Sport 21: Spring 1998
An archaeologist or geologist stands on the ground and looks down into it—an aerial view, if you like—staring miles downwards into the earth, his attention plummeting, free-falling through the clay, rock and layering of whatever else. He is, of course, also staring down through time.
Fred Williams's landscapes are archaeological in their register of underlying patterns, textures and forces. Their nervous twitches of imagery, their recesses and moments of detail are similar to those that permeate an important series of aerial photographs of New Zealand taken by Kevin L. Jones.9 Not unlike microscopic or atomic photographs, Jones's landforms are full of suggestiveness: a reclining figure emerges from the Northburn herringbone tailings. The landscapes look like the human nervous system or x-rays. Or a child's drawing—a feathered or string man, even. At other times the surface of the land looks like human skin under a microscope: porous, bathed in light. (The way the land continues out beyond the borders of the photographic image reminds us that photographs can only ever be fragments of a viewpoint.) This is close to the territory of Paul Klee and, for that matter, early Gordon Walters—an organic mythology of insinuated and oblique forms.
While Colin McCahon was drawn to the mass and structure of the primordial hill country and coast, the inessentials which he usually removed—such details as trees, roads and buildings—are essential to Kevin Jones's photographs. Out of these he creates a sparse, puzzling calligraphy. And whereas McCahon's aerial view revealed an ‘order’ which paralleled that of Old Testament Christianity—a land permeated with darkness and light, suffering and redemption—Jones's photographs offer a far less simplified or generalised reading. They are hymns to the particular and the disordered. Instead of the changeless, primordial landscape, we are presented with one that changes by the minute, the time of day, depending on the season—or depending on the speed, height and angle of the aeroplane in which we are travelling. It is like the landscape in Andrey Tarkovsky's films ‘Andrej Rublyov’ and ‘The Stalker’—it is a place of inscriptions, inferences and traces. It is strewn with human history, with relics.