‘While the subject of my photographs has shifted from the landscapes of the American Southwest and Tasmania, and the minimal horizons of the Southern Ocean, and the icy wastes of Antarctica, to sacred architecture and the sky at both day and night, my art has remained essentially spiritual – for more than two decades I have been exploring a contemporary expression of the sublime – a transcendental experience of awe with the vast space and time of existence.’ David Stephenson 1998 1
David Stephenson has travelled the world in search of the sublime. This fascination is evident in his early landscape panoramas and also in his Antarctic photographs and 'Star' series of 1995. He strives to echo the human desire for transcendental meaning by making images that symbolise the enigmas of time and space, the experience of awe and wonder. From his 1990 series ‘Clouds’ to the later series ‘Stars’ the skies have held a certain appeal, partly because they represent the heavens, which are a timeless sign of transcendence. In ‘Stars’ Stephenson used a variety of techniques to capture the night sky, including long, multiple and periodic exposures, with delicate lines of light dashing or swirling across the surface of each print. They are drawings of light, marks traced by a star whose distance from us is without measure, signifying the vast nature of our cosmological universe. These images relate to the historical tradition of looking at the skies to both map our position and understand our place in the world.
1. Van Wyk S 1998, ‘Sublime space: photographs by David Stephenson 1989–1998’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne np
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
gelatin silver photograph
76.9 x 77.1 cm image; 79.4 x 79.5 cm sheet; 93.3 93.3 x 2.4 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated label verso, "David Stephenson 1995".
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales Contempo Group 1997
Not on display
© David Stephenson
Shown in 5 exhibitions
Sublimespace, National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne, 28 Aug 1998–19 Oct 1998
David Stephenson Retrospective, National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne, 28 Aug 1998–19 Oct 1998
Points of view: Australian photography 1985-95, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Nov 2005–29 Jan 2006
The photograph and Australia:
Under the Stars, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 21 Mar 2020–2021
Referenced in 8 publications
Judy Annear, The photograph and Australia, Sydney, Jun 2015, 216 (colour illus.).
Judy Annear, Points of view: Australian photography 1985-95, Sydney, 2005. no catalogue numbers
Judy Annear, Look, 'Contempo supports Photography Collection', pg. 24, Heidelberg, Mar 1998, 24.
Natasha Bullock, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Time - memory - place', pg.288-311, Sydney, 2007, 294.
Keith Davis, Stars, 'Tracing infinity', pg. 30-33, Melbourne, 1999, 7 (colour illus.).
John MacDonald., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Brushing the Dark', Sydney, 04 May 1996.
Robert McFarland., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Signs among the Stars', Sydney, 23 Apr 1997.
Susan van Wyk, Sublimespace, Melbourne, 1998, illus..