In Cole Barash’s latest photobook, natural and human forms coalesce

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Sound of Dawn traces subtle connections between landscapes, the human body, and the spaces where they meet

“I cannot write anything about landscape without writing about the human figure and human spirit inhabiting the landscape,” said the late sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) of her practice. “For me, the whole art of sculpture is the fusion of these two elements.” The photographs that compose Cole Barash’s latest book, Sound of Dawn, published by Libraryman, frame elements from the landscape and human forms in ways that feel sculptural. Barash renders weathered rocks’ undulating outlines and human figures’ gentle curves as two-dimensional objects stretching over flat pages. The result is a series of images that echo and converse with one another, instilling movement into what would otherwise be an inanimate publication. 

Barash began working on the project four years ago, during an artist’s residency in Portugal. The coastal rock formations he observed compelled him, and, while photographing and sketching them, he contemplated their visual connection to the body. “I was hesitant to come out with [the book] because I was concerned it’s too abstract,” he reflects. Indeed, distinct from work examining environmental degradation and humanity’s central role within that, shape, colour, and light give form to Barash’s compositions and their aesthetic preoccupations.

© Cole Barash.
© Cole Barash.
© Cole Barash.

Back in New York, Barash photographed models in his studio, honing in on details of their bodies. And, in Sound of Dawn, these details, veiled and obscured by vivid colours, sit alongside those of the landscape, emphasising the formal resonance between Barash’s distinct subject matter. 

The photographer also explored quarries – gaping markers of humanity’s interventions in the land – across Portugal and Spain. “[In quarries] manmade meets earth-forms,” says Barash. “They show humanity interacting with the landscape, mostly by taking from it.”  He would construct and photograph surreal compositions made from found objects from the quarries, demonstrating human intervention in the land. But, Barash wanted to push this further: “I needed to define the third point on this triangle,” he explains; humans and landscapes being the other two. 

© Cole Barash.
© Cole Barash.
© Cole Barash.
© Cole Barash.

Barash found it amid the Río Tinto’s fiery-coloured waters, snaking their way through Spain’s Andalusia region. Reddened, in part, by over 5000 years of ore mining in the area, the water is beautiful but also evidence of human exploitation. It emerges in the Sound of Dawn through pops of burnt red and orange, and in lines of stitching that reflect the river’s winding route. The stitching, which Barash did intuitively, sits atop overlaid images of other landscapes and human forms. In these elegant compositions, the lines of the landscape, the human body, and places where they blend, come together as one.

“I want Sound of Dawn to be this experience of intimacy and solitude,” says Barash. “Like something personal is drawing the viewer in.” Audiences may not know what compels them until they begin to unravel the layers of form and unearth the parallels between the body and the landscape contained within them. “I think that if people arrive at something themselves they really acknowledge it, and it might deepen their appreciation and observation,” continues Barash. The photographs that compose Sound of Dawn do not tell us how to see or think. Instead, the subtle echoes of form and colour, which reverberate through the publication, open up a world for us to contemplate and meditate upon anew.

© Cole Barash.
© Cole Barash.
© Cole Barash.

Sound of Dawn is published by Libraryman.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.