Friday, February 17, 2012

through pools of light and words unspoken

Photography by Rowena Tame

On a recent escape to the rugged and beautiful Tasmanian south-west in search of some solitude and silence, I once again found myself sitting on the rocks overlooking the expanse of water that is the only Lake Pedder that I know. 
Mt. Solitary, now an island far in the distance, rises from the waves, a solemn protector of the drowned companion that lay silently, refusing to be lost, under the dark depths behind her. As I loosen the laces on my boots, preparing for a lunge into the sepia waters too tempting to be ignored, I take a moment to bask in the entirety of the landscape unfurled before me. Part ancient, part manufactured, the earth on which I sit is met by a sky so blue and so beautiful that it challenges my attention with its lack of apparent visual complexity. 

Try as I might, the scene is too difficult to frame in a single mental image. The sky and the immense volume of water being cradled, as if in cupped hands by the surrounding mountains, is simply too much to take in. Experience by way of immersion is perhaps the only way that I can stock my memories of this day. Shoes off, a cautious look around to confirm my solitude, and after leaving a loose pile of clothes on the rocks, I wade in bare but for my courage.

Far from the waters of the south, Rowena Tame’s photographic take on water is equally enticing and is evident of her similar desire for immersion. With her most recent photographic exhibition through pools of light and words unspoken, Tame has sought connection with her immediate urban landscape and pointed her lens at the water that appears there, trapped upon the concrete until evaporation takes its life. Furthermore, this takes place under darkness, usually just shy of midnight. The only light absorbed into the camera is by way of a porch globe and suburban ambience. It is here in the limited existence of rainwater and condensation that Tame explores by exposing us to a beauty rarely seen at a scale of which we are generally unaccustomed. The microcosm of manufactured light-play through these tiny pools presents us with images offering beautifully abstracted formations that tease us by being familiar yet mysterious enough to place our understanding of the image in a limbo of visual unknowing.

These photographs have the unique quality of allowing the viewer to position themselves at a distance as if staring up into the universe on a warm summer night and being suitably perplexed, or to embrace them for what we are told they are; an incredibly intimate engagement with water and man-made light, while still remaining perplexed. What Tame achieves with digital photography, free of manipulation tools readily available, reminds us that the creative soul of a visual artist begins with the eye. An eye, it would seem in Rowena Tame’s case, that has a tendency not to look up or out, but down.

It is so much easier to find fascination in the vista, be it viewed from a mountaintop against the chill of altitude or from coarse sea-level sand as the waters lap at our feet. More difficult then is the prospect of shutting that out and finding the same degree of experience in the understated tone of rain collected on a concrete step of a suburban dwelling. The sixteen works exhibited give a sense of nature at her most endearing and not often seen, even in our own backyard.

Void of the colour one might expect from the prism of light through a bead of water, Tame has dulled the images down, I suspect, not to detract from the wonderment of colour, but to serve us the attraction of form. There is a courtship at play between artist and object of nature that suggests that there is beauty in randomness, and that perhaps there always has been. This is the way of nature, and speculatively, could also be the way of the artist. I get the sense of a curious mind retreating from a traditional viewpoint and after an internal process, taking the camera and going against the very grain of everything it was created to document. If only we would take the time to look more closely at not only the world we inhabit, but each other. We might experience the enticement of a decent rain temporarily staining the grey concrete of our urban homes a shade darker than the preceding moments when the sun was still visible. This isn’t portraiture or the capture of landscape as we may think it perceived. Tame has gone beyond and gone within and ventured mere feet from the real places that we inhabit - our homes.

As I sit in the Powerhouse Gallery on a couch placed centre stage, I look up at the images on the wall, enthralled by the spark that has linked the memory of a recent summertime dip in sepia waters, with the sepia tones of a wetness on a concrete step I would have surely ignored. A shiver, a breath, and a discreet smile – the only clues to a possible observer that a connection has been made. Such is the power of art.

through pools of light and words unspoken is currently being exhibited at the Powerhouse Gallery above Blue Café in Launceston’s Inveresk art precinct until the 26th of February. All works are for sale and limited to editions of four. The Powerhouse is open from 10am – 4pm Tuesday to Sunday.

- Patrick Sutczak

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