Culture & Conversation

The land that time remembers


The Gaspé Peninsula: Land on the Edge of Time, by Linda Rutenberg

Linda Rutenberg’s new art photography book deserves to be discovered on a glorious fall day, at the end of a not-so-remarkable Montreal summer when our other big season is still a memory. The subject is the Gaspé Peninsula in winter. The theme is best described as the beauty of cold.

Subtitled Land on the Edge of Time, this collection of photographs taken along the 500-kilometre stretch of Quebec’s south shore focuses on nature and landscape – magnificent snow, moody drifts, sacred skies. And yet a main narrative of this stunning book is the work of humankind. Buildings, fish huts, crab nets, stacks of wood, machinery, graveyards, tombstones are treated as if they were installations build expressly for the purposes of creating great pictures.

There isn’t a hint of social realism or documentary in the collection. Ms. Rutenberg’s travels were clearly motivated by the search for startling images. Nor is there a trace of cliché. Even the much-photographed Percé Rock looks fresh, shot from a distance across textured strips of ice and open water, against a background of a cement-coloured sky and a few lonely clouds.

Given the vastness, grandeur and sparse population of the region, a sense of loneliness is perhaps inevitable, but the artist pushes the point by excluding the human form from her vision. Craggy, colourful folk no doubt abound, yet she has resisted the obvious, and the project is better for it. This book shows us how to look at nature and the structures of civilisation as art. The result is exquisite, transformative and by times deeply moving.

In her thirty-year career as a photographer, Linda Rutenberg has gained a substantial following, notably through Night Garden, her wonderful photos of exotic flowers and plants taken at night. (Rover reviewer Bradley Michayluk wrote about her last exhibition here.) With The Gaspé Peninsula, Land in the Edge of Time, she surpasses herself, taking landscape photography to a new level. Some images belong between covers. These works beg for walls – homes and galleries.

Filmmaker Paul Almond, who has long maintained a house in the Gaspé, and Jules Bélanger, professor and Gaspésien poet, have written brief essays providing context. Several years in the making, the book is beautifully produced by the artist (in English and French editions), available in local bookstores, including Librairie Bonheur d’occasion, 1317 avenue Mont-Royal Est, and by order directly from Rutenberg here.

Fans of her work will also want to catch the outdoor exhibition of photos drawn from the collection displayed along Mont Royal Avenue, between de Boullion and Messier. La Gaspésie: au bord de l’infini continues until October 27.

Marianne Ackerman’s new book Holy Fools + 2 Stories will be launched at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard West, on October 1st, 7-9 pm. 

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