Newbury Weekly News Arts Review
‘Norfolk Landscapes’: photographs by David Hatfull at Ace Space, Newbury
The current exhibition in the bar at Ace Space, Newbury, sees international freelance photographer David Hatfull returning to the roots of his photographic practice, showing hand-printed, fibre-based silver gelatin photographs, all shot on black and white film using traditional cameras.
This cohesive body of work ̶- lusciously printed landscapes of the wide skies, empty marshes, beaches and dunes of the north Norfolk coast ̶ were shot in 2013 and 2014 specifically for this exhibition. They are quintessentially Hatfull, displaying a pictorial approach but with a characteristic compositional semi-minimalism that never becomes sterile. This is work that has a strongly romantic approach to landscape photography but never strays into sentimentality.
No two photographers see, compose or print in the same way, and these images show an individual creative mind bringing a unique approach and perspective to a deeply felt landscape. These are meditative images, produced by a seeing eye immersed over time in this discrete landscape, with motifs and viewpoint critically selected or ̶ perhaps more importantly ̶ de-selected. Less is almost always more.
Shot mainly with wide-angle lenses, on 2¼ inch-square and panoramic cameras, these photographs, though strongly and decisively composed, also possess a delicacy, both in the treatment of tones, where strong blacks seem to possess a deep, velvety depth, and in the handling of light, which combines intense vibrancy and brilliance with pictorial softness and detail.
Compositions often feature a strong, isolated, foreground motif: a coil of rope, driftwood, an abandoned hull. In ‘Thornton Sticks’, a shaft of pitted wood diagonally pierces and dominates the composition. In ‘Stiffkey Marshes’, an old bridge leads the eye into a composition of flat marshes and pleasing cloud formations within a 180-degree sky.
Textures are important, with rippled, wind-driven sand a recurring element. In ‘Wells Beach 1’, fat, obliquely shadowed doughnuts of sand support a row of traditional beach-huts. In ‘West Sand’, a rivulet of water cuts, snake-like, through wet sand towards the sea. In ‘Turning Tide, Holkham’, a slow shutter speed has juxtaposed blurred, moving water with sand and wisps of thin cloud. ‘Sand Dunes, Wells’ is a vertical composition leading the eye upwards towards a funnel of amorphous cloud; horizontality prevails in ‘Sand Dunes, Morston’.
Some photographs are semi-abstracted, the formal elements in ‘Holkham Bay’ the linear horizon and the curve, triangle and rectangle of tide and sand. In ‘Heacham Sea Defence’, the long wooden structures are balanced with pebbled shale in almost single-point perspective. ‘High Cape’ is a beautifully handled diagonal composition, ripples of sand contrasted with a central, empty sweep of dune. ‘Wells Beach 2’ is a minimal study in more harshly toned blacks and whites.
Most images exude the sense of a pristine, ancient landscape with no human presence; others suggest human intervention through structures or artefacts (boats, ropes). In the few images in which people appear they are subordinate to the landscape, mere dots within the natural world, as in the paired ‘Holkham Beach 1 and 2’.
Photography is, of course, all about light. ‘Sand Dunes, Wells’, shot from a low viewpoint, shows a masterly handling of light and shadows; ‘Sand Dunes, Morston’ brings together horizontal striations of beach with tufted dunes. ‘Holkham Beach 4’ ̶ beautifully lit, with strong shadows and contrasts, sand shaped into sculptural wedges ̶ captures the essence of landscape photography. Here Hatfull has found Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’, when the sun breaks through threatening cloud to create a sublime image of light and form.
A Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, with awards including the Kodak and Canon Photographer of the Year, Hatfull’s show runs until the end of April. It can be viewed by those attending events and classes at Ace Space (www.acespace.org.uk), or by appointment with the photographer (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; mobile: 07774 161306; landline: 01635 47839).
This is a superb show by a top-class photographer, showing the passion for photography that prompted his career. He is one of an extraordinary group of young photographers for whom Newbury Camera Club in the 1970s and 1980s was a springboard into professional work.
David Hatfull’s website is http://www.diemphoto.co.uk/