Spring Sea Ice by Roberta Holden

In my first semester photography class we studied with only black and white photographs. One of the dictums we were taught was that there images should be very dynamic tonally. The range should always begin with black and end with white. I suspect this rule was put into place to help us develop an eye for contrast (not to mention to provide a grading criteria) as in the world of art there are no hard and fast rules.

That’s what sets this image apart for me. The image is low on contrast, seemingly underexposed, and contains no pure black and no pure white. In my first semester class this would have not quite earned an ‘A’. But these things are merely technical, it’s what the image says to me that is important.

This image was taken in northern Canada and I assume it’s above the Arctic Circle. The harsh environment in that part of the world makes it a desolate and lonely place, not unlike those environments of the other extreme known as deserts that populate almost every continent. Here Ms. Holden captures that desolation. The darkness of the photo gives us the sense of the cold and lonely desolation in this part of the world. While most photos I see of the polar regions are taken in the day, the nighttime capture here adds weight to the feeling.

Not a lot of people know much about this part of the planet, mostly because barely anyone lives that far north. Ms. Holden makes no attempt to try to force more understanding here. The motion of the ice and water is captured in long exposure. The mystery of the Arctic environment is highlighted by this motion blur. We can see enough to know what is there, but not enough to form any sort of coherent understanding. Along with the sense of desolation, the darkness adds to the mystery of the region.

The absence of pure black and white, along with the low contrast, challenges our thinking of this environment. Polar regions and deserts are opposite extremes in terms of environment, and they are rightly thought of that way by most people. The lack of dynamic range and contrast for the most part forces us to consider that the environment is not what is extreme, it is our thinking that makes it extreme. Here we see that it this area is just what it is… the result of nothing more than its geographic location on the planet.

These simple elements all combine to bring a high level of complexity to this minimalist photo. Very few minimalist photos can convey so much, and of this work Ms. Holden I’m sure is proud. To see more of her work, you can visit http://www.nobarriersphotography.com/. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this photo as well.

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