‘Rise & Fall’ is photographer Mark Nettenbreijers’ debut exhibition at The Ravestijn Gallery. In this haunting series of large-scale black and white photographs, the forest becomes a rich canvas for an abstract light that captures the cycles of life and death. The forest has long been a symbol of darkness and dread, but also of contemplation. Nettenbreijers captures both of these opposing elements in a process that is at once spiritual and scientific.
‘Rise & Fall’ takes the viewer into the silence and fragility of the natural world. Each photograph presents a tangled, intricate view of the forest. Nettenbreijers photographs trees, branches, underbrush and sky that simultaneously blend into one another and sharply contrast within a spectrum of greys and blacks.
Nettenbreijers photographs using only natural light. The sun, refracted by the forest canopy, unexpectedly illuminates the curve of a branch or population of ferns. This light is dispersed and layered. One photograph captures a sapling bathed in bright sunlight. The trees behind stand straight, tall and dark, yet still penetrated by this brightness, as it creeps in and amongst the tree trunks like smoke. The viewer is not entirely certain whether the light originates from behind, within or above the scene.
In another image from the series downed trees cut geometric shapes across the frame, creating a pattern round, sharp and disordered. Yet if one looks carefully, each part of the composition, the angles and shapes, appear intentional. Light reflected on a small pool draws the eye towards this natural geometry and then up the vertical order of the trees in the background.
Whereas Northern Renaissance painters, looking at similar landscapes centuries ago, used light to inform and reveal, Nettenbreijers’ sunlight and brassy Dutch fog points to the difficult search for knowledge, about oneself, about our surroundings. The visual motifs in ‘Rise & Fall’ are perhaps understandable, known to us, and yet there is a mystery that covers the scene, compelling us to go deeper still into the forest.