Nature Meets Technology with Artist Dan Holdsworth

For the last fifteen years, British photographer Dan Holdsworth has been blending nature, science, and technology into large-scale photographs and digital art. Much of his work focuses on glacial landscapes.

Holdsworth’s major solo exhibition, “Dan Holdsworth: A Future Archaeology,” is currently premiering at the Scheublein + Bak Gallery in Zurich as part of his Continuous Topography series through September 2. Using high-end 3D imaging software ordinarily only used in scientific or military capacities, Holdsworth renders glacial landscapes in the Alps with extraordinary, unprecedented 3D precision.  

Holdsworth spoke with GlacierHub about his early childhood influences, “the sublime,” and his efforts to capture Icelandic glaciers.

Argentiere Glacier no. 1
Continuous Topography, Argentiere Glacier no. 01, 2016
C-type print, aluminum frame, UV Perspex
Courtesy the artist and SCHEUBLEIN + BAK, Zurich; Copyright the artist.

 

GlacierHub: What fieldwork did you conduct to create the images featured in this exhibit?

Dan Holdsworth: For the last three years, I’ve been working with a PhD researcher named Mark Allen from Northumbria University in Newcastle [in the United Kingdom]. The first fieldwork we undertook together, three years ago now, was in the Mont Blanc massif, working on glaciers around Mont Blanc, on both the French and Italian sides. I spent initially two months there, surveying both terrestrially, with drones and by a helicopter using GPS recordings on the ground and data sampling, [and using] a huge sampling of photography surveying–usually several hundred photographs for each location.

 

GH: What drew you to glaciers as a subject?

DH: My interest in landscape and interest in technology and human impacts on our environment. I’ve always been drawn to areas that have a tension, an edge. In my very early work, it was focused on city edges, where you see this view of humanity and nature kind of hitting each other. For me, obviously glacial landscapes have a similar aspect in terms of this edge of the human traction on glaciers. The images of glaciers are transmitted all around the globe as a symbol of climate change.

In 2000, I went to Iceland for the first time, and I visited glacial landscapes in Iceland. In 2001, I started photographing a glacier called Solheimajökull, which was predominately, at that time, black, with volcanic debris melting out from the glacier. It appeared to have a very interesting tension with the industrial. This object is a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution.

I went back every year for almost ten years and photographed the same location, not to document it exactly that precisely, but to more explore my relationship with it and my responses as it was changing and melting. I then subsequently made prints, which I made digital inversions of. When I made the photographs, I would always make them on a completely white-out day, and you’d see this black object in this white space.  In the final work, I made this circular realization by inverting the photograph and restoring the glacier to white. The sky becomes the black of space, so you have this immediate planetary transformation in the image.

Blackout 8.
Blackout 8
C-type print
Courtesy the artist and SCHEUBLEIN + BAK, Zurich; Copyright the artist.

 

GH: Your art blends technology with nature and science very seamlessly. What inspired this connection in your work?

DH: My father was a physicist who studied in Bristol and then at the Max Planck Institute. He was a polymer physicist, and developed processes to metalize plastics. One of the companies he worked with was based in the States and he was developing coatings for space shuttles. So there were always these interesting sides of technology that I was being brought up with. Often you’d see these kinds of developments of technology, like a ghost of my dad’s work [like] some kind of metalized plastic in some food packaging, and back in the 1980s, you’d think, ‘There’s no way this is going to catch on.’ But everything is made with this stuff now, in terms of packaging, like CDs, laser storage, lots of things.

My mother is a ceramicist and a fanatical gardener. My father was also really into mountain walking and climbing, as well. So we always liked going to the middle of nowhere in nature, in Scotland mostly, sometimes Switzerland.

The area where I was born is a very industrial area – it’s a kind of industrial heartland in Britain. I was brought up on the edge of a natural park. So if you look one way, you’re looking across the park, across nature. If you look the other way, it’s just pure industry. I was always brought up with all these tensions and kinds of relationships throughout both my family and the landscapes around me. It was always something that was always very, very present. I was always drawn to exploring these ideas through a kind of landscape.

Blackout 4
Blackout 4
C-type print
Courtesy the artist and SCHEUBLEIN + BAK, Zurich; Copyright the artist.

GH: How would you describe the relationship of your work to climate change?

DH: My interest in [my] work is centrally dealing with perception, and obviously photography is key to this cybernetic extension of our visual perceptions. We’re communicating so much more to each other almost using pure imagery, and I think in my work I’ve felt that we really need to deal with how we mediate the world through these cybernetic extensions through our photographic eyes. We need to deal with that while dealing with our relationship to nature. Our relationship to nature is always mediated by our relationship to technology. So we need to really understand our relationship to technology to understand our relationship to nature. My work is about trying to deal with that.

I’ve always had this feeling that the “sublime” – which is this feeling of this archaic or this “other” aspect of our human emotion, which is a kind of irrational response to a certain encounter in the world, and perhaps an encounter with nature…with technology, is fundamentally driven by our experiences of science. Science is broadening and deepening our understanding of the world, and it continually challenges our perception of the world. That cements itself and finds itself expressed through this emotion, this feeling of the sublime. [It] is either an archaic response, and …something that we have no use for, but is somehow still there, so we have this kind of irrational response, or we have this human response that is actually developing as science develops.

 

GH: How do you hope that your work is going to impact the human perception of climate change?

DH: I really concur with the artist Robert Irwin when he says that “Perception is political.” What he means by that is, I think, that at a base level we really need to fundamentally understand what defines our perceptual senses in order to organize our relationship to the world. With our new digitally mediated perceptual senses, this perhaps becomes more complex. We need to understand and feel comfortable with our newly developing perceptual capabilities in order to make the correct decisions about the way that we move forward with, just to give one example, issues around developments of future energy production..

 

GH: Could you briefly explain the concept behind “A Future Archaeology?”

DH: The idea of “A Future Archaeology” is this sense of both looking at the nature of the landscape and the nature of technology. It’s looking at the substructures of technologies, which are basically underpinning much of the virtual infrastructure that we’re interfacing with in our daily lives now, like, for example, Google Maps. 

Bossons Glacier no. 14
Continuous Topography, Bossons Glacier no. 14, 2016
C-type print, aluminum frame, UV Perspex
Courtesy the artist and SCHEUBLEIN + BAK, Zurich; Copyright the artist.

In a sense, “A Future Archeology” is exploring those materials in their raw form, in their data, in the models I’m working with. There’s also a sense of “A Future Archaeology” in the nature of this recording of geological formations over a period of time. It’s a digital archive of this particular moment. Of course, the materials of the digital are underpinned by the geological, so there’s a kind of interwoven history and trajectory [between the materials of the digital and the materials of the geological]. It’s very elemental, both in in its material and geological nature, in terms of the resources that underpin physically the technology we’re using and the machines we’re using.

There’s also an aspect of a digital archive. There are two depths throughout space: there’s a depth to the digital space and there’s a depth to the geological space, and they kind of mirror each other.

We’re obviously now documenting ourselves and are aware of the human nature of our own physical archive and material archive in terms of our sense of the emergence of this new era of the Anthropocene, where we see human activity defining it. It’s certainly a new geological epoch. It’s about all of those things.

Argentiere Glacier no. 04
Continuous Topography, Argentiere Glacier no. 04, 2016
C-type print, aluminum frame, UV Perspex
Courtesy the artist and SCHEUBLEIN + BAK, Zurich; Copyright the artist.

Photo Friday: Send Us Your Glacier Selfies

At GlacierHub, we don’t just love science— we’re passionate about art and photography, too. We’ve featured work by Zaria Forman and Diane Burko, and each Friday we share photographs of glaciers and other mountain scenes. Now we’re excited to try something new: We’d like to invite our readers to share photographs that you’ve taken of glaciers. Specifically, we want your glacier selfies.

President Barack Obama has already demonstrated this, in a video selfie with a glacier he shot in September last year in Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, during a trip to the Arctic focused on climate change.

“Behind me is one of the most visited glaciers in Alaska,” Obama said. “It is spectacular, as you can see. And we’ve been able to spend the day out here, just learning more about how the glaciers are receding. It’s a signpost of what’s happening with a changing climate.”

DCIM102GOPRO
Photo, via Flickr, by Florence.S.

In that spirit— in recognition of the beauty of glaciers, their threatened status, and glaciers as places that humans interact with— we’d like to invite you to submit your own glacier selfies. We want selfies of you standing in front of, on, or near a glacier. This invitation is open to anyone who might visit a glacier: a researcher or scientist, tourist or traveler, or someone who lives near one.

We will likely publish some of these images on GlacierHub. The photos (no videos, please) should be relatively recent, and should be true selfies. Please email submissions to glacierhub@gmail.com with a note giving us permission to publish them, along with some basic information: your name, the glacier’s name, the date it was taken, and what you were doing there. (And don’t take any risks while taking the selfie!)

Please email us your photos by May 1– although if you have a trip to a glacier planned after that, let us know. 

Photo Friday: Through the Lens of a Tajikistani Glaciologist

Earth scientists and glaciologists often have the opportunity to explore and witness Earth’s glaciers and geological landscapes through fieldwork. This Tajikistani glaciologist, Dr. Farshed Karimov, a professor at the National University of Tajikistan, recently published a presentation on glacial dynamic modelling. In it, he included stunning photos from his travels, mainly of the Pamir Mountains, a mountain range in Central Asia at the junction of the Himalayas.

We’ve excerpted a few of Karimov’s photos below.

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To access Dr. Karimov’s presentation on glacial dynamic modelling or to contact him for more information, please email fhkarim@mail.tj.

 

PhotoFriday: When I am Laid in Earth

The Lewis Glacier on Mount Kenya is one of the most surveyed tropical glaciers on Earth, and has been monitored and mapped regularly since 1934. In 2010, scientists found that the Lewis had shrunk by 23 percent in just the previous six years.

The New York Times reports, “Our glaciers, we’re told, are disappearing freakishly fast, but fast for a glacier can still be too slow for the human imagination to seize on.” How do we document this change, and raise awareness of glacial retreat? Award-winning photographer Simon Norfolk answered this question through photography.  His series, When I am Laid in Earth was developed in collaboration with Project Pressure, a nonprofit organization that aims “to photograph and publish the world’s vanishing and receding glaciers, and to document first hand the environmental impact of climate change.” Norfolk’s photo series relied on historical maps and GPS data to mark the contours of the glacier’s retreat and, in the middle of the night, light those lines on fire.

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When I am Laid in Earth was recently featured at the French photography festival, Les Recontres d’Arles. To read more about the works featured in this series, please download the associated newsletter, which details both the series and the Project Pressure initiative.

Artist Diane Burko Ties Together Art and Science

Diane Burko on Viedma Glacier, South America (2015)
Diane Burko on Viedma Glacier, South America (2015)

The nexus between art and science first featured in artist and photographer Diane Burko’s work in 2006. Since then, Burko has traveled around the world to capture monumental landscapes and features. She has spent time in Norway, Greenland and the Antarctic Peninsula, documenting and bearing witness to the global disappearance of glaciers. 

Burko agreed to an interview with GlacierHub, where she discusses her journey to communicate science and dispel doubt through art.

GH: What first inspired you to draw connections between art and science?

DB: I think I am “science curious”.  As a landscape artist, monumental geological environments, dramatic vistas, aerial views, have always captured my imagination. Perhaps growing up in a New York City apartment may be why…  The Grand Canyon was one of my first subjects in the 70’s. Understanding its deep history – how it was formed was crucial. When I did a series on Volcanoes in 2000, learning about plate tectonics was part of my process. Knowing how a landscape is put together, the geology, is as important to me as experiencing it by walking, climbing or flying over it…

Grinnell Mt. Gould Quadtych, 2009, 88” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Grinnell Mt. Gould Quadtych, 2009, 88” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Why is it important to bring together art and science?

DB: I believe that art can communicate science. My obsession with nature at its most awe-inspiring naturally leads me to want to preserve and protect it.  That’s why I want to show how our environment is being threatened by climate change. My strategy is to seduce with beauty and then subtly insert awareness in the viewer by utilizing visual/scientific prompts I’ve garnered through my interactions with climatologists, my observations in the field and my own research.

The visual devices (literal and metaphoric) employed are as simple as presenting chronological images of glaciers receding in multiple panels. Or more mysterious and abstract images redolent with the idea of the landscape as body –  as mortal with potential to decay, contrasting ancient rocks with melting ice.

Landsat maps and geological diagrams, and recessional lines are also strategic devices I’ve employed.

Deep Time Diptych (Glacial History Eqi and Looking into Viedma 2), 2015, 40” x 60” each (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Deep Time Diptych (Glacial History Eqi and Looking into Viedma 2), 2015, 40” x 60” each (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Tell us about your trip to Argentina and Antarctica. What challenges did you face? What part of the trip struck you the most?

DB: In January 2015 I was invited to join 26 educators with “Students on Ice” a nonprofit organization offering student expedition experiences to Antarctica and the Arctic. This was my second expedition there – the other in 2013. After the voyage we landed back in Ushuaia and boarded a plane to El Calafate. Having been to the two largest ice fields in the world (Antarctica and Greenland) I was eager to see the third largest one in Patagonia.

Initially my goal was to go to climb on Perito Marino, which has a 3-mile front glacial front. Ironically this is one of the few glaciers that is not receding

However it was Viedma Glacier that totally took my breadth away.

Wearing crampons we climbed very carefully on top of this glacier for hours because it was really treacherous.

Crevasses were everywhere around me as I captured some incredible images

Back in the studio, I am working on a series on Upsala, which was the third glacier we visited – also receding.

Columbia Quadtych, 2011, 60” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Columbia Quadtych, 2011, 60” x 200” overall (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: How do people respond to your work?

DB: They seem to respond at the exhibitions. And they participate when I give talks on my artistic practice at the intersection of art and science.

GH: The world of ice is at times colorless, white ice and dark rock, but the blue keeps appearing. How do you work with the color?

DB: I just embrace it – attempting to capture it’s magic through my photographs. My paintings, I tend to interpret from the experience and memory when back in the painting studio.

Perito Moreno’s 3 Mile Front, 2015, 40” x 60”  (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Perito Moreno’s 3 Mile Front, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: Can you tell us a bit about your choice of mediums? Do you use different mediums to convey different messages or evoke different emotions?

DB: As a painter in oils I strive to make that medium represent the ideas I wish to convey. Here are two examples that might answer the question:

GH: Ice accumulates where snow falls, and snow falls from clouds. Being close to glaciers often means being close to cloud and mist. Does the photographer hope for sun, or accept the cover?

DB: Clouds, fog, all present many more possibilities.

Morning Sail 2, August 6, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)
Morning Sail 2, August 6, 2015, 40” x 60” (Courtesy of Diane Burko)

GH: The glaciers of Argentina are huge, but Antarctica is absolutely enormous. Does this contrast influence your selection of images to include in a record of your trip?

DB: No I just include whatever captivates me visually, whatever is presented in front of me.

It is always serendipitous because one cannot predict the weather- the winds or where we actually wind up landing in Antarctica.   And in Patagonia I only was able to visit three of the many glaciers in the Argentinian ice field. I would love to return to Chile and explore more.