A Brief Crack of Light

A Brief Crack of Light

The writer Vladimir Nabokov described human existence as ‘a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ Nabokov was concerned with the relatively short span of a human lifetime. Douglas Mandry explores a longer timeline – one that reaches from the earth’s geological past towards its possible future, and that encompasses the current era known as the Anthropocene. Though he works with photography, Mandry’s images are more than documents of a changing world. Some make subtle interventions into traditional representations of landscape; others bear physical traces of the mechanisms of climate change that define our relationship to the planet in the present.

The conventional landscape view is a visual device that creates a distance between the viewer and their surroundings. Modern cameras can give us detailed images of the planet from miles above its surface. Mandry prefers less sophisticated methods, not out of nostalgia for the past, but as a means of bridging the distance imposed by visual technologies. Thus his choice, in Monuments, to use the relatively primitive technique of the photogram, which requires physical engagement with the melting glacial ice that is his subject. The resulting images replace distanced views with material traces of the processes that are transforming the landscape. Similarly, the sheets of fabric onto which he prints – scraps of the immense geotextile blankets placed onto glaciers to stabilise their temperature – bear the marks and stains of the meltwater that soaks through them. The collaged and overpainted photographs in «Still Wonder» pay tribute to a Swiss tradition of landscape painting, while proposing a tactile and personal experience of place. Mandry’s work draws historical imagery of the region into dialogue with the present.

Many of Mandry’s pieces tend towards abstraction – an acknowledgment, in part, that the processes driving climate change are too complex to show in an image. They also challenge the complacency that sets in when we view photographs of events taking place somewhere else. Mandry’s images bring this ‘somewhere else’ up close, and in doing so, they raise questions that documentary photography cannot. In a time of ecological crisis, they suggest that there is more to be achieved by taking action than by sitting back and observing, sounding a note of cautious hope as we look towards an uncertain future.

Eugénie Shinkle, November 2020

A Brief Crack of Light

  • Bildhalle's Exhibitions 7