A disciple’s lot: laying stones along a very long road

Often departing from the beaten track in remote parts of China, a photographer evokes the refinement of Chinese paintings and of nature itself.

Michael Cherney loves taking pictures of mountains. And he loves taking those pictures the way they were painted by ancient Chinese landscape artists centuries or millennia ago.

One frame, a narrow strip of rolling hills taken on the plateaus of northwestern China, is dominated by the interplay between black and white and the multiple shades of gray in between. A meandering, monochrome composition, it is evocative of those ancient Chinese works in which ink was applied to paper in a few sweeping strokes to maximize the sense of grandeur.

And it’s not just the wide-angled pictures. Close-up shots of wrinkled mountain ridges fill the entire frame in one view from his Yi Mountain Passages series. The rugged texture of the land has often been created by dragging a dry brush across the paper, and by dabbing a few dots of ink here and there.

Then there are the trees on the mountains. In his Level Trees, Distant Mountains series, wintry branches are fully revealed against the dusky sky. Such austerity recalls the equally frugal depictions of trees often found in landscapes from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), which Cherney adored for having embraced “reductionism” in art.

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