Luca Tombolini’s LS (short for landscape study) series shows the raw beauty abounding deserted, abandoned places in the world. LS X captures his foray into the American west. In the tenth installment, Tombolini knows his photography well. The artist sets out alone with the essentials: food, water, transportation, and a large-format camera. Weeks later, when he returns to civilization, he quickly reintegrates with modern life. The only proof he ever disentangled are a stack of drum-scanned photos and the desire to return to nowhere new.
“I noticed through the years that I’m greatly attracted by pureness and simplicity. To this extent, landscapes are a visual representation of a part of my being.” Tombolini identifies this part as more essential, more fundamental, more ancient: “[t]ravelling and getting rid of our social mask brings our mind closer to ancestral times.”
Perhaps he is right that by removing himself from civilization – he resurrects a piece of ancient man; on the other hand, perhaps he romanticizes barbarism due to alienation from modern stressors. The author admits to something of the kind: “[h]ow valuable are, then, all inner-referring cultural structures if they are just held together by values oblivious of their origins?” LS X is Tombolini’s attempt to reforge the lost connection between highly-advanced civilization and the spirituality of the land. His weld is fine art.
“I rely rather unconsciously on my vision and emotions while making the necessary choices about what to photograph and how; this, along with the use of large-format, makes the whole process extremely slow and meditative.” The relics of his transformation provide an entry point into the same mindset for those of us too reticent to remove ourselves from modern comforts and partake in a similar experience.
The scapes are uninhabited, the forms unadulterated. The American west seems antithetical to the country it partly constitutes. The land is so absent human influence that we forget there is a person behind the camera. Such pure representations could not be replicated by someone too recently removed from civilization. Paradoxically, Tombolini focuses our perception by melding himself with the essence of the landscape, effectively removing himself from the relationship between viewer, photographer, camera, and subject.
Nevertheless, there are some instances where the viewer must insert herself into the image to make sense of it. As with many natural wonders, these subjects manage to make us feel simultaneously large and small. Our innate sense of scale disintegrates under such high-resolution images and far-flung expanses. Pebble or boulder; mesa or mountain; stream or ravine: Tombolini could just as well be on an alien planet capturing mountains thousands of times as tall and ravines hundreds of times as deep as what he shows from the American west.
Viewed through Tombolini’s ritual, the landscape expresses a pure beauty that discards with pretense. One can contentedly appreciate the work without comment. Nevertheless, simple expressions of light, texture, colour, and form move the shutter. Shifting light throughout the day stroke each scape with varietal qualities. Gradations and pastel colourations often make the images more dreamscape than landscape.
Reading him describe the meditative state that accompanies weeks-long adventures, it is unsurprising to find hints of mysticism and religiosity in Tombolini’s work. Many of the subjects approximate so-common-as-to-be-natural religious forms, like the pyramid, the obelisk, and the cathedral/temple/mosque/steeple. This notion is reinforced by halos of light and palettes that effect a nostalgia for the plain.
Tombolini posits, rhetorically: “Are modern society comforts and its new values tearing us away from our bond with nature and the understanding of life cycles?” All throughout his work, in the superposition of geologic deposits, in waterworn streambed pillars, in vast seas of sand, the author compresses time into a single frame.
LS X lingers in the mind like evidence of ancient waters on the peaks and troughs of hard rock and the windswept plains of sand seas. In this zone devoid of habitation, Luca Tombolini investigates “the clashing difference between majesty and spirituality of the sceneries and the values of contemporary society.” If you are inspired to remove your social mask, more of his inspiration can be found on Instagram.