Landscape of Remembrance
'Landscape of Remembrance' by Jan Voster was at the Ormeau Baths gallery, Belfast July 1996.
Review by Brian Lynn
In 1986 Jan Voster visited the North-West of Ireland, started taking photographs and so began a journey- a journey back to a past of which he knew nothing but was determined to sift out, discover and somehow capture. In that capturing he has shown us what we haven't seen for ourselves.
On a further trip in 1988 Jan found an old book detailing the now long defunct Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway. This prompted him to explore further and research its history and development. One of many areas serviced by the line attracted him in particular. This was Cashelnagor, the site of a former railway station. It struck a certain resonance with him and he produced two series of black and white studies entitled Where the Road Ends and the Hills Begin and Back to Cashelnagor. These traced the remains of the route of the railway from Derry to Burtenport on the North-West coast. One of the most dramatic images shows the ruined shell of the station still standing at the roadside, just as incongruous today as it must have been when newly constructed. Voster manages to create an evocative document by initially selecting a viewpoint which makes one feel that, like him, one has just stumbled upon the scene around a bend in the road. But he no doubt chose this carefully and possibly waited for many an hour before he felt the sky and light to be right before committing the scene to bromide.
The Linen Homeland is another group of images which concentrate on the industrial archaeology of flax and engineering mills in Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down and Tyrone. These were taken in 1994. In them, subject matter extends from panoramic views of the once majestic mills to an almost snapshot approach to local children picnicking among the ruins. Voster has ranged his lens from geographical location to particular intimate details, still preserved, frozen in time and unchanged since the operatives stood there over forty years ago. Their ghostly presence somehow lingers still.
The topography of Derry features in the series entitled A Maiden Still where Voster's unrelenting (yet always sympathetic) eye again strips away layers of the landscape like an archaeologist's trowel and brushes. In William Street Parking (Derry 1990) how curious are the prioritised spaces and boundaries and what endless questions are posed by the fences and walls. One is led to wonder if the motorcar will eventually reduce all of the landscape to a grid of white lines on bitumen? Voster's still from a time lapse sequence of Derry could be read as document of past, present and future. The book finally features a sequence of evocative colour studies in Pale Blue in Brockagh. Leo Divendal, in one of his essays accompanying the photographs, sums this up so well as a "visual poem of the purist kind". Back Door Brockagh National School, Co. Donegal captures the weather beaten door, wall and steps in shades of muted blue, brown and white. These are the remains of a country school. It doesn't require much effort to hear wet shoes hitting these steps and the sounds of long-forgotten chants of times-tables and other recitative escaping through the ventilator and half-opened window.
Voster's gift to the people of Ireland (of whom he says "give me their hospitality, friendship and love") is his work; a sincere, beautiful collection of lasting images in which he manages to link time and the Irish landscape as if they are mystically intertwined. The exhibition will be at Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast, 11 July - 12 August 1996.
Landscape of Remembrance - Photographs by Jan Voster- with essays by Leo Divendal and Cathal Ó Searcaigh. Supported by the Mondriaan Foundation and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.