The Nature of Nature: When a Book is a Work of Art

The book is a remarkable artefact designed to make photographs come to life in our hands

For forty years artist Thaddeus Holownia has been making splendid photographs that have put him at the forefront of Canadian art. For almost as long he has also been making books, primarily on letterpress, through his Anchorage Press.

Holownia works in large format photography, and the majority of his work has been made with an antique instrument called a banquet camera, designed to photograph large groups. The negative size from these cameras varies, but is usually 7 x 17 or 9 x 20 inches. For much of his career Holownia has elected to print his photographs at the same scale–creating horizontal prints, dense with information, that are perfect for photographing the landscape.

This format makes them hard to reproduce in print media, which is what led Holownia to produce books where the images could be printed at their actual size, one per page. This newest book, beautifully designed by Robert Tombs, is somewhat smaller (11 x 13 inches), but is still at a scale where the photographs, which make up the bulk of the book, are reproduced at a scale conducive to close looking. And that is exactly what this book draws one to do–to study these images, to look, and look again, seeing both familiar and strange landscapes in a new light.

The book accompanies a full-career retrospective exhibition. The two essays by curator Sarah Fillmore and poet Peter Sanger are informative and engaging, focusing on Holownia’s treatment of the natural world in his work. Between them, the two writers touch on most aspects of Holownia’s long career, but always leave the final word to the photographs themselves.

The Nature of Nature: The Photographs of Thaddeus Holownia, 1976-2016 is a remarkable artefact–a book designed to make photographs come to life in our hands. Featuring reproductions in colour and black and white, the book is a work of art in it itself.

The Nature of Nature: The Photographs of Thaddeus Holownia, 1976-2016
Sarah Fillmore and Peter Sanger
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and Anchorage Press

Written By

Ray Cronin is a senior arts professional with over 25 years’ experience in multiple aspects of museums and creative industries. Most recently the CEO of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Cronin led that institution for seven years.

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