Stephen Vaughan: Ultima Thule
1 APRIL – 3 JUNE 2011
Stephen Vaughan’s stunning large-scale landscape photographs explore the connections between geology, archaeology and history.
The exhibition takes its title from Ultima Thule, a term used in ancient history to describe the mysterious northern frontier, representing a distant unknown region at the extreme limit of exploration and discovery. Vaughan’s work is inspired by the actual voyage made 2300 years ago by the Greek explorer Pytheas, who travelled to the edge of the then known world beyond Britain, towards Iceland and the Arctic Circle. Over the last four years Vaughan has revisited the Icelandic landscape, to sites that are the nearest equivalent on Earth to the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, and which were used for training lunar astronauts. His work links Pytheas’ ancient voyage of discovery to the present day and the persistent human urge to explore unknown territory.
Using a cumbersome large-format Gandolfi camera, Vaughan made richly detailed, monumental studies of this otherworldly region. These awe-inspiring images reveal landscapes marked by volcanic activity, shifting tectonic plates, vast glaciers and steaming, sulphurous pools. Vaughan says, ‘My photographs depict some of the rawest and youngest surfaces on Earth, allowing the viewer to imagine the prehistoric beginnings of the landscape, void of any human presence or history.’ It is difficult to look at these images without being conscious of the recent predictions of global warming, which have heightened our awareness and fear of the Earth’s volatility and fragility. Vaughan’s images draw directly upon these anxieties, echoing concerns that have arisen in art practices since the 19th century, about the end of nature and the end of history.
Stephen Vaughan gained an MA in Photography from the University of Brighton in 2006. Ultima Thule was first shown at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, in Spring 2008. Vaughan’s previous projects include Opened Landscape: Lindow, Tollund, Grauballe, which resulted in a nomination for the Santa Fe Prize for Photography and was exhibited at Photofusion Gallery, London, Picture House, Leicester, 2005 and Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, Oregon, 2005. His work was also shown at Paris-Photo and Photo-London in 2006 and was included in Apocalypse at the Candace Dwan Gallery, New York, in 2007. He is currently Lecturer in Photography and a member of the LAND/WATER research group at Plymouth University.
Ultima Thule is an Impressions Gallery Touring Exhibition