Thaddeus Holownia

Headlighting, 1974-77



Using a Gundlach 8" x 20"-format Banquet Camera, loaded with paper negatives, Thaddeus Holownia travelled across North America photographing thirty-six North Americans with their vehicles. The rigorous compositions of Headlighting – in particular the elongated horizontal format and the tight cropping which isolates the subjects from their surroundings – gives the series an aura of sociological study.


The automobile may well be the most predominant image within the relatively short history of photography. Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Nathan Lyons have in their photographs repeatedly used the automobile as a symbol of crass materialism. Holownia, like these photographers, works within the documentary tradition of the medium, but Headlighting contain none of the fierce societal condemnation attached to automobiles. Instead, Holownia collapses the standard version down to a vision of cars (or trucks) and their owners which is subtly intimate and as gentle as the light in which many of these images were taken. 

Thaddeus Holownia explores the intersections of nature and humanity. Specifically, he deals with how humanity changes landscape, how the forces of nature mould human structures, and how the two coexist. His work calls attention to various ecological and political issues that are of growing concern. Holownia's practice uses altered landscapes to convey the precarious relationship between man and nature. To expose these landscapes he returns to a place over years, even decades, and creates a photographic catalogue of the transformation.

As a young artist, Holownia was part of Toronto’s hip and burgeoning art scene. He left Toronto in 1977 for a two-year teaching job at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Professor Holownia became Head of the Photography Department and is now Head of the Fine Arts Department. Enchanted by his surroundings, Holownia remained there and has never returned to living in an urban environment. His move to the Maritimes served to heighten his awareness of deeper moral and spiritual issues that are now the foundations of his ecologically conscious work.