New YorkThomas Joshua Cooper: Allure
‘The world has no name, he said. The names of the cerros and the sierras and the deserts exist only on maps. We name them that we do not lose our way. Yet it was because the way was lost to us already that we have made those names. The world cannot be lost. We are the ones. And it is because these names and these coordinates are our own naming that they cannot save us. That they cannot find for us the way again.’(1)
Blain|Southern New York presents Allure, an exhibition of works by Thomas Joshua Cooper. Picture-maker and story-teller, Cooper has spent an entire working lifetime chronicling the qualities of time through his photographs of the earth’s topography.
His black-and-white images explore specific points on the globe – often at the most remote areas, where land and sea meet. Cooper begins by choosing a location on a map, researching it, and then setting out to locate and photograph it. He notes, ‘It’s important to me that people, when looking at my images, can understand that I stood in those places, I looked out from those edges, and that where I stood, they, you or any of us, could also stand and look if they wanted to’.
Working solely with a 19th century Agfa Ansco view camera, Cooper only makes a single exposure at each place, no matter how remote or far flung. The works in the exhibition are part of the artist’s project The Atlas of Emptiness and Extremity. Inspired by Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world in the 16th century, Cooper set out to make pictures at the cardinal points of the extreme north, south, east and west of all five continents and the North and South poles surrounding the Atlantic basin. He has travelled the Atlantic Coast and Ocean for over three decades on a journey which concluded with a defining exhibition The World’s Edge, currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The works in Allure chart stages of Cooper’s epic undertaking, beginning with photographs from a journey inspired by the earliest European travellers, Viking pioneers and Celtic peregrinati – early Irish and Scottish wandering saints. Retracing their routes to the extreme north, images like rising freezing fog, (2007-2008) or Icenest, The Greenland Sea, (2004-2008), evoke the past wanderings of those in search of distant places, beyond the borders of the known world.
Force Majeure (2006-2008) recalls the dangerous weather conditions that occurred during Cooper’s expedition along the Antarctic Peninsula. Attempts at picture-making on shore would entail embarking and disembarking via a small dinghy from a 50ft sailing boat in sea swells. Reaching locations meant leaping from the dingy to clutch at rock faces like those in last light, shifting ice – sudden danger (2008); all while keeping the camera and equipment dry. This leap and clutch became Cooper’s metaphor for the struggle to make pictures on the long and arduous journey.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, the calm of Cooper’s meditative black-and-white seascapes belie the challenges he faced, whilst establishing him as one of the foremost outdoor artists of our time.
(1) Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, 1994
Thomas Joshua Cooper (b. 1946, San Francisco, USA)
Cooper’s work can be found in public and private collections including: The Art Institute of Chicago, USA; The Arts Council of Great Britain, London; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore; La Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston; Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderna, Los Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain; The International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, USA; The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Sam Wagstaff Collection, Los Angeles; Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow and the Los Angeles County Art Museum, Los Angeles.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)