I installed the most recent exhibition of Ron Haselden’s ongoing Series of Postcards, which included 99 postcard-sized photographic works in the William Road gallery of John McAslan and Partners, Architects in November 2011. I wrote the press release for the exhibition, as well as a short response to the works and space of display that followed in December 2011:
Ninety-nine photographic works printed in postcard format were arranged chronologically around the headquarters of John McAslan and Partners, a large architects’ firm located on William Road, just to the northwest of Euston station. The presence of so many works, each displayed on individual shelves, necessitated the clearing of a large section of the studios’ ground floor workspace, and the use of over twenty-five meters of almost continuous wall space. Set up like a canteen with long tables gridding and dividing the floor plan of the firm’s creative hub, the space was sparsely utilitarian. This suited the works acutely, as their plethoric details, which up to this point had only previously been exhibited in larger formats, were further concentrated and condensed down to actual postcard size. To accommodate the exhibition, architects’ models in the form of sliced cross-sections, multi-story elevations, or specific motifs and details of buildings past, present and future, were stacked and arranged in the front window. Juxtaposed with these minutely intricate models, and visible from outside through their semi-transparent structures, Haselden’s Postcards took on the air of stage sets; scaled-down theatrical mock-ups akin to cardboard cut outs and maquettes of larger compositions. This emphasized the artist’s already perceptible concern for the arranging process of his chosen imagery, and his receptiveness to hidden or unconventional subjects, from the frost on a wooden post to the tongue of a bee or the graffiti on a beached boat’s hull. Cutting, intersecting, overlaying, composing; light, darkness, colour, saturation, tone; movement, stasis, perspective, centre and periphery – all of the works grapple with these pushes and pulls, and never privilege one viewpoint of a given subject over any other. This is further manifested by the number of framed shots included in each composition, often as if placed together in haste and sitting uneasily within the white rectangle of the paper support. They offer a restless choreography, a ballet dance of flora and fauna, shapes, objects and atmospheric conditions. With some exceptions, and reflective of the artist’s home in the countryside of northern Brittany, they are nearly always taken outdoors on the artist’s daily walks, looking and moving away from the built environment. Thus they are in certain ways directly opposed to the immovability of architecture (and in particular the architects’ office in which they were displayed); they seek to frame nature instead, in its vicissitudinous and ever changing formations of light, heat etc. They do not attempt to contextualise motifs or sensory phenomena within any given environment (they are distinctly undogmatic), so much as get to grips with what effect those processes have on the viewing ‘I’. The arrangement of each postcard’s imagery is necessarily both a form of post-production, reacting to single shots, and a creative act in itself, instigating wider visual relationships between things caught in a succession of photographs.
The ninety-nine Postcards on view were standardized along a single line at eye level, strafing quick-fire across the long wall spaces. Occasionally, a specific colour might dominate, a hue standing out of one or other of the images, while care was taken to edit out particularly glaring differences in this regard. This further emphasized the collective nature of the series, while allowing subtle variations to create a visual rhythm across the works – a fluctuating ribbon of density and saturation – when seen from a distance. Within this wider focus on the material and colour properties of the series, relationships between subjects or the artist’s recurring interests could still be seen with clarity across the space, for example in the profusion of piercing light sources Haselden captures in several of the works. His unceasing experimentation with each postcard’s compositional arrangement could also be plotted. Often in a group of three or four works here and there, the artist has chosen to crop and enclose motifs within oval or circular frames, or else standard rectangular images would be tilted, staggered across the paper in diagonals and slanting grid patterns. These groups rose out of the series as moments of questioning how best to portray a particular object, or else what effect such framing devices might have on narrative and subjectivity. The works had a sculptural quality as well, held up on plinths and casting soft triangular shadows against the walls behind. They thus took on a physical and visual status they haven’t had previously when framed behind glass, bolstered by the rigid, continuous line of their viewing shelves and more prominently by their sheer collective number. Yet at the same time they retained a modesty and unpretentiousness characteristic of the artist’s work. They perched delicately, leaning against the studio’s walls in a way more akin to museum postcard racks than framed and formalized artworks in white cube spaces. In this, they succeeded in breaking such taut conventions, allowing democracy to creep back into the viewing process. Indeed, the invitation was to experience them as mementos as much as creative products, and though they appeared sequentially around the space, connections between disparate images continuously drew the viewer from image to image regardless of their order.
Are they purely photographs then, or do they form part of a wider process of looking, asking, and existing in the world? Like any postcard, they declare ‘I’ve been there’, and offer proof for an experience that may otherwise be lost with time or the failing of one’s memory. Crucially however, (and again like any postcard) they blur these experiences. Place and time are often left vague. Titles such as ‘First Light’ or ‘Dawn Watch’, depress such rigid details and give specificity instead to what the artist has seen in a series of moments, not where he was at the time, or what distance he covered to get there. Representation of light, dark, sunrise, dusk, cold, hot, steam, frost, moss, water and being wet; none of these would help him to be rescued if he got lost, but are nevertheless fundamental aspects of a very primal and phenomenological mapping process bound by the here and now. Even smells are alluded to by these material inculcations, in the repetitions of skin seen from every angle, allusions to birth and nurturing, or cool stone, earth, and the wind across a camera lens recording a motorbike traveling at speed. Both singularly and collectively, the Postcards’ blurring of real-time and location coincides with a heightened clarity of experience.
Matthew Reeves, December 2011.