We are delighted to be participating once again at the prestigious Aipad Photography Show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. We are presenting a specially curated show entitled Concrete. Outdoor. Nature.
Concrete. Outdoor. Nature.
An exhibition about our relationship to the environment.
"After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remainsthe bracing and buoyant equilibrium of concrete outdoor Nature." (Walt Whitman (1819-1892). I. Specimen Days, 103. New Themes Entered Upon, Prose Works. 1892.
Following a number of exhibitions at the gallery in London inspired by the poetry of William Blake, we are delight to present for Aipad Photo Fair in New York a specially curated selection of photographs stimulated by the writing of one of his greatest American heirs, Walt Whitman. Giving literal expression to Whitman's championing of "concrete outdoor nature" these photographs from the nineteenth and twentieth century explore our relationship to the environment through the traces we leave on our landscape.
In exploring our engagement with the land the exhibition addresses not only the present but the past, not only cycles of daily life but the historical landscape as a repository for memory.
It begins by considering the ways that photographers have imagined the land, first by drawing on the conventions of landscape painting and then through the development of photography as an independent aesthetic.
The exhibition begins with two of the pioneering photographers of the 1850s and the landscape of France. Two photographs frame this issue, two photographs of paintings. In each case it is explicit that the landscape, whether viewed as a panorama or experienced as a place of labour, is to be seen as a peopled place.
In Edouard Baldus's photograph, the men stand and survey the landscape and gaze across to the distant town in a way that suggest they are in but not of this landscape. Meanwhile in Charles Negre's photograph of a painting based on a photograph, the framing is literally and metaphorically everything. The ancient hillside town of Grasse is framed as a construct that suggests a timeless relationship in which the people are wedded to the place.
In each case the photographer began as a painter and the same is true of Andre Giroux whose success as a painter far surpassed that of both Baldus and Negre, and deeply impacted his brief foray into photography. Giroux's imaging of nature in oil paintings, pencil drawings, watercolours and salt prints - sometimes reworked in watercolour - stand at a crucial moment just before Impressionism. In these works we can see an artist engage with earlier traditions of presenting nature that reflect the tropes of the sublime, the classical and the naturalistic. Common to each media that he used is the presence of man: traces of humble dwellings and interventions into the landscape: pathways, wells, locks, farms, livestock.
Incredibly rare and extremely rich salt prints, by Jean-Jacques Heilmann of a road through the woods of the Pyrenees introduce a new dimension. These pictures show the improved road networks that were making travel so much easier, contributing, on the one hand, to the depopulating of the countryside and on the other to the burgeoning tourist industry. If Negre embodies stability and the past, Heilmann suggests the present and the opening up of possibilities.
In contrast to this celebration of a peopled landscape, it was conventional to present the Middle East as little more than the ruined remnants of once great civilisations. In J.B.Greene's photograph, ostensibly of the pyramids, all one sees is a horizon line, empty sky and a rugged, almost featureless, desert. In Palmyra, Syria, Louis Vignes seems to dwell on what is ruined more than what survives. This is a civilisation in decline, a place in which the desert absorbs the traces of man to provide a visual parallel to Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet, Ozymandias (1817):
"Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
With industrialisation and urbanism came a disrupting of harmony and continuity. As Harry Callahan exposes, in the big city, nature has to be sought out. At a public park he finds a lonely beauty in the skeletal trees of winter and the quintessential urban bird, the pigeon. In contrast to finding nature within the man-made Paul Hill, in the landscape of England, finds the man-made in nature. In his witty series of Mobile Objects, he echoes the typologies of the Bechers to record the agricultural implements used by man to tame his environment, including diggers, rollers and threshing machines. Similarly in South African photographer, David Goldblatt's photographs of a mining community, the land is to be exploited, this time for industry not agriculture.
Finally, in the nature photographs of John Blakemore there is sense of solace. Ambergate in Derbyshire, England is not a romanticised place. This is far from an epic sublime. Value lies in the small, the local, the intimate, the close-up. This is a place within grasp. A place to reflect and calm oneself. Long exposures and complex multiple exposures convey a sense of time, of one moment blurring into another. Here nature is a contemplative space, a space where the world slows down, a space where we can find our balance. After all that the land has endured, in Blakemore's leaves of grass we can at last achieve the 'buoyant equilibrium' described by Whitman.
James Hyman, 26 March 2016.
Additionally we will be bringing photographs by the following:
HENRI JEAN-LOUIS LE SECQ
GUSTAVE LE GRAY
GUSTAVE LE GRAY AND AUGUSTE MESTRAL
GUSTAVE LE GRAY AND EUGENE LE DIEN
© 2019 James Hyman Gallery, PO Box 67698,
LONDON. NW11 1NE