Holden Richards

One Eno - Cole Mill Fog and Rain

Medium format Exposure on Black and White 120 Film

Western artists stand as humans looking at nature; Asian artists try to be in nature. You become one with nature rather than painting a portrait of it. That’s a big shift.

-Brice Marden, contemporary painter

... (It is) a subject that won’t sit still… an attempt to photograph an evolving, living entity... a place where I find exceptional solace and meaning.

- Holden Richards

An encounter with a work of art that is truly and deeply satisfying is an experience both magical and mysterious. Words can’t explain it. Instruments can’t measure it. There’s no checklist against which you can determine what brings the magic about. It’s more than technique. It’s not just the readable subject matter. Nor is it simply literary narrative. You can’t fully understand it, but it is a real experience, nonetheless. You’re aware of it on a level much deeper than thought.

An authentic work of art comes about when there is a direct and deep connection between the inner fibers of the artist’s being, on one hand, and the expressive quality of the external form created, on the other.

Holden Richard’s beautifully and loving crafted photographs evidence this connection. His One Eno project focuses on a particular landscape — the Eno River and its environs as it flows through Orange, and Durham counties in North Carolina — with which the artist has intimate knowledge and a deep reverence. For more than a decade, Richards has regularly spent time becoming one with this landscape. He identifies with it; he experiences it as a living, breathing thing. And his photographs are direct responses to (and re-presentations of) it. They express that “felt solace and meaning” the artist describes.

In actuality, the sense of aliveness Richards experiences in nature often becomes the central subject of the work.

Living things are energetic beings. They engage with other living things to form energetic relationships. When photographic translations convey and embody these energies, they speak of the aliveness within and without.

A primary energy encountered in nature is rhythm, and rhythmic sequences are central to Richards’ experiences of the landscape.

Visual rhythm comes about when there is a sequential repetition of an element, an alternation between beats and spaces, or an alternation between one type of energy and its opposite. Rhythmic movements occur everywhere. We breathe in, then out, in then out. Our hearts alternate between beats and spaces. Mountain ranges are essentially a series of alternating ups and downs, peaks and valleys. We experience surf is a series of swells that rise and fall, movements that advance and recede.

Rhythmic sequences are essential elements throughout the series of One Eno images. The photographs convey what it feels like to be in the landscape, rather than simply documenting its appearance.

Cole Mill Fog and Rain (figure 1) is a terrific example. Here, Richards both consciously and intuitively senses a variety of rhythms in space. Some are embraced used as central unifying elements. Figure 2 diagrams a primary rhythm (in blue), a sequence of repeated vertical elements that move horizontally across the top of the space, leading and unifying our experience. Figure 3 shows a second rhythmic thread, much less obvious at first glance but present nonetheless (shown in yellow). It stands in support of, and as compliment to, the movement in blue above)

figure 1

figure 2
figure 3

Then, to top it all off, Richards’ arrangement can be experienced as having a third rhythm, a much shorter sequence (indicated in red lines, figure 4) just to the left of the center of the photograph.This wonderful, little, fanning movement serves as a bridge, a connection between the rhythms above and below.

figure 4

Richards senses, recognizes, and embraces additional essential energies in the landscape as well. Notably, his images have wonderfully delicate senses of equilibrium, for example. We could write endless about the compositional principles present in the work. But let’s treat ourselves to one more here…

Cole Mill Fog and Rain reveals how underlying architecture can can be experienced as a powerful organizing energy in the landscape.

Living things things rely on underlying structures in order to thrive, and ultimately, for their very existence. We count on them. We can’t live without them. Imagine, for example, what it would be like if the sun rose at five in the morning one day, two in the afternoon the next, the following day at noon, an so on. Not only would we not know when to eat or sleep, how to dress, how allot time. Before long, without an underlying structure of repeating cycles, all of nature would quickly perish!

One such example of underlying architecture occurs when three, large, interlocking triangles join together to engage the entire picture plane (as in a jigsaw puzzle), locking it in place. This structure was frequently employed in late Byzantine and early Renaissance painting (see how this works in the arrangements by Bernardo Luini, left pairing, figure 5, and Giovanni Bellini, right pairing, figure 6, below).

figure 5

figure 6

figure 7

This same understructure is featured in Cole Mill Fog and Rain. Intuitively, Richards experienced this sensation when being with this landscape (figures 7). The configuration became the architectural underpinning of the image.

Finally, rhythmic movements and the underlying architecture work together, combining to create a most satisfying image and wonderfully structured image, full of aliveness and resolution (figure 8).

figure 8

It is tempting to go on, endlessly analyzing the compositional strengths that abound in Holden Richards’ images. It certainly is a pleasure to encounter them. In the end, though, neither words nor analysis can furnish the viewer with experiential understanding that comes from being with the image (as Richards is with the landscape when photographing it). Viewers are encouraged to be with the images as well. It’s the only way to experience the aliveness within, to appreciate the authentic and expressive quality of the work.