Tag Archives: landscape

Robert Earnest – Last Night

In between running errands on Saturday I managed to slip into the Pendulum Gallery to view Robert Earnest’s exhibition (part of the Capture Photography Festival). This body of work which consists of Earnest’s personal work was the most enjoyable that I have viewed throughout the festival. Robert Earnest is a commercial photographer who trained in California, but is now based in Vancouver, Canada. Four years ago he was involved in a car accident and this episode put his commercial career on hold for a while. Part of his recovery therapy involved taking long walks and he did this in the early hours of the morning, mostly in the early dawn hours.

Photo by Robert Earnest

The photos were all printed on glossy paper and displayed behind glass under quite bright lights which unfortunately created quite a bit of reflection in most of the images, which also showed up in the photos that I took, so I can’t share some of the ones that I would like to draw attention to.

Mysterious and suffused with theatricality, these photos reflect an in-between time, neither day nor night, in which structures, objects and light take on anthropomorphic qualities in the absence of human activity.

Pendulum Gallery Media Release

In his artist’s statement Earnest states that “the colours of the night are more pronounced and quite different than colours and light quality during daylight”. Decisions have to be made on whether to colour balance to fluorescent lighting or to sodium-vapour street lighting. There is no right answer at night he says – only different. One can see this where he photographs mundane subjects like a pedestrian crossing in a semi-rural area. The crossing is placed at the centre of the frame with the viewer looking across the road, as if to cross it.  A copse of trees are on the far side of the road illuminated by one street light. There is an unearthly, mysterious feel as the light penetrates only slightly into the thicket of trees, leaving one to wonder what lurks beyond. A grassy median bisects the road and crossing, offering temporary respite and a final opportunity to retrace one’s steps.

Mundane objects like wooden steps in a grassy embankment take on a new life at night and his use of diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines and colour contrasts create a very dynamic composition.

Photo by Robert Earnest

I particularly liked his play with white balance. There are a few photographs of misty mornings where Earnest has used a sodium vapour white balance or a cloudy balance and this had warmed up the mist and created a rather ethereal and eerie atmosphere. I do have to say that it was also quite enjoyable to view images of places and landmarks that are familiar to me. Knowing what they look in daylight, makes me appreciate this body of work even more.

There is an underlying calmness to this body of work that speaks of a healing process too. The images vary from murky to vibrant possibly reflecting this process.

My photos of Earnest’s work obviously do not do it justice, but his work can be seen on his website at: http://robertearnest.com/sliders-list/last-night-slider/ .

Reference List

Pendulum Gallery (2017). Robert Earnest | Last Night [online] Pendulum Gallery. Available at: http://www.pendulumgallery.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Earnest-2017_Media-Release_Pendulum-Gallery.pdf [Accessed 30 April, 2017]

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Lewis Baltz – Portfolios

We’ve had a new art gallery in North Vancouver for about a year now, but this is the first time I’ve managed to squeeze in a visit to the Griffin Art Projects Gallery. The photographic exhibition, Lewis Baltz – Portfolios is part of next month’s Capture Photography Festival in Vancouver and I was lucky to get an early viewing. This is the first solo exhibition of Lewis Baltz’s work in Vancouver.

The gallery is quite small and I found its layout quite similar to that of the Gordon Smith Gallery – an ante room followed by the main gallery space with a standalone wall built at the far end of the gallery.

Lewis Baltz is counted as one of the New Topographic artists of the 70’s and 80’s and he photographed the American landscape in a detached Minimalist approach. William Jenkins compared his stylistic approach to that of Ed Ruscha’s detached point of view in his oevre Twentysix Gasoline Stations. Baltz’s work, however, is more stark and detached and completely devoid of people. His work is displayed in a grid format, thereby giving no importance to any one image specifically. The images work as a whole together and were hung quite closely together and framed with a thin silver frame which contributed to the muted overall tones of his images.

The series format suits his desire that no one image be taken as more true or significant than another, encouraging the viewer to consider not just the pictures but everything outside of the frame as well, emphasizing the monotony of the man-made environment. The pictures themselves resist any single point of focus, framed as they are to present the scene as a whole without bringing attention to any particular element within.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Fos Secteur 80, Element #1-21, 1987 by Lewis Baltz

The images in the exhibition expose the impact that industrialization has on the unconscious margins of progress in the American landscape. Images of the detritus produced and disposed of by urban development reverberate from the first few images of the town, increasing in shock and impact. The further one moves from the edgelands of the town, the more discarded builders’ rubble is found. Dumped old TV sets, dead sheep and pieces of sheet iron that have been used for target practice litter the outskirts of the town.

Near Reno, 1986 by Lewis Baltz

But throughout the various series the aura of total detachment pervades. However, something felt a little off for me. I think possibly the muted tones of the photos may have contributed to this feeling. They might not appear as muted in my photos above, but in many I had some difficulty discerning the edge of the photo and the beginning of the matt and the light silver frame didn’t let the eye stop to pause (maybe this was the intention). The grid presentation is quite “in your face” as you are literally bombarded with images from all sides and by the time you have read them all they form a blur in the mind.

The gallery is having a panel discussion on Baltz’s work early in April and I will see if I can manage to get to that as I think it might be helpful in understanding his work.

Bibliography

O’Hagan, Sean (2014). Lewis Baltz Obituary [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/04/lewis-baltz [Accessed 26 March, 2017]

Reference List

Museum of Contemporary Photography (n.d.) Baltz, Lewis 1945-2014 [online] Museum of Contemporary Photography. Available at: http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&kv=6860&t=people [Accessed 26 March, 2017]

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Exercise The Square Mile

The Brief:

In our earliest years we know a patch of ground in a detail we will never know anywhere again – site of discovery and putting names to things – people and places – working with difference and similitude – textures, smells – also of play, imagination, experiment – find the best location for doing things – creating worlds under our own control, fantasy landscapes.

(Professor Mike Pearson)

There is a concept within Welsh culture called Y Filltir Sgwar (The Square Mile), described above by Professor Mike Pearson. It is the intimate connection between people and their childhood ‘home’ surroundings.

Make a series of 6-12 photographs in response to this concept. You may wish to re-trace places you know very well, examining how they might have changed; or if you’re in a new environment you may wish to … explore your new surroundings and meet some of the people around you.

You may wish to explore the concept further, or you may deviate from this … focus on architecture and landscape … Try to make your final set of photographs ‘sit’ together as a series to communicate your idea. Give your photographs titles or write short captions if you wish.


Well, I could definitely not visit any childhood surrounds as they are over 16,000 km away from where I am now, so that concept was immediately nixed. I know my surrounds in my new city where I live pretty well and have seen many changes over the twenty years that I have been here in Vancouver.

However, ever since we made the move to Canada, I have been continuously fascinated by the concept of the alleys that run between the houses on a block, giving access to the back yards. This is something quite foreign to South Africans. You tend to have a driveway off the street and your neighbour’s backyard abuts yours.

In walking the streets during snowfalls one becomes disoriented, and can quite easily end up in one of the alleys.

It has always been a source of fascination to me to see that the front of the house that is presented to the “public” is usually well kept, tidy and neat, while the back yard and more precisely the area bordering on the alley can very often be the exact opposite of the “public” image. All sorts of disrepair abound. Fences are rotted and hang higgledy-piggledy all over the place. Unwanted items line the alley, waiting for a passerby to come and take them away. Moss overruns roof tiles and some old garages just need a big bad wolf to huff and puff and blow them down. Every alley is a potential playground for the local children.

Of course there are the houses that have the same “public” image in their back yard that they do in the front. But those back yards are not as interesting. I find them more bland and sterile. Perhaps it is their predictability that disinterests me.

Lately the neighbourhood is undergoing a rapid change. Old houses are being demolished and huge, new million dollar homes are going up in their places. The historical homes are fast becoming a thing of the past. (A historical home is classified as anything from 50 – 80 years here in Vancouver). Any wooden structure that survives past 80 years in this wet climate is just a mould trap.

In traversing the alleys around my home, one does come across some amusing situations, a few of which I have included below. This then is my Square Mile of Backyards as Seen from the Alley.

Brooms, snow shovels, moss and logs
Brooms, snow shovel, moss, logs, trashcans and composter
Mystery object under tarp secured with logs and crate
Mystery object under tarp secured with logs and crate
Wash basin anyone?
Wash basin anyone?
No speeding in the lane
No speeding in the lane
Hot house in the alley
Hot house in the alley
Owner is long gone
Owner is long gone
The builders only have to climb a three foot wall to use these facilities
The builders only have to climb a three foot wall to use these facilities
Little honey bee
Little honey bee
Three free chairs
Three free chairs
House demolished - time for new development
House demolished – time for new development
Straining to stay upright with this load
Straining to stay upright with this load

Since completing this exercise I have come across Michael Wolf’s work on the back alleys in Hong Kong in which he has documented typologies of the ephemera found in these alleys. His images are quirky and humerous. His subject matter ranges from mops, rubber gloves to clothing blown onto neon signs to broken chairs. The images abound in bright colours, imparting a playful impression on the viewer. How can we take these banal items seriously anyway?

Bibliography

Wolf, Michael (n.d.) Hong Kong Trilogy [online]. LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/michael-wolf-hong-kong-trilogy [Accessed 8 May, 2016]

Brian Howell: A Survey

Another line up for the Capture Photography Festival was Brian Howell at the Winsor Gallery. Howell is a Canadian photographer, specialising in large format projects. He is drawn to photographing fringe and/or marginalized communities and his style is reminiscent of documentary photography.

Most of the images on exhibit were from his Wrestlers project. The black and white images were large, grainy and very in-your-face. The grittiness of the images very aptly reflected the grungy surroundings where the wrestling tournaments take place and the type of people that attend these events.

Images by Brian Howell: A Survey
Images by Brian Howell: A Survey

I have only seen the big celebrity tournaments or Olympic wrestling events on TV, but the images in this series do not fall within those categories. They are not the play-acting scenarios or the clean Greco-style that is normally served up on the box.

Images by Brian Howell: A Survey
Images by Brian Howell: A Survey

One sees a working class audience with their prejudices attending the event, emotions on full display. Howell’s images make one feel as if one is present at the event. One can feel the crunch of bones, hear the crowd roar and smell the sweat and blood. The violence is almost tangible. The images have a strange mesmerizing effect – too gruesome to watch, too compelling to turn away.

In a sharp contrast to these images on the opposite wall was a photograph (almost abstract) of stark beauty. It was an image of a burnt forest during the winter. Although this image looks like a black and white photo it is in colour as can be seen if one carefully looks at some of the trees – there is a hint of orange from the scraped off bark. The image is comprised of vertical and diagonal lines of the upright and fallen trees, and this give the photograph a sense of movement and anticipation, reminding me of Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

There is a sense of peace emanating from this image, depicted by the fallen trees gently covered with a blanket of snow.

A couple of Howell’s other images were from his Shopping Carts series. Howell has taken various shopping carts used by the homeless to either collect items or to store their worldly goods and photographed them in a studio setting as portraits against a white background. In doing so, the shopping carts seem to become elevated in status – no longer simply containers of throw-away goods, but something of interest and worthy of investigation. By removing them from the back alleys and placing them in a pristine environment they have changed from objects of ugliness. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have changed to objects of beauty, but objects of intrigue might be more fitting.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the varied work that Howell had on exhibition.

Reference List

Frost, Robert (1922). Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening [online]. Poetry Foundation. Available at: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621 [Accessed 2 April, 2016]

Howell, Brian (n.d.) Brian Howell [online]. Available at: http://www.brianhowellphotography.com/ [Accessed 2 April, 2016]