In The Wood, a series of diptychs made over the past year, Brian David Stevenspresents an intimate and contemplative portrait of a British woodland; in each of these tightly composed and subtle images, the British photographer carefully excludes any significant sense of horizon or distance, creating an image that draws the viewer in — embracing them — and allowing them to explore the natural beauty and detail of each carefully selected area, of what one assumes is a much larger woodland.
Whilst the wood in which Stevens works is close to his north London home, the beauty of these images is that it could be any woodland; allowing the viewer to impart their own memories and thoughts upon these beautiful images. Maybe it is the memory of a lone Sunday morning walk through a favourite local wood, with only the distant melody of the Song Thrush for company, the rhythmic drumming of a woodpecker, and an all too fleeting glimpse of deer as it passes silently through the undergrowth, that springs to mind; or maybe it is a recollection of childhood memories of play, with now distant friends that comes to mind; what ever the memory, it is the power of Stevens’ images that allows the viewer to revisit these these varied points of memory.
In an almost stereographic approach the two singular elements of the diptych overlap — in one of these images we encounter two tree trunks, their moss covered bark contrasting with the frosty woodland floor underfoot, a thick branch reaches out horizontally to the left, breaching the white void between the two and connecting the individual frames, and in doing so elongating the physical space. In another image, we stand before dense almost impenetrable undergrowth, with both frames appearing at first identical, yet as one looks on, allowing the tangled web of branches and grasses to envelop us, we begin to experience the subtle shift of perspective in the individual frames.
Like the physical space that Stevens’ depicts in The Wood, this series is free from the restrictions of time and society; a walk through the woods, either alone or with a loved one, becomes a dialogue with nature, where one becomes lost in personal thought and contemplation; as we look at, and experience Stevens’ images, we become lost as the power of nature washes over us, embracing us, and slowly revealing its secret paths, that free us from the stress of everyday life, and allowing us to discover and experience our inner emotions and thoughts.
In 2009 Brian David Stevens began a personal journey around the coastline of the British Isles — a journey that will culminate in him visiting all 34 coastal counties — where he would record not the transition between land and sea, but the view out to sea and and the unseen world hidden beyond the not so distant horizon; a world that has inspired a nation of sea lovers for generations. Working with the diptych that we first saw in his series The Wood, this new body of work titled Brighter Later, takes its name from a phrase frequently heard on the BBC’s radio programme, theShipping Forecast, that offers an essential — and at times even life saving — broadcast four times a day of the weather conditions around the British Isles, to those fishermen and sailors battling the elements in areas with such intriguing if not iconic names as: Viking, Dogger, German Bight, Fastnet, Trafalgar and Fisher.
With their restricted colour palettes these images appear like identical twins, each demanding time and contemplation from the viewer to fully understand the individual complexities of their personalities and the relationship that one holds with the other. In Conway, a mid grey sea appears almost mirror like below a sky of cold cloud. On the horizon the feint outlines of a wind farm can just be made out. As we look at the second frame of the Conway diptych the scene appears unchanged, but slowly, very slowly the subtle nuances begin to reveal themselves; the intensity of the sea breeze appears to have increased between the two frames, heightening the sense of texture in the sea’s surface, whilst the cloud base appears to have moved altering the play between light and shadow on the seas otherwise relatively calm surface, and in the second frame a small traditional fishing boat has appeared as if from nowhere.
The tide rushes in enveloping the warm peachy hues of the sandy beaches of Lancashire, above a pale blue sky is punctuated by fluffy white clouds. As we look at these two frames, the differences once again begin so slowly unfold uniting the overlapping frames, suggetsing a change in position between his two exposures — although no change in view point has actually been made — revealling the overlapping connection once more. The swirl of white sea foam in the bottom right corner of the first composition, is now on the left hand side of the second exposure, the clouds too have drifted across the frame. Sitting upon a blanket of white, an elongated cloud stretches across the two photographic frames in Lothian — uniting the two — in the first the silhouette of a vast oil tanker appears on the distant horizon, perfectly placed at the centre of the Stevens composition, in the second image the same tanker appears much further to the right, on the verge of exiting the field of view. Whilst much of this photograph, the position of the cloud, the light that dances on the glistening waters surface suggests that these two images where made just a few seconds apart, the ship suggests that actually a greater period of time has elapsed between the two exposures.
On the Suffolk coast, the pale grey sea blends seamlessly with the grey sky that lingers above, the only colour coming from a slim slither of blue the breaks through the uniform greyness, bisecting Stevens composition. On the Sussex coast, a veil of mist hangs above an aqua sea, in the top right of this minimalist image the merest hint of blue, muted by the mist struggles to break fourth. In the second frame, this splash of blue has spread slowly across the frame as the mist slowly rolls back, whilst on the horizon a finger of previously unseen land emerges from behind the secretive veil.
In The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald describes the sea anglers along the shore near Lowestoft, he writes: ‘I do not believe that these men sit by the sea all day and all night so as not to miss the flounder rise or the cod come in to shallower waters, as they claim. They just want to be in a place where they have the world behind them, and before them nothing but emptiness.’ It is text that eloquently sums up Stevens photographs. Brighter Later is a series of images marked by the subtle nuances of change, that require the viewer to not simply look upon the photographic image, but allow these gentle photographs — like the sea itself — to flow over them; and in doing so they are not so much about the here and now, but an optimistic representation imbued with a sense of hope and the better things to come.
ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT BRIAN DAVID STEVENS 2007-2010 THEY MUST NOT BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT PRIOR PERMISSION CONTACT briandavidstevens AT talk21.com
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