‘Heightened sense of natural wonderment’ by Ted Snell, The Australian, 6th February 2007
Exhibition–Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth
“Viewing a photograph by Richard Woldendorp is an exhilarating experience. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale and grandeur of the remote northern Australian landscapes he documents. Those vast spaces of desert interspersed with Spinifex, anthills, mudflats, salt lakes and meandering rivers, and the coastal terrain where land and sea meet, are awe inspiring. Others have tackled this subject without creating the same sense of elation, so what is so compelling about Woldendorp's photographs?
Photographing the land from 1000m, he is able to reorient our viewpoint and the country, spread out before us, reads like a map that documents its evolution and sometimes its degradation. There is a sense of revelation in these works. Through his lens, we gain an understanding of something profound about the land we have not understood before. We are released from our anxieties about reptiles, overheating radiators and dehydration, and transported to a world of complex patterns, intricate detail and breathtaking scale, where we are in control. We scan hundreds of kilometres with minimal effort, bend down to see the fibrous tracery of a forest of dead trees, then pull back to absorb the gestalt of geological formation. It is an empowering experience.
Woldendorp has honed his skill as an aerial photographer over the past 45 years and his images encapsulate this sense of disclosure. The selection of subjects is impeccable and the structure imposed by his editing through the lens provides us with unique images that resonate far more than any image sourced through Google Earth or scientific aerial photography.
These are not found images: they are constructed from his understanding of the history of Western art and by the work of other contemporary artists. His knowledge of the history of abstraction, the principles of picture-making and his sophisticated understanding of colour and form enable him to make highly selective and controlled decisions about the images he presents.
It is a process that makes sense of the land and therefore, not surprisingly, enables us to see a resonance with contemporary Aboriginal paintings of the Western Desert. Works such as Aerial of Spinifex landscape, Pilbara, WA (2005) and Part of Fletcher Islands, Kimberley (2003) reveal the literal transcription of patterns and features of the country that give structure to the works of artists such as Eubena Yupinya Nampitjin and Elizabeth Nyumi Parwalla”
‘Landscape in a New Light’ by Robert McFarlane, Sydney Morning Herald, 25th July 2006
Exhibition – Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney
“Richard Woldendorp literally soars above this elite group. For more than 40 years the Dutch-born West Australian has taken to the air to isolate and photograph the Australian inland. Woldendorp has always had an affinity for the abstract, serpentine forms of the outback but his new exhibition at Boutwell Draper Gallery suggests he is approaching the kind of artistic leap the great Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai once sought – the ability to finally draw the subject as it truly was, rather than simply rendering it with the facility he knew he possessed. As he approaches 80, Woldendorp brings subtlety of experience to the landscape, effortlessly fusing colour and detail into powerful abstract forms.
In Northern Territory 2006 he transforms a river into the zigzag forms one often sees reflected in Queensland thunder opals. This image and the mysterious Esperance and Cape Arid reveal an artist whose capacity for illusion now approaches the sublime.”
‘Interesting Times’ by Sebastian Smee, The Australian, October 2005
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
“These formally stunning colour photographs have a daunting quality of stillness and silence. They show salt-affected terrain, isolated dams, plough lines and other evidence of large-scale farming in what is obviously a dry and delicate ecosystem. But they do all this with a kind of imperious detachment. We are used to photographs that try to impress on us the exquisite geometry of nature at its most pristine and bountiful. But Woldendorp unsettles us by imposing abstract formal values of gorgeous sensitivity on to a landscape that looks desecrated.
The tension here is beautifully handled. On the one hand, only an artist who is dedicated to form – to the way a picture is constructed out of colour, line, texture and so on – could produce photographs of such satisfying symmetry and proportion. (Woldendorp’s photographs have much in common with the black-and-white aerial photographs of the peerless American William Garnett.) Yet, just as we are sucked into their dream of beauty, something recriminating rises off these images. We cannot help but be aware that the sources of their beauty – the patterns of salt encrustation, the plough lines, the dead trees – are an indictment of our exploitation of the land. It is this gap between form and content that gives Woldendorp’s images their mournful elegance.”
‘From Close-up to Bird’s Eye’ by Robert McFarlane, Sydney Morning Herald, July 2005
Exhibition – Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney
“Veteran West Australian photographer Richard Woldendorp makes a welcome return to Sydney with a new series of epic aerial landscapes, this time printed larger and revealing ever more sublime compositions.
For a photographer who emigrated from Holland 50 years ago, Woldendorp has evolved into an artist with a deeply Australian vision. His seven new colour works (each roughly two metres wide) reveal an Australia sometimes easily recognisable but at other times veiled by Woldendorp’s abstract rendition of landscape as seen from the sky.
His view of the Forrest River snaking through the Kimberleys seemed at first monochromatic colour – mainly russet ochres – until a closer look surprised with fringes of bright crimson glinting from the river banks.
Other Woldendorp images surrendered totally to abstraction. ‘Lake Dumbleyung, Western Australia, 2005’ dissolved completely into wave-like forms, momentarily evoking memories of reflections I once saw in the gleaming paintwork of a pink Cadillac de Ville in New York.
Woldendorp’s great gift lies in the ease with which he accommodates the vastness of the Australian landscape into a vision that for anyone with a passing knowledge of Aboriginal art seems eerily familiar. There are, however, no slick graphic tricks here – only Woldendorp’s heartfelt appreciation of the pointillist beauty of Australia’s arid inland.
The veteran photographer Richard Woldendorp (born 1927) has been capturing the Australian landscape from the air for many years. He is not the only photographer to do this, but his work is so distinctive he has no rivals in this genre. His large colour prints have a remarkable physical presence, seeming more like solid objects than windows on the world. On the other hand, each picture resembles an abstract expressionist canvas or a painting by a Western Desert artist, clearly revealing the links between Aboriginal painting and the landscape.
No less remarkable is Woldendorp’s ability to avoid the picturesque clichés that characterise 90 per cent of landscape photography in the wake of Ansel Adams. One need think only of entrepreneurs, such as Ken Duncan or Peter Lik, who have as many stores as any fast food chain, to see there is an easy way and a hard way to photograph the natural environment. The public laps up the clichés, but Woldendorp has taken the harder path. He gives us a raw vision of nature, not Hollywood’s version.”
Review by John McDonald, Sydney Morning Herald, August 2004
Exhibition – Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney
“Richard Woldendorp has been photographing the Australian landscape from the air for four decades. I only ever remember seeing his images in colour and have found myself regularly entranced by their painterly abstraction. His latest images – unseen in Sydney until now – show that Woldendorp has moved to an even deeper appreciation of the Australian landscape.
In Tidal Creek east of Darwin, NT he captures a watercourse snaking through the tan-coloured plains of the Northern Territory. With remarkable sharpness Woldendorp captures the presence of dead trees on either side of the water, reducing their skeletal dieback to a fringe of crystalline brilliance.
In these large, finely printed images Woldendorp gives each landscape its spiritual and artistic due. There is no attempt to achieve glib, graphic compositions, only a sureness of approach that suggests a deepening love for the landscape. Remarkable for a man born in the Netherlands in 1927 and who arrived in Australia in 1951, Woldendorp has fashioned a truly Australian vision, finding a sonority with the aerial aesthetic that dominates Aboriginal landscape painting.
Lately, however, many of his images simply celebrate the texture of the landscape, as in Scrub Bush Pattern, Murchison, WA. Without a central anchor to the composition, the true scale of this scene is left to our imagination. These are, nevertheless, photographs of sublime beauty, unsurpassed in their deep response to this continent.
Perhaps Woldendorp’s most voluptuous image here is Mud Flats near Derby, WA, in which he reduces a watery landscape to sensuous, interweaving folds resembling chocolate-brown satin.
Woldendorp’s imagery is informed by a deep knowledge of Australian painting. Echoes of the delicacy of Fred Williams and the sensuality of John Olsen pervade many images but always with the suggestion that Woldendorp draws inspiration from the same, timeless source available to these painters – the land.
Woldendorp’s landscape photographs remind us of the ancient vigour of the Australian continent; their virtue lies in presenting the landscape as simultaneously explicit and abstract, with an indigenous grace I found irresistible.”