Facing the Elements

Quickly scanning Manu Keggenhoff’s solo show, Facing the Elements, at the Copper Moon Gallery, I am struck by the eerie realism of the paintings on display. Then I suddenly realize the work is actually photography!

The German-born Atlin artist merges the feel of a painting with the medium of photography. She cleverly crosses over from photography into the realm of painting by printing her atmospheric photographs on large stretched canvases.

The atmosphere Keggenhoff creates with her work is as awe-inspiring as the landscape she is surrounded by in Atlin.

How many times has each one of us living in this glorious land tried to photograph the beautiful scene before us, and failed to capture the glory we behold?

It is no small feat. And in a land of so many good landscape photographers, it is no easy feat to express it again in a fresh way. Keggenhoff succeeds with her photo-painted canvas.

Each image, as is indicative of her titles, zeros in on some special quality of earth, air and water. She uses a variety of formats (small squares, long narrow horizontals, et cetera) to emphasize mood.

In Keggenhoff’s ghostly piece “Earth: Stillness During a Storm”, she has chosen a long, narrow, horizontal format to depict a forest of many soft shades of black and white. Check out for yourself the early morning, calming effect this work will have on you.

On display as a group of nine small square canvases, arranged in a square like so many fields of grass and wheat sewn by a farmer, is a series called “Earth, Air: Windspiel”.

Each little “field” depicts a chunk of wild grass, flowers, foxtails, fireweed, and so on. Soft-edged background and diagonal composition, as well as colour, add to the illusion created of wildness and movement.

I can see the wind. The unique display of small square formats helps to convey the feeling of movement all the more.

In “Earth: the Blanket” a chunkier format is used with vibrant colour – reds, golds and greens – which give the work a warm, solid blanket effect.

“Earth: Hunting Ground” with its blurred background and purposeful compositional elements freshly captures the movement and unique essence of the coyote in the bush.

Photography is the science of light. So light – how it falls on shapes in the landscape, how it can stream through trees and clouds, how soft or hard it can be – is very much part of Keggenhoff’s photographic explorations.

A subtle and mysterious effect is created through tonal variety in the foggy atmosphere of “Air: Light Bearer” with its fleeting shafts of streaming light. However corny this image may seem (like a rainbow) it never fails to stir within me a sense of awe and glory.

Keggenhoff portrays an other-worldly, icy feeling in “Water: Change of Mood” with its depiction of the many intricate circular shapes that only nature could devise.

This is one of my favourite pieces because of its ambiguous feeling of otherness. We don’t immediately know what we are beholding.

This image successfully conveys the transitory, slightly disturbing, creepy feeling that comes over me as we enter into the deep freeze of winter.

Keggenhoff also likes to show off colour and uses its psychology to grab our senses. The intense glory of bright red is shown off in the mature foliage of autumn in “Earth: Embrace the Land”.

Another favourite of mine is Keggenhoff’s stunning portrayal of Teresa Island, surely one of the most spectacular spots on earth, entitled “Air, Land, Water: Facing the Elements”.

She again captures with gorgeous light the glory of the mountain, the island and the lake.

In her poster piece “Water: Silence Eventually” Keggenhoff combines a dramatic use of soft and hard edge photography to convey movement and stillness.

The image is a beautiful multitude of watery blue shades that blur and blend beneath a crisp icy image.

Although Keggenhoff’s subject matter is well-worn – another raven image, another mountain – she manages, by combination of technique and material, to capture something new and beautiful, and has created a body of work with imagery that feels ultra real.

Facing the Elements is on display at the Copper Moon Gallery in McCrae until Wednesday, August 31.

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