Somerset House

14 March – 28 April 2013
Daily 10.00-18.00 (Last admission 17.30)

East Wing Galleries, East Wing. Terrace Rooms & Courtyard Rooms, South Wing
Free admission

Until recently I associated Somerset House with winter Ice Skating. That’s probably unfair, but also true. The WPO exhibition last year changed my opinion, and since then the excellent Henri Cartier-Bresson – A question of colour has made me think of Somerset House as one of Londons premier venues for photography based exhibitions.

William Ewing, who curated Henri Cartier-Bresson – A question of colour, has also organised and compiled this current show Landmark: the Fields of Photography. I’ve stuffed this review full of links to the work in the exhibition, do check them out.

Landscape is obviously a huge subject, the exhibition is divided by loose definition into sub themes; Sublime, Pastoral, Witness, Landmark, Scar, Datum, Delusion, Control, Hallucination and Reverie.  

The way Ewing has divided the images into subsections is very successful. It could easily be argued that the subheadings aren’t strict, (does the satellite image in ‘Sublime’ really belong in ‘Datum’?), but this argument is for pedants.  Field of photography pulls a sense of order form a collection of images which could easily have seemed disperate or fragmented otherwise. It gently expands the viewers expectations of landscape. Just as importantly it informs its audience, putting them in touch with a broad spectrum of motivations photographers have for taking a picture.

I was immediately struck by the enormous ice cliffs shown on opposite walls  in the ‘Sublime’ section shot by Olaf Otto Becker, the huge fibrous prints bookend this section, which also contains well thought out interpretations of lanscape; the ‘Sunburned’  series for example, where Chris McCaw tracks the sun accross sky in different parts of the world, which witnesses solar activity in an unusual yet accurate way.

I’m sure everyone will have their favourites, but I happen to believe ‘Scar’ is a one that many will be impressed with. The Burtynsky image shown on the poster is taken from this section which show scars as evidence of mans interference with landscape. The poster image and may others describe a polluted earth and devastated landscape – In addition to Burtynsky see Daniel Beltra / Rainforest Amazon which I find oddly reminiscent of some WWI paintings. The scar section also has softer descriptions of how we relate to lansdscape and how we can be vulnerable to it; Michael Lights bizarre image of a golf course in Nevada and housing precariously positioned on the ledge of a cliff, which leaves us feeling a little uneasy.

Less traditionally Ewing has also included images collected as data in the ‘Datum’ section. I’m not sure how some of them were gathered, satellite perhaps? It seems that one, XYZ Volume Yosemite – D Holdswerth, is closer to data gathered to describe a landscape – removing us from the more comfortable traditions of photography altogether and, as his website states, ‘appropriating technology that provides a stark new picture of the changing planet…’ Something in the sterile digital recording lends itself to portraying landscapes in this uncanny way.

Simon Roberts images are also impressive, these are shown in the ‘Pastoral’ section. As well as a collection of images from his book We English, the image (shown below) of the equestrian event at the Olympic Games Greenwich is beautifully executed. London almost looks like a model village, an ideal version of itself.

There’s far too much to examine here, I have only covered a few of the rooms. I would urge anyone with an interest in landscape imagery, or just beautifully executed photographs to visit. You wont regret it. Not like I regret accidentally publishing my posts, instead of ‘saving a draft’, before they’re finished and then frantically trying to get them finished before I look like an illiterate half-wit. Sorry if you read the rough version from late on Wednesday, it’s much better now.

Simon Roberts – from his XXX Olympiad Series. Please excuse the text!