I have known the Scottish islands of the Hebrides my whole life. For me, as for many others, theirs is a landscape infused with an atmosphere of unvarying, essential solidity and unparalleled spiritual comfort.
When I think of the existential landscape of limitlessness that we are conjuring up in this exhibition at Aperture, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, my mind’s eye invariably slips to the universe these islands comprise—and in particular to Paul Strand’s (1890—1976) photographs taken there in 1954.
Without fail, these images give us glimpses of the material of eternity: the portraits detailed landscapes, the landscapes intimate portraits, both recognizing and honoring the soul of a place where humans and topography have come to evolve together, to resemble each other and to live in—hard-won—harmony as one entity, one ecosystem.
When considering the passage of time and the blessings and vagaries of evolution, it is a privilege to rest on these pictures of essence: man, woman, child, beast, rock, sky, sea. And see them weighed equally in Strand’s masterly hand.
They could have been taken yesterday, or next Monday. Or a hundred—a thousand—years ago. We have here in Strand’s sights, in one gesture, the deathless promise of unfolding time anchored by the familiar contours of the past. Or, to paraphrase the Gaelic proverb: nothing changes under the sun and life is sufficient to life. These photographs bear witness to and celebrate this balance, this immortal—and mortal—poise. We could do worse than to harness ourselves to its majesty, to its generosity, to its grace.
This exhibition is in conjunction with Orlando, also guest-curated by Tilda Swinton, on view in the main gallery.
All images Courtesy the Paul Strand Archive/Aperture Foundation