A review of John Welsh’s images of Iceland on display at Villanova University written by Philadelphia Inquirer art writer, Victoria Donohue.
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, March 2007
By Victoria Donohue
John Welsh, a Jenkintown photographer, keeps good company.
He’s drawn to picture-taking in Iceland’s wilderness as if to idealize or tame those primal landscapes – a vivid reminder of the 19th-century photographers stirred by the sheer magnificence of America’s Western landscape.
Thirty-four of Welsh’s images are now on view at Villanova from among the nearly 8,000 he captured during seven Icelandic trips he’s taken since 2001. The show’s title, “Icelandic Travels,” gives no hint of the rugged overland trekking Welsh did across much of that volcanic island nation to photograph bleak, even bizarre yet beautiful unpopulated terrain.
Showing his preference for the wide, horizontal picture format, Welsh made these photos to share with others his own sometimes-profound experience of virtually unspoiled, transcendental wilderness, so full of sudden unpredictable changes.
The strength of his pictures comes from their honesty and their ability to make us see and feel what nature still is in that part of the North Atlantic. These landscapes and their exaggerated vantage points – looking up into the sky or down at the ground or way off into the hills – add further to the quietude Welsh felt despite lightning bolts, howling winds and cascading waterfalls. And he has a taste for the dramatic.
The images, anchored in an autobiographical context, have a diarylike nature heightened by Welsh’s adding text about the setting as he experienced it to each photo’s title and date, instead of letting the picture speak for itself. A freelance commercial photographer, Welsh here seems to be working in the area between documentary photography and art.
Avoiding any feeling of contrivance in this work, Welsh happens upon particular moments in particular places and gently enshrines many of them. So who can deny that Welsh idealizes his subjects in ways reminiscent of William Henry Jackson and other American wilderness photographers of old? Fine show.