A PHOTO-KINETIC ARBOREAL
Philippe Garner, London December 2014
Philippe Garner, London December 2014
Perhaps the first point to be made in relation to the images that are the subject of this catalogue concerns their scale. The catalogue illustrations, unlike the exhibition that they serve, cannot render these works full justice – for Charles March’s pictures must be experienced directly in the large formats for which they were conceived, formats in which they exert their full authority, and make a direct and potent impact on the viewer’s senses. These works are not simply photo-documents of trees in a conventional, factual way; rather, they are expressive photographic pictures that give surprising and mysterious form to Charles’s deep, visceral relationship with his subject. They succeed in communicating his response with a vibrant energy that suggests parallels in the spheres of painting and film as against the static traditions of photography.
This specific suite, made on a trip to St Petersburg in January 2014, constitutes one chapter in Charles’s on-going fascination with the tree both as a material theme and as a potent metaphor. Charles was in the historic imperial capital with a group of friends for the opening of an exhibition of his earlier tree-scapes. Temperatures were well below zero, the hours of daylight relatively short, but the trip was enjoyed for the most part in a crisp, clean winter light with either clear blue or ghostly white skies as a backdrop for trees that were delineated in white by the frozen snow resting on their skeletal branches – a magical and, to this British party, an eerily unfamiliar sight. The opportunity was irresistible for Charles to extend his arboreal picture-making experiments in a strange, near-monochrome environment.
And so he stole moments from a busy schedule to lose himself in the task of making fresh images, finding potential subjects and making those intuitive calibrations of exposure and movement that would translate the immobile trees before his lens into affecting transcriptions of themselves that synthesise form, texture, tone, and time. The resulting pictures, printed to a dramatic size that irresistibly draws your attention, inspire the imagination and transform the specific into the symbolic and evocative; these pictures confound the popular expectation that a photograph must represent a precise moment in time. Instead, they convey a sense of extended experience – of a passage through time, a dream sequence of blurred effects from an impressionistic movie.
Charles March has become a master of the controlled accident. The back-story is that this fluid, never precisely predictable technique represents a willful rejection of the formal methodologies that he had been taught to respect as the sacred code of the medium. Charles worked some years ago as a highly successful advertising photographer, his speciality the meticulously lit and art-directed studio still-life. His craft was a most exacting one. Today, he has thrown out that rule-book and learned to take risks, like an ‘action’ painter, using a camera rather than a brush, allowing chance to assist him in capturing something ineffable beyond the data that the impassive lens might normally be expected to register.
Though these particular pictures were made in Russia, Charles initiated his trees project closer to home. His bond with trees and with the land can surely be traced back to the responsibilities that he inherited and the wisdoms he has acquired as the custodian of a historic estate, Goodwood, in Sussex. This destiny situates him in a centuries-long tradition of great British landowners, whose judicious husbandry has created a remarkable heritage in which magnificent trees have flourished and assumed a powerful poetic and emblematic role, providing inspiration to artists in various media. The living, breathing tree, an eloquent reminder of the annual cycle of the seasons, invites interpretation as a glorious metaphor for life itself, its fractal geometry a base-unit of measurement of the infinite. Charles March’s photographs draw us towards a lyrical, transcendental reading of this noble subject.