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photo-eye Book Reviews: Melt

Melt, Photographs by Simon Harsent. 
Published by Pool Productions PTY LTD, 2010.
Melt
Reviewed by Douglas Stockdale
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Simon Harsent Melt.
Photographs by Simon Harsent.
Pool Productions PTY LTD, 2010. 100 pp., color illustrations throughout, 16-3/4x12".

After leaving the Midwest over twenty-five years ago for Southern California, I am now content to visit the snow on our annual ski trips. I have fond memories of the first snow or awaking with a fresh white blanket covering our yard, but I recall with equal feelings trudging to school with a wintry blast stinging my face or wading through the early cold spring slush. Thus the flat and melancholy photographs of icebergs in Simon Harsent's Melt stir conflicting memories for me.

My first impression of Harsent's documentation of various icebergs during their migratory pathway is that he is attempting to create a collective portrait of an iceberg. The difficulty that I have with this concept is the implication that if we were presented with photographs of a variety of people we might construct a portrait of a human. Thus after considering the cleaving, wasting away and eventual dissolution of these snowy structures, I sense an alternative symbolic narrative about mid-life crisis, old age, impermanence and eventual passing.

Melt, by Simon Harsent. Published by Pool Productions PTY LTD, 2010.

Harsent presents serial photographs of the life-cycle phases of an iceberg, a progression that begins with large looming structures that over time are reduced in size and reshaped by the sea, wind and sun. The structures appear to be in a slow kinetic morphing, assuming random changes in appearance, depending on the weather conditions encountered in their slow plodding transition to the iceberg graveyard.

Melt, by Simon Harsent. Published by Pool Productions PTY LTD, 2010.

Harsent's photographs are outward looking seascapes, a series of icebergs viewed from a distance with a mass of snow and ice rising just above horizon and filling much of the sky. The ocean usually appears tranquil, while the skies are dark, overcast and clouded and provide me with a moody and mysterious feeling. One result of the flat lighting is to compresses these structures into abstract surfaces and shapes. The chiseled and angular sides of the iceberg initially reveal the results of the cleaving, exposing the structures ancient inner core. The subsequent weather over the duration of their migratory path with the resulting wind, sun, melting and sublimation subsequent re-contour the surface lines, creating aesthetic windswept and flowing icy sea-sculptures.

Melt, by Simon Harsent. Published by Pool Productions PTY LTD, 2010.

These icy structures are frequently ambiguous as to their relative size and volume; without a fathomable reference point, I can not be sure how large these masses are. Harsent's sublime compositions early in the book hint at a massive size, such that they can not be retained within the boundaries of the pictorial space. Later in the book, when the icebergs have become more diminutive, they sit easily within the frame.

The beautiful horizontal color photographs are complemented by a classic layout in this large, oversize horizontal hardcover book.—Douglas Stockdale




Douglas Stockdale is a photographer, author and writer when not working his day job. His photographic projects and stories explore questions from our dreams, experiences and memories. His first self-published book is In Passing and he recently completed his latest photo-project Insomnia: Hotel Noir. He is a photobook critic with his own photo-blog, The PhotoBook, available at www.thephotobook.wordpress.com. Douglas’s web site is www.douglasstockdale.com and can be contacted at doug@douglasstockdale.com. 

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