At this particular moment
by Dan Rule
This essay was written by Dan Rule for the book ‘An error has occurred ‘, Perimeter Editions (Melbourne), 2018.
Photography is not a task to be taken lightly for Rohan Hutchinson. The sheer topographical, architectural and socio-environmental scope of the images that have marked the Australian artist’s decade-long career confirm as much. His meticulous photographs – chiefly made using an 8×10 large-format camera – speak not only to his acumen as an image-maker, but to the weight of research, conceptual consideration, planning and all-out intrepidness that underpin his endeavours.
Whether knee-deep in snow on a remote rural plain in the depths of a Hokkaido winter, exploring the ever-complex and poetic interfaces between architecture and public space in suburban Tokyo, or perched in a remote Rocky Mountains village in Alberta notorious for its extreme temperatures, Hutchinson makes photographs that broach global themes by engaging with the specificities – climatic, geographic, environmental, architectural or civic – of place. Dealing with the sheer volume of information and detail that only the large-format camera can muster, Hutchinson’s works offer a nonetheless quiet, subtly arresting vantage. They are images not to be glanced at fleetingly, but to be read at length.
In early 2017, Hutchinson embarked on his most ambitious and intrepid project yet. Travelling to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard – situated in the Arctic Ocean approximately halfway between the northernmost tip of continental Norway and the North Pole – he engaged an Italian-Norwegian expedition company with whom to journey across the ice. Travelling by snowmobile, Hutchinson set about documenting the immensity and diversity of the Arctic landscape.
His reasons for visiting the region were anything but arbitrary. The overwhelming weight of scientific, empirical and first-hand evidence of the ravaging effects of climate change on the region has been undisputable to all except the most rabid of denialists, and Hutchinson’s decision to document the Arctic at this particular moment in history was both pointed and poignant. Where the foundational series of photographs capture the beauty, enormity, specificity and subtly shifting tonality of the winter landscape, Hutchinson’s reworking of the images serves both a formal, conceptual and allegorical incursion.
Upon returning to Australia, he set about reinterpreting and expanding the possibilities of the photographs via physical and chemical processes, essentially re-sensitising the original large-scale C-type photographs with photographic emulsion liquid and exposing them to the Australian sun. The resulting works, which are presented alongside the original photographs in this book, reveal a ravaged, blackened Arctic landscape, broaching the parameters of both photography and painting – sweeping landscapes and ruthless abstraction – in the process.
From the Australian city of Melbourne, located in a region infamous for its severely depleted ozone layer, Hutchinson decimates his own majestic images of Svalbard, tens of thousands of kilometres north. As such, Hutchinson addresses our responsibilities not just as Australians, but as global citizens.
The global resonance of our actions holds no bounds. A prodigious error has occurred and here Hutchinson forges a précis as to just how much we all have to lose.