Overview participating photographers
Finnskogen, literally ‘Forest of the Finns’, lies on the border between Norway and Sweden. Finnish immigrants settled in this large, continuous forest in the early seventeenth century. These Forest Finns burnt down parts of the forest, grew food for several years and then migrated to another area. This was an early method of land reclamation for the benefit of agriculture, a quick way to create fertile soil with the ash acting as a fertiliser. The Forest Finns’ relationship with nature was rooted in eastern shamanistic tradition, in which rituals, incantation and magic symbols served as practical, everyday tools. In Norway, they now form a recognised national minority, which one can choose to be part of regardless of one’s actual descent. In SLASH & BURN, Terje Abusdal refers to their way of life, while researching what it means to be a Forest Finn in a time when their culture and language have long since disappeared.
During a day at the beach, Catherine Balet realised that she no longer saw the ocean as soothing but as hostile – full of plastic, chemicals and other types of pollution – while the people around her behaved as if nothing had changed. Here she portrays her fundamental relationship with nature, calling into question the idea – and the portrayal – of pristine nature. For FROM EARTH WITH LOVE, Balet delved into classical painting searching for depictions of the supposed original state of nature and the representation of the Garden of Eden. She translated these depictions to the current state of the environment, placing carefree people in a hostile and polluted natural world. This creates an unsettling image of nature, whereby Balet raises awareness in a playful, parodic way. The black and white images on the wall stand for the harsh reality, the colourful postcards of which show an idealised image.
What will the earth look like after the current Anthropocene, in a future era in which humanity has long since disappeared but the world’s climate is still being affected by our activities? In this research, Lionel Bayol-Thémines uses special software to adjust the digital code of landscape photographs. The alienating landscapes resulting from this together with the three-dimensional presentation show an artificial nature. The installation HIGH LAND has the profile of a wave, as if the threat of climate change has spread to areas that have been spared until now. By presenting his work three-dimensionally and experimenting with the form in which mountain landscapes are traditionally depicted, Bayol-Thémines reveals the invisible mutations of the landscape through human activity – from industrial pollution and radiation to the impact of biotechnologies. HIGH LAND is part of the larger project Silent Mutation (Post Anthropocene).
Sergio Belinchón’s painterly images may look photoshopped, but they are all photographs of natural caves dramatically lit for tourists. Caves are impressive natural settings, having emerged over a timespan of millions of years, long before humans existed. The special lighting adds an artificial layer to these powerful places and forms an appropriation that more than clarifies the human impact on nature. In 1876, King Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned the Venus Grotto to be built in one of his castles. This artificial dripstone cave, which could be illuminated in the colours red, green and blue, is where the monarch listened to Wagner’s operas. The sense of kitsch that this cave evoked in Belinchón was also something he encountered in the caves that he photographed for the project VENUS GROTTO.
In her series NO BLOOD STAINED THE WATTLE, Aletheia Casey uses the violent conflicts and mass murders that took place during the colonisation of Tasmania to investigate how the earth bears traces of historical traumas. The Tasmanian aboriginals lived there for forty thousand years, until the British invasion destroyed their lives in 1803. The conflict led to the Black War, a guerrilla war that forms the backdrop to Casey’s work. With her portraits of descendants of indigenous Tasmanians, she tells the story of a people deeply connected to their land. Casey took her photographs in places where mass murders occurred and where she believes the spirit of the people still roams today. She treated the photographic film using pigments and stones from the area, as a symbol of our history, of our origin that needs to be better understood. The title is a cynical reference to the myth of a bloodless immigration – the wattle flower is a national Australian symbol.
In UR AITZ, Jon Cazenave gives photographs a new layer of meaning, inspired by visits to Paleolithic caves in various locations across Europe. He paints his images with mineral pigments that he extracts from the very same nature he has photographed. For this, he uses the same painting technique that people from the Paleolithic period, many thousands of years ago, must have used to create ritual cave wall paintings. In juxtaposing the pigments with a documentary depiction of the nature they are derived from, he evokes various layers of reality. Cazenave creates a meeting of the present with our most ancestral past, from a time when the term ‘landscape’ was still free from the human cultural gaze. The title of his series refers to the rock – aitz in Basque – from which the pigment is extracted, and the water – ur – which it is subsequently diluted with.
Twenty years ago, an alternative couple created a labyrinth in utmost secrecy in the mountains of Patagonia, the southern tip of South America, in an area destroyed by forest fires. Alejandro Chaskielberg discovered the maze while on a camping trip and was spellbound: losing a sense of direction, everyone who walked through the labyrinth seemed to become enchanted, forgetting the world outside and becoming acquainted with their soul. Chaskielberg used this notion as a metaphor for the whole of Patagonia, which he sees as one big labyrinth. In LABERINTO, he portrays the magic and mystery of the landscapes and inhabitants of Patagonia by blending landscape art, night photography and portrait photography. He asked people from local communities to take part in cinematographic scenarios, painting trees and paths, and using torches to create various landscape artworks which he subsequently captured on camera.
Sheltering behind the ominous beauty of these Mediterranean landscapes, silently bathing in moonlight is a long history. For most of us, the beaches of southern Europe evoke associations of holidays, relaxation and leisure. As a cultural cradle and one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, the region around the Mediterranean Sea has been linked to tourism, but also to trade and migration flows since time immemorial. As we can see on the news, the depicted beaches still function as arrival places for people who have left everything behind, in search of a new future, travelling with only the light of the moon and the stars as a compass. By photographing these Mediterranean beaches at night, Juan Fabuel strips the holiday destinations of their previous meaning. They become anonymous places, awaiting interpretation. The series is named after the number of kilometres that separate Europe from Africa.
The photographs shown in TERRARIA GIGANTICA: THE WORLD UNDER GLASS were made in Biosphere II. It is one of the world’s largest indoor landscapes where plants are grown in carefully imitated ecosystems, for the entertainment and education of tourists and to support scientific research. Biosphere II was designed in the eighties as an airtight replica of the earth, for the purposes of research into space colonisation – Biosphere I is our earth itself. The experiment failed and the venue is now used for research and education on sustainability. These and other architectural and engineering wonders, with ecosystems that would be impossible to exist elsewhere, are symbols of our complex relationship with the natural world. Fritz invites the viewer to think about our responsibilities and our ecological future.
BERG is a meditative exploration of our relationship with the overwhelming, sublime landscape. Michael Lange follows the idea that the massive rock landscapes have merged over the course of time with the primal forces that created them. BERG is about raw, inaccessible nature, the cliffs and ravines, the play of the wind and clouds, the snow and rain in the immovable décor of rocks. By spending days and weeks in a row in the French Alps, exposed to the elements, waiting for the right set of conditions to photograph, Lange developed a deep bond with the mountains. This is the third part in his landscape research, which has previously taken shape in the series Wald and Fluss.
Claire Laude’s images are transient puzzle pieces, showing nature as if it were another world in a play on the meaning of ‘presence’. She considers the act of perception, as something ambiguous in which reality, memory and poetry come together. In WHEN WATER COMES TOGETHER WITH OTHER WATER, after the title of a poem by Raymond Carver, Claire Laude combines landscape photography with installations of found materials. She takes the remains of plants and trees out of their normal context and manipulates them. She does the same with traces of former presence in places where something or someone once lived. By combining elements of humanity, place and timelessness with faded colours and a minimal composition, Laude emphasises the vulnerability of the relationship between body and nature.
In JUNGLES, the viewer is submerged in images of a lush, tropical forest. Yet the strange beauty of these landscapes is deceptive: through her way of photographing, Olivia Lavergne presents a completely transformed, fictional rainforest. In her photographs the landscapes fall prey to her experiments, in which she uses strong flashes and studio lights – she takes suitcases full of them on her travels – to probe the forest with light. Illusion and reality become entwined, the first may even become more believable than the second. By making the contrasts stronger than they really are and using colours traditional to landscape painting, she explores an area while simultaneously subjecting it to a metamorphosis.
In TRANSCENDENTAL CONCORD, Lisa McCarty captures the spirit of transcendentalism. This philosophical and literary movement originated in the 1830s and 1840s in New England in the United States. It is characterized by a profound connection with nature, the belief in the inherent goodness of man and an independent and self-sufficient way of life. The core of transcendentalism was formed by a group of writers and philosophers in Concord, Massachusetts; the most renowned of which are Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. It was the first American philosophical movement, and their ideas still influence new generations today. Including McCarty herself, who spent just as much time walking and reading as she did photographing to create this work. In doing so, she pays homage to the ideals of this movement through the landscape that fed the philosophy of transcendentalism.
Francesco Merlini was born in a valley in the Italian Alps, which he refers to as Valparaiso. Despite growing up in Milan, he has a strong connection to this area. Not only did he often go there as a child, but his father died there when he was fifteen and his mother disappeared there a year ago without a trace. The love-hate relationship that Francesco has developed with his birthplace forms the guiding principle in his photographic essay VALPARAISO. In which he mixes memories with his dreams, nightmares and visions that have occurred in this place, in a silent photographic language that forces the viewer to pay attention. Every documentary aspiration went out the window when Merlini realised that he had never actually been interested in the natural beauty or the reality of this valley. With this series he simply wants to give a voice to a place that solely by being present in our lives, changes, protects and kills people.
The world of underwater plants is dark and muddy, but in UNSTILL LIFE Catherine Nelson presents an underwater world that can even be called human: it is both familiar and unknown. Nelson created a new form of nature, which she carefully arranged and transformed into a super-form of itself. The stems of the plants are turned in such a way so as to show their best side. Time is compressed: all lilies are in bud, while they bloom and die at the same time. With her digital images, Nelson refers to the achievements of humanity, which is decoding nature’s secrets at a rapid pace and trying to improve all that exists.
With these images of a pristine rainforest, with fauna from a bygone era, Paans examines the blind spots in our visual historiography. He modelled the rainforest after a nineteenth-century engraving depicting the earth before the existence of humanity. Our image of paradise is determined by ancient archetypes, colouring not only this engraving, but also our contemporary perception today. Paans furthermore investigated our re-creation of the aurochs (about the present) and our image of meteorites (about the future), subjects that we have an image of without ever having seen them in real life. The title RHINOCEROS refers to the woodcuts of rhinoceroses that Albrecht Dürer made five hundred years ago based on a handful of descriptions – no one questioned their truth for many years to come. The image, with all its faults, has become part of our collective memory.
MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE shows the changing metabolism of the earth. The American state of Alaska is so dependent on oil for its revenues that its economy would be comparable to that of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia if it were a country. At the same time, Alaska is one of the battlefields of climate change. The temperature in Alaska has risen more than twice as much as in the rest of the United States, which means that the once permanently frozen subsoil is now slowly thawing. The series consists of two parts. In DRUNKEN FOREST, Benedikt Partenheimer shows how the thawing permafrost leads to ‘drunken trees’. The trees tilt as the previously solid soil turns into unstable mud, a process referred to as thermokarst. METHANE shows the methane that has been stored in the frozen soil for thousands of years but is released by the thaw, further accelerating the greenhouse effect. With his photographs of burning methane, Partenheimer connects the two faces of Alaska – the large-scale extraction of fossil fuels and climate change.
Using a visual language stemming from early photography, Louis Porter shows genetically modified plants and the ownership claims that large companies put on them. The way in which we capture the beauty of nature is historically fundamentally connected to how we define and lay claim to it, both in research and in commerce. Companies like Monsanto and Bayer often receive bad press because they patent (in particular genetically modified) plants, yet a law that makes this possible was already passed in America in 1930. The last part of the title of this series is the same as a patent category of the United States Patent and Trademark Office: New Plants or Processes for Obtaining Them. Based on the illustrations of patented plants from the institution’s public database, Louis Porter made a series of cyanotypes, a photographic process that creates a cyan-blue print. In doing so, he refers to the emergence of the technical representation and classification of fauna: Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions by Anna Atkins was published in 1843, and is widely regarded as the first publication with photographic images.
Susannah Sayler & Edward Morris
THEIR WORLD IS NOT OUR WORLD is a photographic series and video essay about the Oostvaardersplassen. Roaming in this nature reserve are animals that are bred as pre-agricultural versions of themselves. As a result of the fluctuation in the numbers of such introduced animal populations, the Oostvaardersplassen has become the subject of a heated debate about what it means to manage a nature reserve and what it means to let ‘natural dynamics run their own course’, as stated on the nature reserve’s website. With their series Sayler / Morris explore the boundaries between wilderness and control, and the human desire to connect with the other, but also to dominate it.
In INTERWOVEN, Diana Scherer looks at the root system of plants as if it were wool. Together with several biologists, she went in search of a technique to control the growth of plant roots. She developed underground templates that roots could grow along, basing the shapes on natural geometric principles. The roots merge with the templates during the growth process, whereby they actually weave or knit themselves. Once the natural root system has steered itself into artificial patterns, it takes on the appearance of an unnatural material. She presents her work both as photography and in the form of objects. In her work, Diana Scherer explores the ambiguous relationship between man and his natural environment, which he cherishes and recklessly manipulates at the same time.
Claudius Schulze travelled fifty thousand kilometres through Europe to photograph seemingly picturesque landscapes from an aerial work platform using a large-format camera. However, each landscape shows imperfections; man has implemented protective measures against natural disasters that have become an inseparable part of the landscape. In the Anthropocene, the geological era in which the earth and atmosphere are affected by the consequences of human activity, extreme weather constantly increases the threat of storms, floods and avalanches. It is civil engineering that has so far protected us from the dangers that have already had dramatic consequences elsewhere in the world. Schulze’s photographs show a way in which idyllic landscapes are not only crossed by these strongholds, but often couldn’t even exist without them.
In her painterly work in progress TESTIMONY, Tara Sellios uses dried insects, animal skeletons and other organic material to capture the unpolished beauty and power of the natural world. She arranged the organic material in an extremely precise way, almost to the point of sculptural still lifes, which with their huge format refer to the tradition of painted altarpieces. In the composition, Sellios took inspiration from the end of time, filling the sky with falling or flying angels, demons and other beings. She wants to evoke an emotional response with her work, in which wonder and seduction, fear and aversion go hand in hand and appeal to the primal instincts that are omnipresent in the natural world.
In EVERYTHING’S (DIS)CONNECTED, Christine Simpson juxtaposes the beauty of all that lives with signs of a disintegrating world. In doing so, she shows the essence of the Anthropocene, an era in which the climate and atmosphere are affected by the consequences of human activity. In her digitally manipulated collages, she places natural and unnatural worlds next to each other, using the primordial element of water as a means to convey the disastrous effects of rising sea levels, pollution and melting ice caps. Thus, revealing how the intrinsic, natural rhythm in which ecosystems reproduce and renew themselves, is disturbed by human activity. The work shows our failure to take responsibility for the planet that we are so dependent on.
NATURE LOVERS consists of a series of videos that observe the behaviour of visitors to places with overwhelming nature. Taking photographs is a common occurrence at these places, especially selfies. This raises the question: to what extent does narcissism and the act of capturing and representing nature limit our experience of the natural world? By filming from fixed points and digitally adjusting the passing of time in the images, David Stephenson enhances the contrast between the immense periods of the geological eras in which that nature has emerged and the transience of man.
Singapore has a national identity as a ‘garden state’. With its many official green spaces, the city state distinguishes itself from neighbouring countries. Over the course of time, all kinds of ornamental and vegetable gardens have secretly been created in the dense urban forests of Singapore, as a silent protest against the imposed character of state-owned nature and the disappearance of natural places. With the thick foliage of the surrounding trees as camouflage, the existence of these gardens can only be gleaned from the people walking in and out of the forest with pots and plants. For STATELAND, Marvin Tang captured these mysterious gardens, while wondering how these cultivated patches of soil were created and what purpose they serve.
Terri Weifenbach planted bird-friendly shrubs and flowers in her back garden in Washington and feeds the birds in the winter and autumn. She receives visits from robins, cardinals and grey juncos, but above all sparrows, whose grace she comprehended during a quiet moment. In this landscaped nature, she zooms in on this commonplace bird, which can be found on most continents and which some people believe to be a courier of souls. Sparrows are said to bring the soul to a newborn baby or carry the soul of the deceased up to heaven.
After a summer full of forest fires, in an extremely dry and warm year, which is becoming more and more frequent due to climate change, the Valley Fire broke out in September 2015 in Lake County, North California. This fire, which ranks third in the worst forest fires, developed incredibly quickly and created its own climate due to the heat of its flames, resulting in unpredictable winds. Yelena Zhavoronkova was in Lake County at the time of the fire, experiencing the chaos herself and witnessing how the fire overpowered the population in a matter of hours. Four people died, and almost two thousand buildings went up in flames. In BURN, Zhavoronkova portrays plants that were literally in the line of fire, but resisted the flames, despite the traces of the fire on their leaves and stalks. Using the echoes of fire, she tells a story about life.
Playing in wild gardens and woods, building tree huts, camping, looking for mushrooms and trying to heal wounded animals: they are Thomas Zika’s finest childhood memories. He reflects on this in SOMNAMBULE FLOWERS, by creating a disintegrating Garden of Eden, which in turn is inspired by sketching in large books with wallpaper samples as a child. On a background of wallpaper or his own landscape photographs, Zika makes patterns using dried flowers and plants. He populates them with birds and snakeskins, puts flowers in the bellows of the large-format camera that he uses to capture the final images with, and places branches behind the collages which he illuminates with backlighting. He treats the footage months in advance with fungal spores. The excess of all these elements evokes associations of beauty, fertility, death and hallucination. The end result brings the viewer into a sleepwalking state of mind – ‘somnambule’ – in which memory and reality flow into each other.
Eddo Hartmann focuses his lens on several university research groups that examine the Dutch landscape, each from their respective discipline. Population growth and climate change emphasise the need for more green energy through wind and solar parks. Agriculture urgently needs to become more sustainable, new nature reserves must counteract the decline of biodiversity. Yet changes also bring resistance. The small country of the Netherlands is under severe pressure, in a field of tension between the values of collective heritage and those of the future. Hartmann followed, among others, the research groups of Henk Folmer (environment-economy/agricultural diversity) and Han Olff (ecosystems/nature-inclusive agriculture).
The work is commissioned by the University of Groningen (RUG) and Noorderlicht | House of Photography. This is the second edition of a long-term collaboration between the RUG and Noorderlicht, in which a different research field is photographically portrayed each year. A preview of Hartmann’s work in progress is presented during IN VIVO.