Awoiska van der Molen is one of the contenders for this year's Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. At the Photographers' Gallery her exhibition of large monochrome silver gelatin prints is on the top floor, after a room devoted to Sophie Calle's moving works on the death of her parents. These too seem very private works, even though there are no titles or narrative - it is not even clear where the photographs were taken. These landscapes convey a sense of the artist alone, quietly focusing on the way light was falling on foliage or illuminating the surface of rocks and water. Sometimes this light is intense: what looks like a ribbon of white road seemingly scratched onto a mountainside or the bright tips of grasses caught by the slanting sun. Sometimes it is softer, blurring forms, and you can imagine it disappearing altogether at the passing of a cloud. A view out to sea has almost no light beyond a faint sheen at the horizon. There are shadows too, but walking up close to the photographs you realise their resolution is too grainy to allow you to into into these dark places.
The video interview with Awoiska van der Molen that I have embedded above begins (rather disappointingly from the perspective of this blog) with her admission "I am not interested in landscape". She says that the landscapes she visits are places to escape to and find solace, a sense of safety. Thus the pictures try to convey her feelings in the landscape rather than the landscape itself. Sean O'Hagan has described her in The Guardian as 'a photographer that is infinitely patient, and interested in the stubborn core of things.' He explains how she took the arresting image of a dark mountain (the photograph can be seen 45 seconds into the video above). 'In one of my favourite shots, a black mountaintop looms out of the slate-grey darkness, two wavy white lines flowing from the peak like moonlit streams. Astonishingly, these are light trails made by two groups of nocturnal hikers, which she managed to capture from a distance thanks to long exposure. You do not need to know this to appreciate its haunting beauty, but it alerts us to the delicacy of her transformative art.'
What I have briefly tried to convey here about Awoiska van der Molen's work is summarised in an essay by Arjen Mulder, published in the new monograph Blanco.
'These are not photos of or after Nature, the photos are part of that same Nature, of an event enabled by Nature via her camera at that particular point in time and that particular exposure. As dusk falls, the thought takes shape in the landscape and the camera is part of this, replicates the scene to turn it into a relationship, a sign in which object and subject conflate, for that which is visualized coincides with what it refers to and who sees it. No symbol, no metaphor, no allegory — Awoiska van der Molen’s photography is so objective that to call it divine would not be an exaggeration. The photographer is utterly absent from her images, which, strangely enough, makes these photos highly personal and intimate, almost painfully so.'