Matthew Brandt is an artist based in Los Angeles. In his photographic practice he explores the creative power of combustion, which he wields on images of glaciers, forests or urban contexts. His experimentation produces alienating visual effects, often conceptually linked to physical dynamics and natural processes. The unorthodox treatments of the photographic surface and the artist’s use of materials dismantle and celebrate the classic genre of landscape photography.

The Vatnajökull serie takes on the glacial terrain in Iceland as its subject. The body of work extends the artist’s on-going interest in the chemical color process and his exploration of chromogenic material with natural elements.

In Vatnajökull, Brandt captures the powerful geothermal intensities of Iceland’s wilderness. He exposes his photographs of the Vatna ice field to fire and heat, and then through color-separation creates a range of tonalities across multiple impressions of a single image. With their blistered and undulating surfaces, each photograph emerges with its own topography. With this kind of procedure, Brandt recasts the landscape and constructs a multicolored imagery with a positive aesthetic character. Although the original subject matter brings to mind the urgent issue of melting ice, Matthew Brandt’s approach generates a vision that transforms a negative scenario into one that inspires energy and beauty.



Vatnajökull YMC12, 2018-2020, courtesy the artist





Dear Matthew, your photography comes about through a process that I hadn’t seen before. Could you briefly recount it and explain if there is a relationship between the technique and the subject represented?

The subject always informs the technique and materials, and vice versa. As subjects are different, I believe the corresponding material form should be as well. I like how a subject influences a material and how this material also influences the subject. Often when making a work, the focus bounces between each other for some time before a cohesion/harmony has arrived.

I find it extremely fascinating to observe how a process of photographic combustion, applied to a subject such as ice – with all the symbolic value that this evokes – produces a multicolor image with such a vital character.

This combustion characteristic is inherent in Iceland’s geological structure, and is why its landscape appears so dramatic and beautiful. While there I also visited a geothermal energy plant which was very influential towards my thinking about this project. While photographing the icebergs, I could hear them melting, it was quiet with an unsettling orchestra of water droplets. So with this process of hot and cold extremes in mind, I also wanted to address this element of duration and time. The color separations happen over time as the photograph becomes further heated, warped and burned. So the colors reveal temporal shifts, and the final outcome is a kind of evolutionary process.



Vatnajökull CMY14; Vatnajökull CMY16,  2018-2020, courtesy the artist


It almost seems like your intent is to make the natural places you represent hyper-vital and that your point of view is optimistic. How do you situate this research in the landscape of global climate emergencies?


I think it is important to approach problems with some optimism. Otherwise one can easily become frozen with fear.


With your work you highlight the materiality of photography (recalling the 19th-century origins of photography) but expanding the range of senses involved in the act of observation which is often reduced to sight. So, the question that comes to my mind looking at your works and that I ask you is what is a photograph?

This is a complicated question that I cannot answer clearly. I think the general consensus of our understanding of what is a photograph is narrow in scope. ‘What is a photograph’ is an expansive notion that my work seems to be orbiting around. In short, photographs have something to do with light, index and reality, not in any particular order. And secondary there is the imaginary, perception and translation, also in no particular order. So for me (without even getting into the material aspects of a photograph), there is a jumble of terms that might help make sense in thinking about this question.



Vatnajökull CMY35; Vatnajökull CMY36; Vatnajökull CMY5  2018-2020, courtesy the artist