In an ever-quickening urban landscape, Steve Macleod’s (b. 1965) new series offers a serene alternative. Inspired by photographs captured by British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (b. 1910), Hala, on display with Black Box Projects as part of Photo London at Somerset House, documents the vast landscape of the Al Hajar Peninsula in the United Arab Emirates. One of the most desolate and inhospitable areas in the region, the mountain range offers a true vision of wilderness; empty and devoid of human presence. As Thesiger notes: “In the desert, I had found a freedom unattainable in civilisation.”
The collection is defined by a subtle engagement with light and colour, translating the physical and psychological experience of being in the landscape into two-dimensions. From rocks and lone trees to valleys and expansive vistas, each composition provides the viewer with a unique moment within nature. Encouraging a meditative approach to both seeing and recording the environment, Macleod reflects: “The longer we stare at nothing, the more chance that something will appear to us, creating an unfathomable aura and thoughtful meaning.”
The artist’s work is often interested in historical and anthropological subjects. In this way, this exhibition explores ancient Bedouin clan plots and small caves, uncovering a unique past which connects humanity to the seemingly uninhabitable landscape. Printed on highly textured watercolour paper, the images offer dialogues between contemporary photography and early Japanese artwork, creating an aesthetic narrative that spans centuries and across continents. In addition, the series’ title, Hala, is taken from the Arabic word for “aura”, forging a connection between communities and the powerful experience of occupying the sublime landscape.
Articulating this feeling, Macleod recollects: “It felt like I was viewing an untranslatable something that lay within and beyond the mountains – I wasn’t there just to take photographs; the landscape was helping explain that even if nothing presented itself to me, there would always be something meaningful to experience.”