Shortly before his two week backpacking traverse of Baffin Island in 2022, Stephen received the diagnosis his glaucoma had worsened rapidly and he had lost a significant chunk of his vision. As an artist, photographer and explorer, Stephen pondered what he would do when the rest of his vision was gone. A few weeks later, he was suddenly laid off despite being a top performer at the company he had worked at. When Stephen retreated to his cottage (which was also his retirement plan), he discovered it had been burgled and sustained major structural damage between his last visit. Everything he had worked hard to build was lost in just a few weeks.
nūbēs obscura (dark clouds) – a play on camera obscura, is the outcome of that meditation and journey; a melding of images Stephen saw and the poetry (he first pioneered geo-located poetry in Gone Dyke) and music he composed (in situ like We’re Made of Clay) during the traverse. Even the trip was beset with problems, Stephen’s hiking poles malfunctioned, together with his GPS and satellite communicator, his boots fell part in the bog sections, he fell whilst climbing a moraine and busted his knees, re-triggering old injuries which caused sharp pains at each step.
Stephen’s suffering was compounded with the worst arctic weather in decades – constant chilling rain and wind, many days with low clouds and fog which hampered visibility; which foiled his original plans for photographing the landscape. Despite his initial frustrations, somehow the constant clouds obscuring the views and peaks began to resonate with Stephen, he saw them as a metaphor for the loss of his vision and the transience of life; and sought to discover a beauty concealed in the gloom of vanishing peaks and descending cloud banks – a new way of seeing, different from the grand vistas, ultrasharp conventions of landscape photography.
Stephen also utilized the cyanotype process as metaphor. Unlike giclee prints and silver prints where the image sits on the surface of emulsions, cyanotype chemistry penetrate into the fibers of the paper, just as Stephen wished to ingrain what he saw into his mind. Cyanotypes also fade with prolonged exposure to light, but the image regenerates in the dark – a fact Stephen found solace in, where the loss of light did not mean the end of sight.
CREATED BY: STEPHEN CHEN | COMPLETED: 23/03/2023
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