Nancy Holt’s Photoworks at the Haunch of Venison gallery presents the American land artist’s photography from Dartmoor to the Utah desert. Famous for her sculpture Sun Tunnels, Holt is a key figure within the land art movement of the late 1960s, working at the time of Robert Smithson, Dan Graham and Richard Long. While Holt is known mainly for site specific sculpture and video work, the exhibition offers a space for Holt’s photography, allowing us to appreciate her curious eye within the landscape. The exhibition also includes many works which are being shown for the first time.
Throughout the exhibition we recognise Holt’s tool of the frame as she captures the landscape. In Views Through a Sand Dune, Holt frames two sea views by making an aperture within the dune. This simple involvement within the landscape creates a completely new experience and view of the land. Like many pieces throughout the exhibition, these photos are an extension of Holt’s site specific work.
Photos of Holt’s most famous site specific sculpture Sun Tunnels are also displayed, showing four giant concrete cylinders which act like viewfinders in the Great Basin Desert. Sunlight in Sun Tunnels is a photo series which focuses on the inside of the tunnels where we can see the shadow growing from the shape of a crescent moon to almost enveloping the tunnel. Through this piece we are able to gain a sense of how time feels in the desert, as we see the bold changing contrast between light and shade.
In a much louder piece of work, California Sun Signs, Holt continues to follow the sun, this time documenting the word itself within the advertising and billboards of the country. The photos are spread out on the wall in a star burst including signs such as ‘Sundaes’ and ‘Sun Our Drugs’, and - need I say - all on a background of bold blue sky. Bereft of the sun in Dartmoor, Holt chooses to follow the lichen-like spots which mark her walk in the photo series Trailmakers. Starting from a gate, she documents her journey from one rock to another. Like her other photo series, we encounter the landscape in the form of a journey.
Time Out is an anomaly within the exhibition, as Holt steps outside of her regular theme of landscape, showing the artist’s interest in more formal qualities. Here she uses her camera on a rather different landscape: the spots of the 1980s black and white televisions. By manipulating the television tuning, Holt captures an American football match with blurs and stretched out images of the players - some scenes even appear reminiscent of the blurs of Francis Bacon’s figures.
The second floor of the gallery is dominated by Western Graveyards which focuses on the fencing and markers of the sixty desert graves. Some are boxed in with lengths of wood, and others have metal railings. Surprisingly, the work does not carry the expected sombre mood; instead we become interested in the details of the graves which fill the desert space. We become aware again of Holt’s use of framing: this time she does not provide a frame, but shows us the inevitable framing of individual lives by graves and gravestones.
Photoworks offers a poetic insight to Holt’s creative vision, showing her simple and perceptive response to the landscape through the framework of the camera.