Capturing a hidden landscape

Artist Dan Holdsworth explores the relationship between landscape photography, science and technology in his work.

Thursday, 28th December 2017, 11:26 am
Updated Thursday, 28th December 2017, 11:30 am
13 Dec 2017....... Artist Dan Holdsworth with Museums Sheffield's Alison Morton and Amy Farry ahead of the opening of his new exhibition at the Graves Gallery. Picture Scott Merrylees

The effect is that his images seem virtually abstract as evidenced in Mapping the Limits of Space at the Graves Gallery.

The exhibition marks the UK debut of his most recent series, Continuous Topography, alongside key works from the last seven years.

It continues his investigation into both real and virtual representations of the geological landscape through a striking reimaging of glaciers of the Mont Blanc Massif in the Chamonix Valley, France.

The series is the result of painstaking fieldwork which saw Holdsworth collaborate with a research geologist from the University of Northumbria near his home in Newcastle. They produced hundreds of photographic images which were subsequently processed through GPS technology and sophisticated software to create a unique 3D model of the landscape, with every contour mapped in seemingly impossible detail.

The works, which Holdsworth calls a form of “future archaeology”, place the landscape in the context of the geological ages through which it has developed and will ultimately degrade. 

Through his use of digital mapping data, Holdsworth has expanded the photographic process in order to develop a new aesthetic language that explores the changing nature of human perception in relation to that of our evolving science and technologies. Whilst embracing the latest technological developments, Holdsworth’s work also openly refers to the history and tradition of landscape photography.

His 3D wall-mounted piece, Transmission: New Remote Earth Views (2012), is based on aerial shots of the national park around Mount St Helens in the USA from the NASA archive but he also referred to photographic mapping of the American West from the 1890s.

At Mount St Helens Holdsworth was intrigued that since the 1980 volcanic eruption a glacier has formed.

“It’s an unusual phenomenon, something that has inhabited that space for a human lifetime. There’s a fragility there in that it will evaporate if there is another eruption. I am trying to find a language for that.”

By offering two versions of the same view of Crater Glacier, one turned 180 degrees, Mirrors explores what is known as False Topographic Perception, the idea that confusion can be caused in the mind’s eye from aerial views.

Blackout is inspired by the effect of black volcanic ash on the white glacier landscape in southern Iceland which he photographed between 2000 and 2009. Holdsworth used analogue and digital processes to reverse what the eye sees. The blue of the sky becomes pitch black and the ice and rocks appear in negative white

There are no animate figures in Holdsworth’s pictures. “I want it to be a pristine experience for the viewer. There is the question of scale. It brings the perspective back to us, the viewer.”

It was as a result of an exhibition at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich he was invited to be a judge for the Astronomy Photograph of the Year he began to be interested in space.

“The aesthetics of astronomical photography began to have a big influence on me. At the same time I began to see the possibilities of applying scientific instrumentation in my work. I tried to use the tools of science and this result in a big shift in my work which was a risk at the time.”

Perhaps subconsciously it was influenced by his parents. His father was a scientist and his mother a ceramicist who used scientific material in her work.

Dan Holdsworth’s work has been featured in international solo and group exhibitions worldwide, including the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate in London and is also in collections there and at the V&A, Mumok in Vienna and the Goetz Collection in Munich.

Bringing his work to the Graves Gallery is particularly apt, he says, because of the John Ruskin connection and Sheffield’s location adjacent to the Peak National Park.

Holdsworth points out that there came a point where Ruskin had to choose between following geology or art and although art became his main focus he continued to believe earth sciences were fundamental to its understanding.

Dan Holdsworth: Mapping the Limits of Space continues at the Graves Gallery until March.