Northern Light Caught in Finnish Landscape Photos (reprinted from East Bay Monthly, April 2018)


Northern Light Caught in Finnish Landscape Photos

The landscape tradition in painting now seems dated to many of us, too classical and aristocratic in the 17th and 18th century (Claude Lorrain), and too capitalistic/imperialistic in the 19th (Albert Bierstadt). That attitude may be attributable to the speed of contemporary life; we simply can no longer absorb such works; the world (and too many worldly diversions) beckons, and we dutifully hike on after—according to one study—a median time of 27.2 seconds, with 17 seconds the minimum, and 3:48 the maximum. Before us, and after, the deluge of images!

The New York-based (but San Francisco-educated) photographer and writer Amanda Marchand presents in True North, her third show at Traywick, nineteen medium-format color photographs of the stark boreal landscape of subarctic Finland, taken during a residency there in January 2015, when temperatures are generally subzero. The bare expanses of snow-covered fields and cloudless skies are captured in images of minimal, even iconic compositions—two stacked rectangles (à la Rothko), occasionally revealing tiny distant buildings and other structures—and desaturated boreal palettes. These are hushed, meditative images (which Californians can enjoy in cozy comfort) that demand slow looking and offer a respite from the cultural gerbil wheel of getting and spending.

The works are evenly divided between single square-format images and multi-image sets, primarily diptychs and triptychs. Some of the single-image photos, like “Axis,” with its central power-pole spire, “Untitled (Blue),” with its tiny fence pole, and “Near to the Wild,” with its triangular aura or aurora, are symmetrical, and suggest frozen time; others, like “Island” and “Divining Rod,” with their intricately detailed trees and foliage, set against blank skies, suggest scientific typologies of the Bernd and Hilla Becher school. The multi-panel works, like “Double Helix” and “Roots,” invite comparison, and suggest narrative and change—and the attentive but divided gaze of the avid observer. The show also includes a site-specific installation linking the abstracted landscape, with its slow fluctuations, with language. Baudelaire: “Nature is a temple in which living pillars sometimes give voice to confused words; Man passes there through forests of symbols.” True North runs through May 19, Th-Sat 10-4 or by appointment, Traywick Gallery, 895 Colusa Avenue, Berkeley 510-527-1214; —DeWitt Cheng