Graham French


Scale, depth, density are all features of Graham French's photography. His art expands our perception of the seemingly larger than life experience of sea, land, sky. These images exist at the heart of the invisible, rendering visible what is unattainable. These are neither object nor subject, visual embodiments of the ephemeral. French's Cloudscapes highlight the body relation to the land, how it is so elemental and central to our perception of the world. With new technologies and gadgets, we often disconnect from those sources of life, from our bodies, the environments that surround us. Water and the oceans are at the heart of this planet's life energy. While conceptual under-pinnings of photography can be found in Graham French's approach to capturing and editing the image, inadvertently he undoes the conception, to release the vitality and visuality of these scenes from nature, pulling them out of the container, the frame, removing the image object associations.

Graham French's photographs remind us that when we look at the world we are largely guessing, and we underline our perceptions with labels, words, subjects, and this limits our capacity to realize how open and fluid our life state in this universe really is. Instead of Blow-Ups, Graham French's photographs are Cosmic Shrinkages. They present a vision that realizes our place in a larger and immeasurable body of experience. His photographs remind us we are a miniscule part of all that...

A trip from Mexico to Alaska in 1989 shifted his focus as a photographer, as he became aware of the scope of these land, sea, light and air scenarios. The photographs produced from this trip became the source, the beginning of a long journey into capturing the experience of the land, sea and sky. Whether Cape Spear, Newfoundland, Cabo Finisterre in Galicia, Spain, County Kerry, Ireland, Point Reyes, California, the world Graham French captures and reifies is one that embodies a continuity of landforms, of cloud forms, of air and light. As he says "I traveled to remote coastal locations in Spain, Ireland, Newfoundland and California only to be met, on occasion, with horrifically sunny days. At other times, huge and haunting skies proved too great a distraction. One might ignore a subtle shift in the oceanic currents and nearly be blown off a cliff. The elements seemed to relish the opportunity to illustrate the folly of trying to capture them."

Graham French addresses the crux of the photographer's dilemma, that there is so much to this world it cannot ultimately be captured at all, by moving the phenomenological instant into a grander scale, as J. M. W. Turner and John Constable once did in the early Romantic era. Like Hiroshi Sugimoto's seascape photographs, we become intensely aware in Graham French's Cloudscapes of how thin the surface appearances we look at really are. These black and white Cloudscapes are not mere representations of what the photographer experienced. And the boundaries cannot be contained…. Graham French's photographs suggest the immeasurability of this world. They are entirely devoid of people as if this world were at the stage of its creation, a mythological proto-primeval world. Yet this is the world we all live in, dense with billions of people, so intensely has the human species woven its activities into the fabric of nature, nature seldom registers in our consciousness. It could be our mindset to seal up our perceptions so we function… but it need not to this way, French's aesthetic seems to say. While not overtly mystical, these Epsom Ultrachrome on Hahnemuhle paper photographs call into question the relation between the eye and the mind. What we see we perceive in advance of the act of recognition.

As photographs, these cloudscapes emphasize the peripheries, the borders not only of human perception, but of the peripheries where sea meets land. And they are captured at a particular distance where we can recognize the earth's surface and the atmospheres at a point of expansion in the lithosphere. There is always a sense of the physicality of these environments where land meets sea and the theatrics of climate, weather are accentuated. And there is absolutely no human presence. Change happens there. Change is irredeemably more radical in nature than all the ideologies humanity has invented over the ages. We build them to then deconstruct them. It just happens… Graham French's approach to photography is like that. He is a witness, and part of the process at one and the same time. The theatre of nature French presents is minimal in its details, and extraordinarily complex in its simplicity. And they recall Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto's quote, "To me photography functions as a fossilization of time."

Working with a digital Hasselblad H3D-39 and earlier on with a film-based Linhof, Graham French edits his photographs, selecting the scale and the precise textures and densities he wants to present in each image. Graham French's photographs are as abstract as the world can be when re-presented. These large-scale photographic works cannot be categorized as nature photography per se, for they are less about the objectification of a scene, or the act of recognition, than they are about capturing the flux of nature's forces in constant motion. Variation and flux is the key to Graham French's art. Water, that mystical source of all life, presides in those clouds, in that sea below. There is a sense of the danger, of the threatening and unpredictable character of these scenarios of endless and infinite motion. Charged with life's energy, the subjects captured here exist at the cusp, the end point where sea meets sky. This is not the earth as seen from space, or from a dirigible or zeppelin. This is in the scale of the human experience, a visual world in scale with the scale of our planet earth. In the context of life, Graham French captures life's essence -– water --in all its formative fluid variation, in the skies and the oceans. Light, shades of light and dark, are the key to photosynthesis, and to all life. Light is also the key to the magic of a good photograph.

Graham French captures the sensitive chaos of this tiny fragile planet we all live on. Whether it is a microcosm or a macrocosm it is definitely part of a larger cosmic scenario. The spirit captured here is as abstract, cold, menacing, challenging, as it is a source of inspiration, for its light, space, endless change, movement in a moment, moving the photograph from its timed-based constraints to reveal an endless process we are all a part of, in time and out of time.

John K. Grande