JACK FRENCH

Lowlands


French publisher IIKKI books specialises in hardback photobooks accompanied by a vinyl LP. This, their third edition, is a series of photographs made in Iceland by Ester Vonplon with ambient music by Taylor Dupree and Marcus Fischer. 

The pictures are from within the Arctic Circle at the summer solstice. Here we are far from the sharp-focused clarity, impeccable perspective and saturated colours of conventional landscape photography. Unpredictable conditions make photography difficult and Vonplon goes along with that loss of control, using the wildness of the place to evoke feelings instead of making precise representations. For this work you don’t necessarily need expensive gear or advanced technical skills. What could be called mistakes of framing, focus, development and printing Vonplon embraces as part of the process. She’s more of an artist than a traditional photographer. 

With a palette of hazy greys and pale blues as smudged and blurred as Impressionist sketches, these are photographs as traces, smears of light, damaged prints discoloured and faded, dreamlike as a long ago, half-remembered wintry journey. Documents of an explorer’s expedition, perhaps. 

This is an elemental, primitive, desolate world of black water and dark-edged mountains, cracked and broken ice, floating and melting, seen from the air, from out on the water or standing alone. Not a soul to be seen. 

Some of these images approach abstraction in near white-outs of ice and snow. Scale can be impossible to gauge. Multiple exposures, light leaks and other artefacts of the analogue process make it occasionally hard to tell what we’re being shown. 

The music is a fitting soundtrack. It’s typically ambient, Eno-esque in its drifting, faded textures and slow, sustained decays like vapour trails across the sky. It crackles like melting ice. 

The book is beautifully produced; a thick and heavy construction of soft matte paper, substantial and detailed enough to make you want to go slow through its pages, weighty enough to command your attention. 

It’s divided into sections that correspond with tracks on the LP, although there’s no particular reason why one piece of music should go with one set of images instead of another, so the relationship between the two seems slightly forced to that extent. Does a photobook need its own soundtrack? Perhaps not, but this music is nice to listen to while going through this book, creating a slow thoughtful atmosphere of quiet contemplation. 


Further reading & viewing: 

www.iikki-books.com 

www.estervonplon.com/ 

My interview with Ester Vonplon at LensCulture: 

www.lensculture.com/articles/ester-vonplon-gletscherfahrt-beyond-the-visual

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