Sun Lights This Water
“Such is our way of thinking – we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” – Junichiro Tanizaki, 1977
"The practice of photography is predicated upon light, and Amanda Harman offers us much evidence of her extended partnership with that headstrong, mutable and elusive agent of transformation. She handles light with deftness and precision, and an almost tangible sense of joy – a joy that is threaded through every one of the works in her latest exhibition Sun Lights This Water.
From first sight it is clear that Harman is an expert in observing, decoding and capturing the limitless variations of light to be found in the landscapes she knows so intimately. The title image is dominated by a stretch of reflected golden light that seems clouded, yet shimmers with suppressed energy; First Light also withholds from the viewer the source of that light, but is saturated with a rich, steady glow that washes the few golden leaves remaining on slender twigs.
Equally important, however, is Harman’s sensitivity towards the beauty to be found within darkness and gloom. The Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows is an eloquent meditation on this phenomenon: in it he posits a contrast, a “collision”, between the dim, dusky rooms of his country’s traditional architecture and the dazzling brilliance of Western interiors. Here, though, we see light and shadow mesh seamlessly to form a harmonious, perfectly balanced composition, not once but time aMer time. The Moveless Water is dominated by dark trees and undergrowth to the left, yet this darkness is punctuated by glimmers of gold, while light from above right siMs through branches to fall upon wisps of mist rising from the water. In Travellers Joy, the skein of stalks scrambling down a darkened bridge seems the more fragile and luminous seen against its shadowed backdrop.
These are also fine examples of a photographic practice that does not concern itself only with vision. There is a call to all our senses to be found as we pick our way through Harman’s complex and layered images. We may hear the tumbling song of a blackbird, followed by a distant reply; or the trickle of water over pebbles; or leaves whispering and ticking against twigs. The scents of autumn leaves or wild garlic in springtime may tickle our nostrils; we can taste the snowy breeze of winter or the piercing sweetness of wild strawberries. Gazing at In Under The Trees we sense the chill of fog on shivering skin, hairs rising, and the sudden snag of a bramble on bare arms. These are gifts indeed, and best savoured by spending time with the work.
When we encounter a photograph, hovering somewhere nearby is the presence of the person behind the camera, whether or not we are aware of it. Here we have a photographer who is modest enough to step back and allow her subjects to speak for themselves, rather than imposing herself between them and us. Harman’s self-effacement combined with her gentle touch elevates humble grasses, a bare branch, strands of mist and a pool of water so that we see them anew, and in doing so create fresh meanings and connections with our own lives. In A Spill of Glitter, the careless dropping of bright leaves to the water’s surface is surely a metaphor for letting go of that to which we cling so doggedly – or which clings to us. A String of Pearls offers us complicated patterns of orange leaves and sparkling droplets, evoking a language that most of us cannot speak, but dearly wish we could.
In conclusion, do not underestimate the power of this work. It seems deceptively simple at first sight: a tracery of twigs against a peach-coloured sky, a scribble of rushes in dark water. However, each of Harman’s images rewards close and careful looking, revealing its layers to the contemplative viewer as though we were scratching away at a palimpsest. There are echoes here of our own threadbare stories, a fabric worn thin with repetition and handling, yet ineffably precious nonetheless." - Celia Jackson