(United States of America 1944 – )
23.0 x 32.4 cm image/sheet; 38.2 x 45.8 cm board
‘These pictures are explorations into the subject by my being open, looking, photographing as much as possible without preconception, criticising and digesting the results, returning and trying to see more deeply.’ William Clift 1987 1
Using photography as an exploration into forms that are pure and free William Clift’s landscapes are partly a response to the geological architecture of the land. Drawn to areas where he considers specific energies are close to the surface, his response is unpremeditated and connects with the land in an emotive, perhaps spiritual way. His study of photography began early in workshops with Paul Caponigro with whom he would later join the Association of Heliographers in New York. Conveying experience of the subject beyond pure documentation was the aim of this group, which Clift emulated in his desire to capture the latent presence of occupants in his commissioned photograph of the Old Boston City Hall in 1970. His early work included several such architectural projects documenting public buildings, including courthouses and the state capitol, before moving onto the landscape tradition as captured by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston before him.
The arid land pitted with malformed scrub in ‘Landscape, New Mexico’ is set against and in opposition to mountains in the far distance with refreshing rains soaking the peaks and valleys. This is a harsh land and although it offers Clift ‘the freedom to look at great distance and rest inside’,2 it has a quality of power that causes feelings of vulnerability in its contrasts of threat and harmony. Clift likens the vast open spaces of New Mexico to the oceans of his youth, a comparison he has explored over several years in a series contrasting the monumental sands and architecture of Mont Saint Michel off the coast of Brittany with a Navajo sacred place in the south-western desert. Both places hold great intrigue for Clift in their metaphysical connection to spirituality, both of people and of place.
1. Clift W 1987, 'Introduction', 'Certain places/photographs by William Clift', Art Institute of Chicago/William Clift Editions, Santa Fe, New Mexico
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'A postwar modernist vision', pg.209-225, Sydney, 2007, 214, 217 (illus.).
Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994.
Gael Newtown, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Photography - Australian, European and American', pg. 67-84, Sydney, 1981, 69. cat.no. 2
(William Clift), The Photographers Gallery, Australia, 1978–1978
Three years on: acquisitions 1978-81, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Oct 1981–01 Dec 1981
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
Critic's Choice, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Apr 1994–10 Jul 1994
Bodyline, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, 03 Feb 2001–08 Apr 2001