Dan Holdsworth’s book Blackout, much like the work itself, is a deceptive thing. The more you look at it, the more you know visually, yet doubt all the same. You doubt your eyes, the process behind the creation of the imagery, you even doubt your reasons for looking at it so intently. This is the world of Dan Holdsworth, and this is his slowly revealing Landscape of Doubt.
To begin with, these are obviously images of mountainous landscapes, of glacial terrain cut and hewn with fast erupting or slow moving violence in equal measure. Rips, fissures and gorges creep through valley passes and sheer rock-face slices into cold slopes. The skies are the deepest black, and the peaks are crystalline white, threatening to pierce the darkness just as violently as they themselves were once thrust from beneath.
We are looking at what appear to be photographic negatives, the reclining, distant maintains fading into shadowed darkness, fading to black. The levels are perfect – but inverted. There is little colour on first viewing. There is cold, there is danger, there is threat – but this too is inverted. How so? The answer lies in the modern human brain, our associating with what we’ve seen by way of Science-Fiction movies, but also in what we’ve seen in science. For instance, NASA regularly transmit photographic images of planetary events and astronomical phenomena in negative, as it is easier to read the information the picture possesses when looking at a comet as it traverses the night sky for example. It is easier to see things in the blackout of space by visually inverting the image. Look at any set of images on NASA’s website and you’ll see the term “true colour” as they now have to tell us when something is real or a kind of visual fiction despite the fact we are supposed to be looking at a photograph as scientific document. This is the paradox of visual information transmitted through photography in particular: photography is a science-fiction.
The other Science-Fiction related to the visual language we have developed not only through NASA imagery but also through the history of film making and even text. When we read the words “other world” we automatically think of the Lunar/Martian landscape – dry, arid, devoid of animal or plant, apocalyptic. We see mountains and falls we can’t fathom from our little houses. But we do recognise these things all the same, as alien as they are, they are familiar, which is why looking at the latest Martian panorama is so exciting to us nowadays, because we recognise our own deserts, and deep down we don’t want to be alone in the universe, we at least want to feel our habitat can look like an alien habitat – even if it is appearance alone.
The particular landscape Holdsworth has chosen to photograph so eloquently is that of Iceland, home to the now infamous Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano which managed to cause one of the biggest blackouts in European skies for a long, long time. Iceland you see, is being slowly torn in two by a pair of separating tectonic plates and the landscape this creates not only opens what appear to be the gates of Hell in some of Holdsworth’s images, but also the peacefully awesome pathways of Valhalla.
There are just 20 individual works that make up Blackout, still a far cry from Holdsworths other series of three or five or seven, but in today’s world of “do I have enough to make a book” the number of 20 is relatively short. Published by Steidl (collaborating with Brancolini Grimaldi who represent Holdsworth), the book designer Simon Earith (YES) has overcome this image shortage by including enlarged details from preceding images to fully cover double-page spreads, which not only feels intuitive once you understand that they are details but also encourages the discovery of new fragments and fascination.
These images possess a level of nuance only an extremely experienced landscape photographer could ascertain. Without describing the many subtle qualities, it is fair to say the book uses its scale and editing to great effect. It gives the reader something more than a geological survey, it is in fact the foundation of a mythology not yet revealed. Ultimately, Blackout is a book that will insist on time being spent scouring the images, each page-turn encouraging further analysis – this Landscape of Doubt is actually full of sublime certainty.
Blackout can be purchased directly from Grimaldi Gavin here