Mountains as sanctuaries. Artist in photography Jim Lamont makes this inviting proposition in a remarkable series of black and white prints on display at the Redwall Gallery.
Lamont’s photographs are incantational. As one walks from one print to the next along the gallery walls, one gets slowly drawn into the universe of the artist. Nothing comes up as a distraction, nothing pulls the mind away, visually or conceptually. And at the end of the visit, there is only one urge: to go back and look at the prints again. In a way, Lamont has accomplished the feat of making the same photograph over again without repeating himself.
The subject of Lamont’s photographs is mountain landscape. A Place Apart represents the Canadian Rockies, Baffin Island, and the Italian Dolomites. The photographer goes to extremes to select the points of view as well as the times of year and day that will open up the compositions he is looking for. Yet, the physical location of the mountains he shows is irrelevant. His photographs are not documentary. Their interest lies in the aesthetic experience they propose.
Lamont is in search of the sublime. The sublime is not beauty. It represents a mixed experience of attraction and repulsion. The concept was first introduced by artists and philosophers alike, precisely as they started to turn their attention to mountain landscapes. The concept was dealt with in depth by aesthetics philosopher Edmund Burke in the 18th century. Lamont goes a step beyond by making a connection between the awe inspiring mountains and the spiritual experience. He talks about the “sanctuary of mountains”. This is the meaning behind the title of the show: A Place Apart.
Lamont demonstrates an impressive mastery of the photographic visual language. The dimensions of his prints, typically 50 by 75 cm, give access to the details of the pictures while engaging in a level of intimacy. Two key visual features come in support of this intimacy. Mid-range grays dominate, creating subtle complexity and connectedness. In addition, no vistas to speak of are present in the photos, the sky being veiled by cloudiness or mist. The viewer is forced to stay within the image and to question his or her relationship to the scene. Lamont’s photographs also create an opposition between the extreme sharpness of the rocks and the softness of the clouds. The choice of a lustre finish enhances this contrast. This aesthetic is reminiscent of East Asian paintings that combine line drawing and ink washing such as Japanese sumi-e closely related to Zen Buddhism.
Today’s landscape photography is typically associated with vivid colours and extreme vistas. Lamont’s work is at odds with this trend. One must turn to Ansel Adams, Minor White, and Paul Caponigro to find his sources of inspiration. The deeply rooted tradition these photographers represent continues to promote subtlety, complexity, abstraction and spirituality, too. This is where one must start looking to appreciate the quality of Lamont’s work.
The Redwall Gallery is the exhibition space of the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO) located at 168 Dalhousie Street (www.spao.ca). The opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday. The exhibition runs till September 9th, 2015.