This is one of a series of photographs from Holdsworth’s series A Machine for Living, 1999-2000, which depicts the Bluewater shopping complex at night. Bluewater is a large shopping centre built on the site of a disused quarry near a major motorway junction in suburban Kent. This photograph, which was produced in an edition of five, shows exits from the motorway leading to vast empty carparks. The shopping complex itself looms in the background of the image beneath a heavy sky.
Holdsworth used long exposures at night to exploit the available light sources. This process has rendered the landscape in unnatural colours. The sky is a hazy red, as are trees in the immediate foreground, while the sparse foliage dotted around the car park is a sickly yellow. Electric lights in the car park give off an eerie, excessively bright glow. The scene is completely empty of people, and this barrenness, along with the saturated colours, conveys a sense of unease. The heightened, unnatural colours and clean, empty spaces also make the scale of the image hard to discern; the subject could almost be an architectural model complete with carefully placed miniature trees. Only the pylons on the horizon line in the distance mark the landscape as a real place.
The title of Holdsworth’s series is a reference to the modernist architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965). In his book Towards a New Architecture, 1923, Le Corbusier famously proclaimed that ‘a house is a machine for living in’. Holdsworth’s image is an ironic comment on Le Corbusier’s utopian ideal. Bluewater looms out of the landscape not as a consumerist pleasure dome but as the dreamlike or drug-induced vision of a shopping complex that does not need shoppers. Rather than a machine where humans could live, the complex resembles a living machine. The luminous glow from the mall and its parking lots suggests a wholly self-contained, self-perpetuating environment hemmed in by the quarry’s edge.
Holdsworth has said, ‘I’m often quite interested in dislocating the image from the place. I’m not so interested in where it's located. What I’m interested in is a psychological landscape.’ (quoted in Freak). The surreal vision of the shopping centre as an extra-terrestrial landing site or post-apocalyptic refuge is achieved with the stillness and luminosity of nocturnal time-lapse photography. Other contemporary photographers who have used the potential of night shooting to produce heightened images of the built environment include Rut Blees Luxemburg (born 1967; see Viewing the Open, 1999, Tate P78570) and Sophy Rickett (born 1970).
Holdsworth’s interest in ‘psychological landscape’ is also evident in his other photographic series. Autopia, 1998 depicts carkparks at night. At the Edge of Space, 1999 was made at the Port Spatial de l’Europe in French Guyana, a space agency in the midst of a jungle. More recently he has photographed volcanic landscapes in Iceland (The World in Itself, 2001). As critic Keith Patrick has pointed out, these series represent an updating of notions of the Romantic Sublime. He has written, ‘elements of awe, vastness, individual insignificance, of trespass even, are appropriate to these ... wildernesses’ (Patrick, p.71).
Matthew Collings, Angus Carlyle, et al., Beck’s Futures 2, exhibition catalogue, ICA, London, 2001, reproduced pp.60-1 in colour.
Keith Patrick, ‘Contemporary Landscapes’, Contemporary Visual Arts, no.32, 2000, pp.70-1, reproduced p.70 in colour.
David Freak, ‘Dan Holdsworth’, icBirmingham, 2003, icbirmingham.icnetwork.co.uk/0800whatson/0400visualarts/page.cfm?objectid=13476746&method=full&siteid=50002.