Female photographers, particularly those concerned with landscape, get very little gallery time compared to their male counterparts. So it’s refreshing to see Flowers Gallery inviting nine women to exhibit their work together, using examples from larger series. It’s above all a very thoughtful exhibition that works on many levels.
Each artist has a different take on the meaning of landscape. More than just an area of land, the definition includes depicting human relationships to specific places and the environment as a whole. The contributions range from the political to the personal.
British artist Lisa Barnard falls very much into the political category. Her three works include the painterly top shot, a small (12cm x14cm) orotone print using a gold-leaf backing that depicts Santa Filomena in the Peruvian Andes. There’s gold in them there hills, Peru being the biggest gold producer in South America. Barnard uses gold as a metaphor.
“In the 21st century, gold is invisible. It’s in our phone, in technology, the medical environment, it’s integral to how we live but nobody can see it,” she tells me. “It’s a bit like what’s happening with photography. With online platforms it’s becoming almost invisible, not only for monetary value but how we perceive photography.”
Gold is also a means for Barnard to talk about capitalism. Her works here are taken from a series called The Canary and The Hammer, featured in a book. Just as the canary was used in the coal mine to determine the level of carbon dioxide, so gold works as a barometer of the economic situation. When the price of gold is high, financial stability is low and vice versa.
Barnard also works gender politics into her theme. The women in the gold-mining area of Peru, called Pallaqueras, are forbidden to enter the mines thanks to an ancient myth that the gold would be sucked back into the rock if they do. It has kept women in their “place” for centuries though attitudes are beginning to change slowly. When receiving a Fairtrade bonus, the men built a new football pitch for themselves on the left above, while the women have to make do with a patch of ground, seen on the right.
Anastasia Samoylova is a Moscow-born photographer now living in Miami. Her series FloodZone extends a longstanding interest in the differences between natural and constructed landscapes. She uses the flood as a metaphor for the mythological flood evoking chaos in a society ready for change. Miami is prone to flooding not only from hurricanes and summer storms but also from a rise in sea-levels as a result of climate change.
Despite this, she is concerned that so many Floridians are turning a blind eye to the issue, caught between a tropical utopia and disaster. Colour is important in her work. The pattern in the left-hand picture seems to be an effect of water on the concrete, pretty but ominous. Again, on the right, pretty pastel colours surround the flooded area. “What I really wanted to accomplish with these images is not really any kind of statement,” she says. “It’s more of a proposition. I want people to start asking questions.”
Dafna Talmor was raised in Venezuela and has lived in many parts of the world but has settled in London. Her peripatetic life seems to have found an echo in her work. She has collaged landscapes from different parts of the world as a metaphor for the transitional nature of belonging in today’s globalised societies.
Her Constructed Landscapes series show how she has embedded multiple viewpoints within one frame. There’s a practical reason, she tells me, behind the fractured approach too. “It’s an attempt to address the limitations of photography in a sense of how I find it quite impossible to convey the actual experience of viewing a landscape and then trying to represent that within a single image. So it’s an attempt to compress.”
Talmor has stripped out all specific references to place and to human constructs like roads or paths. “As soon as you have some man-made element or person, you start to create a particular narrative. I’m trying to strip them of those connotations and hopefully leave more room for them to become these imaginary spaces that are still rooted in reality.” As a playful gesture, to sate any curiosity about the locations, the titles include a code which gives the year the images were shot, the number of negatives used and an abbreviation of the place. Answers on a postcard please.
Maja Daniels’s contribution to the exhibition is the most personal. The Swedish photographer’s work is multi-layered and multi-media. Elf Dalia is a book and film project set in Älvdalen, a rural community in the north of Sweden. Her grandparents were members of it and spoke in an ancient language, akin to old Norse, that has managed to survive over the centuries despite for a long time being stigmatised by Swedish society.
The region was also the birthplace of Sweden’s witch trials in the 17th century after a shepherd boy claimed to have seen a girl walking on water. It unleashed an hysteria which saw 280 people executed, 21 in the region, based on the testimony of children. When the news spread to Germany, a provocative illustration of the first execution is said to have influenced the Salem witch trials in America. To capture the eeriness and mystical nature of the area, Daniels has photographed trees there. She has allowed light to enter the negative, above left, before it’s been fully developed in order to create a parallel between the fragility of the negative and the near-extinction of the language.
There’s another level too. On the right is what Daniels calls a self-portrait. According to Norse pagan beliefs, man and woman were created from driftwood. The Norse idea of gods was that they were shifting – they could be an animal a plant or whatever. So she has taken some of her grandfather’s driftwood and created this makeshift character. “I’m thinking along the lines of identity construction,” she explains, “because obviously I have my heredity, my elements of family connections to this place but at the same time it’s all about what I accentuate and I’m another person talking to you.” In keeping with that notion, she has two self-portraits in the show.
She took the photograph with a very long exposure on a windy day. “By overexposing the image maybe 16 stops, you get a lot of shifted colours, strange colours. To me, that allows for the place to enter the work.” Eerie indeed.
With nine contributors to the exhibition, it’s impractical to mention every artist in detail. LA-based Mona Kuhn’s picture above, taken at a golden modernist structure on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, is part of a series entitled She Disappeared in Complete Silence that uses landscape to portray the complexities of human nature. Elsewhere in the show, there are works by Dutch artist Scarlett Hooft Graaftland, London-based photographer Corinne Silva, Danish photographer Rikke Flensberg and Hong Kong-born but Vancouver resident Kristin Man.
Her Ground: Women Photographing Landscape is showing at Flowers Gallery, 82 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DP until 31 August 2019.
All images are courtesy of the artists and gallery.