19th September 2018
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As exacting as any painting or sculpture

IT IS often assumed that photography is the process of fast freezing a moment in time, a fraction of a second, a quick glimpse captured for eternity, a “snap”.

“Let me show you some ‘snaps’” may be the phrase of those who grew up in the post-Brownie era with access to “instant” photography, Polaroids, instamatics, compacts and a wealth of point and shoot. That word itself, a “shot”, makes it seem quick, over in a second, ephemeral.

But much professional photo­graphy takes time. Indeed from its earliest days more than 150 years ago photography was time consum­ing, requesting that you stand quite still in front of a camera, mounted on a tripod, with long time exposures. The true artist photographer has had to develop (no pun intended) the medium, coaxing, being patient in order to see the result through to the end, a successful print.

It is as exacting and as much a craft as any painting or sculpture. Mark Sinclair’s photographs in the new exhibition “Out of Office” at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale Mill clearly display that craftsman-like approach to the medium.

In many of the more than 30 works there is evidence of careful timing and patience rewarded with beautiful and sometimes stunning results. It’s clear from a show like this that digital photography can mirror the complexity and variables associated with traditional methods.

Scord, Scatness is a monochrome triptych of sky, land, and sea, the movement of the water delayed by a long exposure transforming the wave in full surge. It is both dramatic and incredibly calming. This dicho­tomy features throughout the work.

Sinclair is clearly drawn to the coastline and weather of his native Shetland. There’s a host of images depicting the sea in a variety of moods with big dramatic skies. The care and skill with which these images have been prepared is evident in the clarity of the prints.

One of my favourites is Dale of Walls II with its close-up of glisten­ing rocks and a slinky, swirling tide. Foula is picked out in the hazy, salmon pink and lilac sunset.

Often relying on wide-angle views these landscapes exude mood and place, the work taking on an almost “Romantic” aesthetic of the artist versus nature. Clarity of vision is crucial. In Ronas Voe there’s the gentle hint of ripples in the water while similar ripples in the clouds mirror the gentle lapping waves in South Voxter, Cunningsburgh. Sometimes there is effect for effect’s sake which can become clichéd such as the light in Levenwick II.

Mark tells me he uses the raw file data from the digital camera and then works on the image building up the photograph in terms of light and colour. And it’s the colour photo­graphs which contain some of the most romantic (this time as in sentimental) images. Who could fail to respond to the sunsets at Banna­min and St Ninian’s Isle V. Both have a subtlety of colouring although I don’t find the same in Nibon.

The contrast of stillness and flow and the ambiguity set up by photo­graphing water features in much of the work. Waves and sand patterns from St Ninian’s bring to mind the work of the late Gunnie Moberg.

Stillness and flow also play a part in the large multi-image piece in the stairwell. Taken at Dale of Walls, this chopped-up series presents both blurred and clear objects, looking into the shingle and rocks of the shoreline through the water and shot with a long exposure.

Perhaps the photograph with the longest exposure is also the most unusual in the show. Levenwick II shows a wide-angled night sky from a position near a ruined building. The position of the camera focused on the Pole star shows the rotation of the other stars around it. In its minimal use of colour it is a fascin­ating image and I was drawn back to it frequently.

I liked the presentation of this show, the way the window mounts are lifted off the wall by 30mm or so of hidden wood creating a fine sense of depth, the shadows acting almost like a frame. This is an exhibition I’d recom­mend to anyone and not simply those who take photographs. While most of us are unlikely ever to be able to match the skills employed here we can all enjoy a new view of Shetland through Sinclair’s lens.

Just the one image, Meal Beach III, with its dramatic storm cloud over a stunning expanse of surf and sand is enough. If it doesn’t fail to thrill or move you then you’re in Shetland for all the wrong reasons.

The exhibition continues until 7th September.

Peter Davis