Thursday, February 17, 2011

3. Dan Holdsworth

Photography’s development coincided with new world discovery, and thus a palimpsest was born: the world mapped in actuality and, simultaneously, in the ether vision of technological reproduction. For early photographers, the location of this gap – between real and image, what’s there and what’s seen – was something of an alchemist’s pursuit; a quest for mystical truth via scientific method, gamma-spectra and physics, the primitive mechanics of modernity-voodoo. Aboriginal tribes understood its power as juju that could systematically distil the soul; Victorians used it for occult affirmation, proof of the spirit world and hereafter. Early exploratory photographs, such as Shackleton’s South Pole documentation or Carlton Watkins’s Yosemite stereoscopes, attest the world as its own paralleled dimension: virgin expanses, alien and vacant, exuding nothing but time’s eerily still hibernation and the oppressive predestination of fate.

Phenomenology of technology, place, and consciousness are mere starting points for Dan Holdworth’s photographs; neither documentations nor fictions, his landscapes evoke haunting evidence, a kind of empirical knowledge that extends beyond immediate cognition. For Holdsworth, photography, with its technical precision and inherent wonder, its malleable power of authority, is treated as a challenge to limitation’s excess. Taking up to a year to produce, edited through primarily analogue processes, Holdsworth’s photographs tease out the invisible ‘truths’ imperceptible to the naked eye. His fantastical images aren’t elaborate deceptions, but rather astounding articulations of what is actually caught on film.

By adhering to photography’s original premise – the obsolete principles of light and time compressed to the translucent sliver of film, developed in the blind claustrophobia of darkness – Holdswoth invigorates contemporary landscape with photography’s heroic legends and intrigue. His works take their lineage from 19th century fascination, positing today’s ultra-futurism – with its high tech aesthetics and globalised assumptions – as a continuum of the cyclical ritual of discovery and progress, underwritten by instinctive codes of desire, trepidation, and awe. Themes of sublime landscape, technology versus nature, hyper-modernity and spiritual drive are recurrent through all of his works.

Holdsworth emerged with series such as A Machine For Living (1999) and Megalith (2002), where familiar scenes of service stations, car parks, billboards, or broadcast towers loom as godforsaken outposts, antecedent inklings of a new apocalyptic frontier. Consumed by the exaggerated glow of neon and head lamps, the landscapes’ toxic-colour intensity and blurred movements suggest atomic fulguration, illuminating industrial structures like shrines. Holdsworth often uses extremely prolonged exposures to capture the ethereal essence of his scenes; the paradox of these images is that their hyper- acceleration is in fact slow-time aggregation: the lens’s observations over minutes, hours, days, record an unnoticed seething of energy, a plausible force of infernal propulsion.

In the mid-2000s, Holdsworth began to source his otherworldly scenes from the truly exotic: the science fiction realities of the earth’s ends, from Europe to North and South America. Key examples from this period are The Gregorian (2005), and Hyperborea (2006) series, which were respectively shot in Puerto Rico at the American National Astronomy and Ionosphere Centre, and in Iceland’s interior, the film location of Jules Verne’s A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Whether picturing a research centre in the guise of a UFO set deep within the jungle, or barren glaciers and mountains deadened beneath the spectacle of northern lights, these images recontextualise the far corners of the earth with faux virtuallity, fusing primordial wilderness and space age science in logic defying dimension.
Holdsworth’s latest series Blackout (2010) is inspired by the infamous power failures in 1960s New York, an event which threw millions of people into darkness and prompted panic of nuclear attack. Holdsworth’s enormously scaled prints, however, are of mountains dazzling with crystalline allure, refracting not in light, but rather its total absence. Taken in Iceland, a volcanic netherworld where day is night and ice is sooty pitch, Holdsworth’s negative images are literal double inversions; their black and white clarity negates all natural logic. Their effect is sheer magic, the sublime made modular and spectacularly tangible: glaciers transform with sculpted solidity, as if they could fit in the palm of a hand, escarpments buckle with the scratchy translucency of glass, containing prisms of spectral hues, and expanses of atrementaceous sky bear down, suffocating as all consuming voids.

The actualisation of Holdsworth’s images is made no less delusive; in reproduction his photographs appear as digitalised ideals, however in the flesh they are more suggestive of hand-crafted media. Sharp mountain-scape peaks or geometric architectural structures often convey a gem-cutters draughtsmanship, their strange aesthetics, like diagrammatical etching, merges ideas of mapping, engineering and futurism; while most others delve into the realm of almost pure abstraction, as illusively textured and gestural as painting, conceiving terrain as a palpable geo-psyche surface, a synaesthetic confusion between sight and touch. Holdsworth’s photographs recast the world with renewed mystifying power: as liminal spaces between reality and its dissolve. Each one a stolen moment, captured in the momentary blink of a shutter: beautiful, mesmerising, larger than life, and absolutely inexplicable.

Patti Ellis

See more work by Dan Holdsworth HERE

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