Thaddeus Holownia

Ironworks, 1996


The Ironworks photographs – seven in all – are a stunning inversion of other works by Thaddeus Holownia. Where his previous photographs are vast and full of the revelations of flooding light, the Ironworks photographs are intimate, inward, and eloquent with the revelations of a light so personal it makes manifest the nature of time rather than space.


Taking as his subject a selection of hoary and venerable blacksmith-made objects (an axe, a spade, a launching wedge, a rigging link, a rigging eye, calipers, and a measuring device called a “traveller”), each of them pitted with use and pocked with the imperatives of decay, The items were found at the Cameron Shipyard in South Mainland, Nova Scotia. Holownia positions each of these strangely provocative objects starkly against a velvety background. The intimacy of detail – made possible by the photographer’s employment of the large negative (8” x 10” format) – bestows upon each of these artifacts an archeologically-fueled nobility. The result is that each of these primitive tools becomes emphatically not a figurative object, but rather an insistent shard of wider human experience. Resolutely non-figurative but possessed with an overwhelming sensuousness, these foreground objects float out towards the viewer and ascend within the picture-plane with all the urgency of an utterance.


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.