In a career spanning four decades, David Stephenson has produced some of the most powerful photographic images in contemporary art. Stephenson’s ability to capture the vast and terrifying beauty of both our natural and industrial landscapes is unrivalled; rendering his exploration of the cosmological and technological sublime, truly awe-inspiring. From the domes and cupolas of humankind’s greatest architectural achievements, to the infinite stars in the vaulted night sky, Stephenson’s images are humbling and exultant — each a monument to majesty.
A meditation on the sublime has guided David Stephenson's artistic practice over four decades, which has evolved through long-term, interrelated projects of inquiry. His photographic typologies of the transcendent ceilings of European sacred architecture have been published in two monographs with Princeton Architectural Press, with German editions by Prestel Verlag – Visions of Heaven: The Dome in European Architecture (2005) and Heavenly Vaults: From Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture (2009).
While traveling for these architectural projects photographer David Stephenson's made his first photographs of cities at night, bringing together a number of his previous interests, including the idea of the sublime, environmental concerns, and the transcendental power of light. The glowing “light city” seems the perfect emblem of so much that is both good and bad in our industrialized culture: an extraordinary example of a monumental technological sublime, where awe, beauty, and human aspiration are tinged with the horror of potential environmental catastrophe, our engine of modernity seemingly running on empty.
A key aspect of these city pictures is the explosion in growth of the modern city. The visible symbols of economic aspiration such as the skyscraper have spread across the globe. Every reasonably sized city contains a downtown area of high buildings, with urban sprawl often extending for hundreds of square miles, and all those buildings glowing with electric light from sundown through to the early hours. With the vast majority of this electric power generated by coal-fired thermal power stations, it is not difficult to see that this situation has a finite timeframe, before the fuel runs out or climate change has drastic effects on the world’s ecosystems, requiring major changes to take place in the entire fabric of our modern industrialized culture. That many of these cities were founded as ports and are located at sea level, making them highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, gives further urgency to a close scrutiny of the modern city.
A focus of David Stephenson's photography from 2010 to 2017 was his collaboration with Martin Walch on the Derwent Project, which developed new digital approaches to the representation of complex and remote environments. A major exhibition of this project was presented at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in July-November 2017. An overview of the Derwent Project and samples of their multichannel video works can be viewed on the Derwent Project website: www.derwent-project.org.
Since 2014, photographer David Stephenson has been creating time-lapse images and videos drawn from both urban and natural environments. Using programming developed during the Derwent Project, these have been computationally composited to create still images (Time Scans) and videos (Nature Lovers).