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Thomas Joshua Cooper: photography on the edge

Thomas Joshua Cooper, Moonlight - West, Southwest - The Mid Atlantic Oce, 2004 -

Until October 26th, 2004, the Haunch of Venison Gallery (London) showed Point of No Return, 36 black and white pictures by the well- known landscape photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper (San Francisco, 1946), today a professor at the Glasgow School of Art.
Point of No Return is the result of 15 years of research into the origins of civilisation in the remotest locations around the world as well as the conclusion of the first part of a very ambitious project, The Atlantic Basin Project. At the edge of the vast Atlantic, where the beginning of the ocean seems to signal the end of the world, Cooper positions his camera, a last century Alfa model weighing a substantial 9 kg, and takes single-exposure black and white pictures, developed with the gelatine silver printtechnique and covered with selenium and glided chlorite.
During his 14 trips to 12 different countries, including Morocco, South Africa, Spain, and Norway, the photographer explored the European and African Atlantic coastlines and captured unique, pictoresque landscapes. Light plays an important role in his work: the glided chlorite makes it possible to achieve the 'chiaroscuro' effect and the shade, creating a unique image in space and time. Like Monet, Cooper shoots the same landscape at different times of day, as can be seen in the series taken by The Barents sea: Midnight-Freezing rain-North-The Barents sea, Freezing Fog-North-The Barents sea and Midnight Sun-North-The Barents sea.
Point of No Return presents the Atlantic ocean, whose waters flow, lighten or darken and often take on the appearance of smoke or at times even flames, creating an intensely spiritual atmosphere. In an interview with the magazine Pluk, Cooper states that the origins of his spirituality are probably rooted in his paternal Cherokee blood. The earth, on the other hand, is strong and tangible: the rocks, crags and seaweed take on a sculptoral appearance and produce truly geometric compositions. The artist erases any trace of wilderness in his landscapes by carefully arranging the symmetry of his shots: in every single picture there is a deliberate balance, made possible by his attentive study of nature and his absolute command of the single-exposure technique. Cooper's intimate knowledge of the swell, the tides and the currents of the ocean allows him to play with light and the skyline, moving it closer or further away, depending on the specific effect he wants to create, to express the texture and the movement of the elements shot in black and white. By using this technique, he makes the observer feel the heat of a sunset in Gibraltar (The Pillar of Hercules-Strait of Gibraltar-Looking Towards Africa) or the polar cold of the northern most point of Europe (North of 80º- Looking towards Furthest North, Europe-The North Polar Sea).
Despite the risky nature of his projects at times - Cooper ended up in hospital after trying to get a picture of the original Meridian point 0 on the Isla de Hierro (Canary Islands)-, the originality of his pictures and above all the slowness of working with the one-exposure technique make his effort a worthy one. Like the great adventurers Colombus or Magallanes, the artist's curiosity for what is beyond the ocean and the borders of civilisation is expressed by the balance between the physical and the spiritual in his work, which, void of any human influence, has a sublime and mystic tone, making his artwork unique.

Thomas Joshua Cooper: Point of no return
September 22 - October 26 2004
Haunch of Venison (London)

Text: Andrea Rodés
Translation: Alberto González / Rebekah Smith

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