‘It’s the journey, and not just the destination, that makes up the whole picture of one’s travels.’ – Chris Simpson, photographer
Carnets de Voyage, is an exhibition of black and white prints by British-based photographer Chris Simpson. The photographs, selected from his book of the same name, are works Simpson made during his years travelling the globe from 1987 to 2008. His images distil the visual essence of people and places in Australia, California, Mauritius, Cuba, Mali, England, Namibia, Madagascar, New Zealand, Argentina… With each photograph, the viewer is immersed in an exquisite landscape or comes face to face with the character of an individual in images of timeless freshness, grandeur and vitality.
The pared back quality of Simpson’s photographs is the hallmark of his work. The strong lines, high contrast, clean-cut almost austere compositions lend his subject matter a gravity that addresses the power of the natural landscape. Simpson’s ability to create compositional tension within an image is technically brilliant, creating integration between subject matter and print.
Chris Simpson started travelling very early in life. Born in Zurich (1952), his family soon went to live in Ghana. Once he started boarding school in England, he travelled back and forth to the new family home, now in Mauritius, sometimes stopping off in Cairo, Khartoum, Nairobi, Entebbe, Dar es Salam. Calling Mauritius his ‘spiritual home’, Simpson describes how growing up for part of his life there ‘tuned me into the beauty of light, shape and form.’ His response to the Mauritian landscape was linked to his experience of the culture as an ‘ethnic melting pot’ where people lived together harmoniously.
Simpson explains how his work has also been inspired by two particular influences: the photographer and anthropologist Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929), and travel writer Bruce Chatwin. Simpson’s career radically changed direction after travelling to Darwin not long after the death of his paternal grandfather who came from the Northern Territory. There he found Spencer’s book about his extraordinary Australian expeditions. Simpson subsequently abandoned his career in fashion photography and embarked on a life travelling and photographing the world.
In Songlines (1987), Bruce Chatwin writes about Aboriginal song and its connections to nomadic travel and their belief in the reciprocal relationship between humankind and the planet: ‘To wound the earth is to wound yourself, and if others wound the earth, they are wounding you.’
Simpson’s personal philosophy can be seen in Himba Mother (1996). The image was inspired by one of American photographer Dorothea Lange’s most famous images, Migrant Mother, taken in the mid-1930s during the Depression. For this image Lange speaks about the equality she experienced between herself and the mother when she shot the image. Throughout Carnets de Voyage, Simpson adopts this viewpoint and Lange’s quote – ‘the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera’. He strives to help us see the world differently and, through them, to experience an equality with others and our shared environment.
Atlas Gallery Founded in 1994, Atlas Gallery is one of the leading international galleries dealing exclusively in photography. The gallery embraces photography in all its forms: from classic vintage photography, photojournalism and fashion to experimental and art photography. The gallery has extensive holdings of work by 20th-century masters, as well as representing a diverse range of contemporary photographers.
Chris Simpson was educated in the UK and trained as photographer in London and worked as a fashion photographer in London and Paris before setting out on his personal photographic journey. Awards for his work include the Hasselblad Master (2005).
Carnets de Voyage by Chris Simpson, published by Atlas Gallery Editions (2018). The book is available for purchase from Atlas Gallery.
Chris Simpson : Carnets de Voyage
23 May – 22 June 2019
49 Dorset Street
London W1U 7NF