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.
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.
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.