Regarding Nature: Chrystel Lebas

23 June – 16 September, 2018

Panoramic photographs and photograms by Chrystel Lebas

Regarding Nature, featured, spectacular panoramic photographs, and photograms by Chrystel Lebas, of plants and landscapes of the north Norfolk coast. These works were made from an initial study commissioned by Bergit Arends (independent researcher and curator) at the Natural History Museum, London, to follow in the wake of scientists Sir Edward James Salisbury (1886-1978) and his contemporaries Francis Wall Oliver and Arthur Tansley, and to re-examine their discoveries. Their documentation of coastal plants in Norfolk in the early 20th century, was part of the impetus for founding the British Ecological Society.

Regarding Nature: Christel Lebas

Regarding Nature recorded part of a journey undertaken by Chrystel Lebas to the North Norfolk coast. Originally commissioned by the Natural History Museum, she followed in the wake of research 100 years before, by pioneering plant specialist, Sir Edward James Salisbury, whose archive is held there. Salisbury (1886-1978), a director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (1943-1956), wrote many plant books, among them, the one that informed this study: Blakeney Point, Norfolk: Topography and Vegetation, published together with F.W. Oliver in 1913. The two men were part of a pioneering group of scientists who founded the British Ecological Society, in the same year. It was the first society of its kind in the world and originated partly as a result of their field excursions and work on plants at Blakeney Point.

Chrystel+Lebas+photographing

F.W. Oliver, like Lebas, employed a panoramic camera, giving the detail which enabled her to pinpoint the exact original research locations. However, her work contributes a whole new spectacular artistic interpretation of these subtle marsh landscapes. Her images, taken at dusk, when nature gradually changes colour and takes on a new atmosphere are captured with long exposure times and a panoramic camera. This gives her pictures a breath-taking detail, drama and depth. A selection of four was shown, matched by the light boxes showing some of Salisbury’s original plant pictures . In the display case was a range of the research materials that informed the whole project.

 Re-visiting Shingle mobility between  Suæda  bushes, Blakeney. 27/3/13  Plate n°237, Blakeney, June 2014; 52°58.426’N 1°0.674’E
Re-visiting Shingle mobility between Suæda bushes, Blakeney. 27/3/13 Plate n°237, Blakeney, June 2014; 52°58.426’N 1°0.674’E
 Re-visiting  Suæda fruticosa , Blakeney Plate n°303, Blakeney, June 2014; 52°58.546’N 1°0.015’E
Re-visiting Suæda fruticosa , Blakeney Plate n°303, Blakeney, June 2014; 52°58.546’N 1°0.015’E

Chrystel’s work went beyond the initial research, to contribute a whole new spectacular interpretation of these subtle landscapes, which was also bound up with study of plant detail, in the context of the dramatic coastal end ecological changes since the scientists were recording them some 100 years ago. 

The exhibition continues on the upper landing with a series of photograms of a rare, almost extinct plant, London Rocket. Inspired once more by EJ Salisbury’s 1961 publication, Weeds and Aliens (he famously said that a weed is merely a plant growing where we do not want it).

London Rocket – a series of photograms by Chrystel Lebas inspired by EJ Salisbury’s documentation and publication of Weeds and Aliens

‘Regarding Nature’ is part of a larger body of work including further places of study in Scotland and Devon, first shown at Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography, Amsterdam in 2016-17. The original research project was commissioned by, Bergit Arends, former curator of contemporary art, Natural History Museum and assisted by forensic botanist Mark Spencer and funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

 Bergit Arends, who co-commissioned the original exhibition project, and Chrystel Lebas talking at GroundWork Gallery on 24th June
Bergit Arends, who co-commissioned the original exhibition project, and Chrystel Lebas talking at GroundWork Gallery on 24th June

The book which accompanied this exhibition, Field Studies, Walking Through Landscapes and Archives, published by Fw:Books, won the Dutch book design award in 2017, and the prestigious Kraszna-Krausz Foundation award for best photography book, 2018.

The events programme for this exhibition has been funded by the British Ecological Society and co-organised with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre at Cley.

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Chrystel Lebas photographing on location

Chrystel Lebas, born in Salon de Provence, grew up in the remote forests of the surrounding region in Southern France. Her youth was spent mainly outdoors immersed in the scent of pine trees, the power of the mistral winds and the memory of slowly invading dusk. These impressions were to determine her métier as an artist. She obtained an MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art in London in 1997. Her series Between Dog and Wolf (2004–2005), Blue Hour (2005–2006) and Études, Bel-Val (2008–2009) were greeted with tremendous acclaim and were exhibited in 2015-16 at the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Photographers’ Gallery in London and the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris. Over the last 20 years, she has frequently returned to nature, hiking through Europe’s remotest nature reserves to explore the landscape. In capturing her images, Lebas looks beyond the pictorial qualities and aims above all to reveal complex interactions between human and animal on the landscape.– the presence of human beings, ecological processes, climate change. She records the various layers of meaning over long periods of time, by returning during different seasons. Twilight, when nature undergoes a very slow transformation in terms of colours and atmosphere, is her absolute favourite moment of the day, which she captures through long exposures in her panoramic camera.

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