Thomas Joshua Cooper | The World's Edge

Until 23 January 2022
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  • Thomas Joshua Cooper is one of the most distinctive landscape photographers working anywhere in the world today. He was born...

    Installation of Thomas Joshua Cooper's solo exhibition The World's Edge at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

    Thomas Joshua Cooper is one of the most distinctive landscape photographers working anywhere in the world today. He was born in California in 1946 but has lived in Scotland for many years and is Professor and Senior Researcher in Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art, having founded the photography department there in 1982.

     

    Much of his working life has been spent in the role of artist-explorer, seeking out the edges of the world as the site and subject of his extraordinary photographs. These locations are identified on a map, tracked down and then photographed, with the making of any one image sometimes involving months of preparation and travel. Each place that Cooper visits is the subject of a just a single negative made with a weighty antique Agfa field camera. They are meditative, almost philosophical images, exquisitely hand- printed by the artist in his darkroom back in Glasgow, in the 19th century manner with layers of silver and gold chloride so that no two prints are ever exactly the same.

     

    Between September 2019 and January 2020 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented a major survey of Cooper’s most ambitious series The World's Edge, The Atlas of Emptiness and Extremity, an exhibition of 65 images marking the completion of Cooper's epic project mapping of the Atlantic Basin over a period of 32 years, charting the cardinal points of landmasses from pole to pole. As Danya Goodyear noted in a profile in the New Yorker published at the time of the exhibition: ‘In Cooper’s photographic epic about exploration, colonization, migration and homecoming, he is both narrator and protagonist’.

     

    A selection of works from the Atlas of Emptiness and Extremity are being presented in an exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh from August 2021 to January 2022.

     

    As Thomas himself said at the time of the exhibition at LACMA: "Thirty-two years ago, I had this daft idea that I could potentially circumnavigate the entire Atlantic Basin and travel through all five continents surrounding it from the cardinal edges of all the great points; cardinal north, south, east and west of all the continents surrounding the basin. Thirty-two years later I finally managed to do most of that and here we are with an exhibition, called The World's Edge, at LACMA, and here's some pictures from it."

     

    The New Yorker article can be read in full at the foot of this viewing room.

     

    Unless otherwise stated, the works included here are available. Please contact the gallery for pricing details.

     

    The commentaries that appear alongside the following works were recorded by Thomas as captions to accompany the exhibition at LACMA.

  • Thomas Joshua Cooper, Clouded moonlight, South, South West - The Mid Atlantic Ocean, Cabo Trafalgar, Cadiz, Andalucia, Spain , 2003 Silver gelatin print, hand toned & printed by the artist. 43 x 60 cm (print) Edition of 2/3
  • The World's Edge - The North Atlantic Ocean and Brandon Bay, Brandon Point, County Kerry, Ireland, 2002/2014, Silver gelatin print, hand toned & printed by the artist, 70 x 100 cm (print)

    This work is not available

  • "The picture that we're looking at is a dark picture with white horizontal marks across the bottom half of it. Those horizontal marks are waves in windblown action. The picture describes an area near the birth site of one of the great Celtic-Irish Saints, Saint Brendan the Navigator, who is the patron saint of navigating for all sailors, and also it could be said, the Patron Saint of The Atlas of Emptiness and Extremities, my project. It was one of the early pictures that I made. It's very near the westernmost point of Ireland which is a very weather-beaten part of the island. It was an inspiration to actually be near the site where the young Saint Brendan started out to make his first sea voyage of contemplation and pilgrimage and meditation.


    It became the hallmark picture for the project to set oneself off into unknown emptiness and also within that, the uncertainty of actually ever arriving at a goal, getting anywhere, possibly not actually even surviving the journey.


    It became absolutely both the inspiration and the metaphor for everything that I've tried to do since." - (TJC)

  • 'The picture’s called Wild and Bewildered, Ojo De Agua, which is Spanish for eye of the water. It's made a...

    Thomas Joshua Cooper
    Wild and bewildered, Cabo Santo Agostinho, Pernambuco, Brazil, South America, 2006
    Silver gelatin print, hand toned & printed by the artist.

    43 x 60 cm (print)
    Edition of 2/3

    "The picture’s called Wild and Bewildered, Ojo De Agua, which is Spanish for eye of the water. It's made a very particular point in the, what I call the Hump of Brazil a place called Cabo de Santo Agostinho. It's the place where paleo-geologists have determined that the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, broke up the form the countenance of South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, the island of Madagascar, and some bits and pieces as well. It broke up at the exact point I was standing on.

     

    I'm on a sea cliff about somewhere between 55 to 65 feet above the ground. And I'd warned my guide that it's very treacherous sea currents and big, big unexpected waves come and I asked him to keep an eye on me, but he went to sleep and all of a sudden I'm hit from behind by what turned out to be a giant wave.

     

    The camera was sheared off the tripod. I'm holding onto the cable release. I must have clicked the shutter because I never saw this picture. It happened at the point at which the camera was torn off the tripod by the wave.

     

    It was a remarkable place for perhaps one of the most important pictures I've ever made to occur but I don't actually think I can claim credit for making it because I didn't see it. It happened to me. But also how beautiful and how wonderful the unexpected can be! What a treat to be prepared for a gift like this that could have been lethal but turned out to be magnificent for me." - (TJC)

  • 'I made this picture dreaming of Antarctica during a polar cyclone at the south most point of Cape Horn. We...

    Thomas Joshua Cooper

    Looking towards Antarctica and Dreaming - Drake Passage, Cabo de Hornos/Cape Horn, #1, Isla Hornos, Islas Hermite, Antartica Chilena, Chile, Very Near the South-Most Point of All South America, 2006-2017

    Silver gelatin print, hand toned & printed by the artist

    43 x 60 cm (print) Edition 3/3

    "I made this picture dreaming of Antarctica during a polar cyclone at the south most point of Cape Horn. We set out in in a 10-meter sailing motorized sailing boat, so small it's the size of a living room. We get halfway out when polar cyclone hits. We had no choice but to go forward, we’re just a little bit further than halfway. We’re just being beaten. I thought, "I can make this picture. I'm never going to get to Antarctica but this arrow is looking directly towards Antarctica and I can make this picture in the middle of a polar cyclone.


    We are trying to leave land and our dinghy overturns. We're being pushed back to the landform and the propeller of the engine’s going out of the water or somebody's going to get hurt or killed. The captain, if he'd had a gun, he would have killed me on the spot for endangering everybody, but we get all the stuff back. We managed to break through the mountain of waves to get offshore. Captain was so angry in the first thing he does is he knocks me flat down with one punch direct to the jaw and urged me not to get up. But you can't not take risks when pictures are required of you." - (TJC)

  • Thomas Joshua Cooper
    Failure and Annihilation, Looking toward Scotland, Darien and Caledonia - Bahia Escocese, Puerto Escocés, Guna Yala, Panama, 2007/2015
    Silver gelatin print, hand toned & printed by the artist. Edition 2/4
    70 x 100 cm (print)
    109.5 x 145 cm (framed)
  • "I made this picture in Panama. It's the remains of the colony that Scotland set out to found in 1700. This colony was completely, totally, and thoroughly obliterated. I'm on the exact point of rock which Puerto Escocés was founded in 1700 and from whence it was obliterated.

     

    While I was there, although I had written tribal permission from the High Chief of the San Blas people, I was assaulted by one of his Lower Chiefs with the machete for trespassing and there wasn't a damn thing I could do except for have my guide bring out his machete and you have this macho thing of somebody's going to get chopped up to hamburger meat when all I really want to do is make the pictures.

     

    That shaking limb wasn't the only thing the shaking. I am quivering behind the camera but nothing stops the picture." - (TJC)

  • 'This is my very first ice picture. The site, it's called L'Anse aux Meadows and it's the exact site that...

    North! The First Landing Site, Afternoon Drifting Fog, the Spring Equinoctial Ice Flow - The North Atlantic Ocean, L'anse aux Meadowz Natural Historic Site, the Northern Peninsula, the North-Most Point of the Isle of Newfoundland and the Site of the First Known Euoropean Contact with The New World Canada, 1998/2015

    Silver gelatin print, hand toned and printed by the artist

    Edition of 3

    This work is not available but is currently on view at the SNPG, Edinburgh

    "This is my very first ice picture. The site, it's called L'Anse aux Meadows and it's the exact site that Leif Ericson first hit of the new Northern world of North America from Greenland in the year 1,000 becoming the first known European to touch land.
    I'm in the water. I must have been in the water for 45 minutes. Of course, after a while I lost sensation of my feet. I didn't think anything about it. I made the picture and I put the film away and then I realized I can't actually move my legs. I ended up getting frostbite on three toes as a result but I didn't know any better.

     

    I'm the only artist that's ever made pictures from both the North and the South Poles which seems strange in an era where everything is immediate and instant to say that some old punk pop like myself who works with the camera that was made in the end of the 19th Century has done something like. But I’m it. There is no other." - (TJC)

  • First light - The South Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope, #2, South Africa, the Southwest-Most Point of Continental Africa, 2004, Silver gelatin print, hand toned & printed by the artist, 70 x 100 cm (print) Edition 2/3
  • Last Light, Shifting Ice, Sudden Danger - Gerlache Strait at Orléans Strait, Looking at Cape Herschel from 'LISA' Rock, Davis Coast, Graham Land, the Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, 64°04' S, 2008, Silver gelatin print, hand toned & printed by the artist, 70 x 100 cm (print) Edition 1/3
  • Thomas Joshua Cooper: The World’s Edge

    LACMA | 22 September 2019 - 2 February 2020
  • The New Yorker: Thomas Joshua Cooper, 2020

    7 October 2019