‘Out into the world’: New book explores life & photography of Thaddeus Holownia

Biographer Peter Sanger (L) with Thaddeus Holownia at Thunder and Lightning book launch

Well wishers packed Sackville’s Thunder and Lightning pub on December 5 to attend the launch of the new book Lightfield about the life and photography of Thaddeus Holownia.

Holownia, who recently retired from teaching in the Mount Allison University Fine Arts department, seemed puzzled when someone asked what he sees as the limitations of photography.

“This will sound very flighty, but I don’t really think in terms of limitations,” he answered. “I just get up in the morning and take my battery of instruments and go out into the world.”

As Peter Sanger’s book makes clear, Thaddeus Holownia has been going out with his instruments to record the world for more than 40 years.

Some of his photographs have appeared in big books produced in collaboration with writers including Peter Sanger himself. Their 2001 Ironworks uses Holownia’s black and white photographs and Sanger’s poems to honour the simple ingenuity of seven of the 19th century blacksmith-made tools that Sanger had collected.

In Dykelands, Holownia’s large, detailed photographs and Douglas Lochhead’s poems capture the sometimes-stark beauty of the Tantramar Marsh.

Photography as dialogue

During the book launch, Sanger read a passage from Lightfield in which he writes that like nature itself, Holownia’s photographs “unfold and reveal as we observe and respond to them…Holownia makes photographs to be watched.”

Later, Sanger told a story about growing up in England during the 1940s and 50s when his father became an avid photographer.

“I found it extremely difficult to live with,” Sanger said. “Like many people obsessed with photography, he tended to objectify the figures and scenes that he used as fodder for his photographs.”

Sanger remembered his father asking him to do things twice so he could record them properly.

“I became depressed and angry and for many, many years, I stayed away from photography altogether,” he added.

“When I encountered Thaddeus’s work, I found something really, very, very different and this book is an attempt, in part, to recount that difference,” he said.

“One of the themes of the book is that to a modern artist, it’s impossible to objectify their subject.”

Sanger added that in Holownia’s photographs, the observer is also the observed.

“I’m not sure that many members of the artistic community have caught up with this idea yet. That we are what we create and what we create is what we are,” he said.

In the book, Sanger also quotes one of Holownia’s own comments about his work: “Photography is a dialogue between the photograph and its viewer.”

Lightfield: The Photography of Thaddeus Holownia is published by Gaspereau Press.

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4 Responses to ‘Out into the world’: New book explores life & photography of Thaddeus Holownia

  1. Rima Azar says:

    Fantastic news. Congratulations! Too bad I did not know about this book before Christmas. It would have been an inspiring gift to my sister (who left a career as an accountant to dive into the world of photography). Maybe for her birthday 🙂 or next year? Thank you.

  2. Its another I won’t be buying .. as a creator and producer myself I prefer to work in the flow and not act commercially buying things I don’t need or want .. but there are endless accolades laid at the feet of Sir Thad .. aren’t there?

    • Les Hicks says:

      Wow, do I detect a very LARGE hint of jealousy and envy in your post? Perhaps if you were to finally identify yourself when you make all of these negative comments about others we would be more aware of your creations and productions, not that we would buy any of them because that would be crassly commercial. I triple dog dare you (sorry about the breach of etiquette, skipping the dog dare and double dog dare and going right to the mother of all dares) to sign your name to all of your future critical comments. Perhaps readers would have more respect for your comments if you did.

    • Sharon Hicks says:

      I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say you prefer to “work in the flow” … ??? Could you clarify that ?

      I will just say that as a member of the Sackville Art Association, I have taken part in more than one critique session presented by Thaddeus, and I can tell you with great certainty that he posesses a very keen Artist’s Eye, when it comes to assessing paintings and also when it comes to his approach to photography. He really ‘knows his stuff’. He doesn’t just “take pictures”, he “creates art with his camera”.

      I am a ‘creator and producer’ as well – my work hangs in the Sports Wall of Fame portraits at the Civic Centre, for one example, but I have no hesitation in giving praise where it is due. His photos are generally ‘high quality’, artistically speaking, and often they are absolutely breath-taking.

      Thaddeus shows us a part of himself with his camera’s lens, while others of us do the same with our brushes and pencils. Speaking as an artist myself, I truly admire his work.

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