Landscape & Memory.

“William Henry Fox Talbot traces a scene at Lake Como with the help of a camera obscura. He wonders if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably. Subsequently he invents a way of recording images permanently on specially treated paper, using the agency of light and no artist’s pencil.” (William J. Mitchell, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-photographic Era. MIT press, 1992).

Genius Loci
Title: Genius Loci.

So captivating is the scene at Lake Como it still inspires one to record the site. During a month long visit to northern Italy in September, 1995 I found myself overwhelmed with the beauty and charm of my surroundings. At the same time I wondered how much was I really seeing and how much was it the product of my own mind: the knowledge of the history and art, the layers of memory and myth that are associated with the northern lakes. On looking at the finished work that has been montaged and reconstructed, I think the answer is both. One hundred and ninety-six years after Talbot discovered the photo, how we see and record is still the subject of discourse. For many, the photo provides another way of looking—in this case rediscovering what we already know. It is in this capacity that these photographs explore the links between art history, painting, and literature.

Arcadia Redesigned
Title: Arcadia Redesigned.

In Simon Shama’s book, Landscape and Memory, he says that we are accustomed to separating nature and human perception into two realms but that in fact they are indivisible. He suggests that before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its’ scenery is built up as much from the strata of memory as from layers of rock. Because of memory, myth and the cultural habits of humanity, we have always made room for the sacredness of nature. Often our landscape from the city park to the mountain trail are imprinted with our inescapable tenacious obsession: the veneration of nature.

The Poetry Of Light
Title: The Poetry Of Light.

Underlying the above there is the question of public and private space. The many formal gardens that surround the lake were developed by wealthy families or church cardinals when they built their sumptuous villas. Now many of these great houses are public museums or government facilities, which along with their gardens are open to the public. How does this change our perception of the spaces we view? Once the private nooks were the scenes of romance, liaisons and whispered gossip. The statuary and fountains were symbols of power that comes with wealth and influence. The vast lawns, the clipped hedges, topiary, water fountains and flower beds required an army of groundskeepers who would have had lifelong security working for the wealthy owner. Today the visitors wander through, keeping to the prescribed paths, reading the occasional descriptive placard and gazing around at the empty vistas that are now only partially tended. It is our memory that colours our vision .

Repose for the Senses
Title: Repose for the Senses.
Swift was Their Silence
Title: Swift was Their Silence.

My latest work focuses on European gardens, parks and landscape in France and Ireland as well as Italy. In these photographs I am aware that nature has been shaped and controlled by aesthetic intent. Sometimes the human shaping of natural elements is designed to intensify nature's supra-human presence; other times it may create order out of chaos. There are no people in these idealized visions; only stone replicas of heroic figures in myth and literature.

The Veneration of Nature
Title: The Veneration of Nature.

The aboriginal belief that the gift of rock is strength, wisdom, power and love may be why we have over centuries added stone figures to our engineered landscapes. This notion is linked to memory. Stone in all its forms, both natural and transformed adds an aesthetic element that symbolizes or represents a variety of responses in the viewer., depending on their knowledge of the history, art and literature of the time. Most of the landscapes are culturally known images. I ask the viewer to look at these in new ways.

A solo exhibition at the James Baird Gallery, St.John’s, Newfoundland. January 8 to February 20, 1998. Part of this series was shown as Lago di Como, a solo exhibition at Maison V, Vancouver, BC. November 7 to January 7, 1997.