigma Art 35mm and 50mm lenses.This series was shot with a Canon 5DS camera and Sigma Art 35mm and 50mm lenses.

The theme of 70’s urban America coupled with a fresh critical eye became a way to examine our relationship with nature in an era of disappearing wilderness. Adams later went on to expand on these meditations of a vanishing landscape in his book, Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values. He determined that landscape photography enables powerful insight: “Art asserts that nothing is banal. A serious landscape picture is metaphor.” What more, he suggested that a landscape photo reveals the significance of a place — that by highlighting the complexities in a man-altered landscape we are able to elucidate reasons for both despair and hope. “We try for alchemy. The goal is to face facts but to find a basis for hope.”

This series was shot with a Canon 5DS camera and Sigma Art 35mm and 50mm lenses.

If there’s one feature so prominent in Waterfront Wonderland it has to be its sway on perspective. Perspective on the wider realm of nature, our position in it, and above all on nature’s soaring and prevailing beauty. In the height of heedless development, the series reminds us of surviving light. By focusing on the presence of nature surrounding the city, Wolf’s photos draw a fine line between human impact on the environment and the resilience of the natural world. 

“Leafy branches toggle on electric wires as sunlight fills the front lawns.”

This series was shot with a Canon 5DS camera and Sigma Art 35mm and 50mm lenses.This series was shot with a Canon 5DS camera and Sigma Art 35mm and 50mm lenses.

In the context of Adams’s discussion of alchemy, this is not despair. This is hope, vivid through the edge of nature that never recedes; a wilderness that is far from serene but overflowing: Palm trees anchor the reflection in a swimming pool, a wilding tree claims the city’s pipelines, and leafy branches toggle on electric wires as sunlight fills the front lawns. Wolf’s creative gaze allows nature’s agility to shine through, rendering hope as the abundance of green.

This series was shot with a Canon 5DS camera and Sigma Art 35mm and 50mm lenses.

You can purchase the Canon 5DS camera here:

And the Sigma Art 35mm and Sigma Art 50mm lens lenses here:

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Sebastian Wolf