As a promising young photographer in the US who had won the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts award, in 1980, and was already represented in major collections like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, David Stephenson’s relocation from USA to Tasmania in 1982 might appear unusual. Yet, as Daniel Palmer has noted, Stephenson was ‘always drawn to the fringes of the human world’1 where he could fully explore the central theme that has always governed his practice, namely ‘the relationship between humans and the environment’2.
Stephenson’s affinity with the American New Topographic movement in the 1970s precipitated his fascination with the tradition of landscape photography. Pursuing new ways to represent the land outside the aesthetic strictures of the documentary approach, Stephenson’s work is, according to Palmer, ‘imbued with romantic sensibility’ 3 and confronts philosophical concepts such as the infinite and the unknown with a minimalist sensibility and poetic acuity. Discussing his landscape photographs, Stephenson alludes to the way they ‘refer to the history of landscape imagery, because to recall this history is to recall the history of human landscape consciousness.’ 4
1. Daniel Palmer, ‘David Stephenson’ in Blair French & Daniel Palmer (eds), ‘Twelve Australian photo artists’, Piper Press, Sydney 2009 p169
2. David Stephenson, ‘Artist’s statement’ in Helen Ennis (ed), ‘Australian photography in the 1980s’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra 1988 p 88
3. Palmer op.cit.
4.Susan van Wyk,' Sublime space: photographs by David Stephenson 1989-98', NGV Melbourne p 2