by Ivy Wigmore
Lionel Stevenson was about seven years old, as he recalls, when he first saw a photograph. His own first subject, a year later, was his family’s New Glasgow farm. Prior to that, Stevenson had never seen a photograph of anything other than a human subject. Somehow, though, the artist knew intuitively that photography could be used as an expressive medium: “Throughout my photography, my effort has been directed to communication using the expressive aspects of the medium to affirm positive aspects of life.” Since that time Stevenson has taken an eclectic approach, photographing landscape and still life, elders and children.
Of all the subjects that Stevenson has photographed throughout his career, none has been more compelling to him than the series of glacial erratics, which he captured in silver prints. Glacial erratics are huge stones that were once carried along by glaciers, moving imperceptibly on while a glacier advanced, and then left behind as it receded again. Some, fifteen and twenty-foot high boulders, have been precariously balanced, sometimes en pointe, atop small stones for some 8,000 years. Intrigued by the stones, Stevenson photographed his first glacial erratic in 1987, while travelling. It was to be twelve more years before he was able to get back to the site, but in June 1999, the artist returned and spent a week creating images of about 95 stones. The images were printed just as the world ticked over into the year 2000.
In some ways, the images of the glacial erratics can be seen as the embodiment of Stevenson’s artistic vision. A photograph, by its very nature, captures a precise moment in time. Couple that with the thousands of years these stones have stood—while fleeting human lives and generations passed, civilizations rose and fell, and landscape changed all around, repeatedly—and you have a fair representation of the dichotomy between the instant captured and its place in eternity. Much of the power of Stevenson’s photographs derives from that dichotomy, the resolute physicality of the present set against the poignancy of knowing that all things must pass.
It’s the visual aspects of a subject that capture Stevenson’s attention, and his vision of how they will play out in the final print that motivate him. However, he’s all too aware that the subject is sometimes all that the viewer sees, missing the subtler expression that is revealed by a deeper engagement with the photograph. Time spent with the works is rewarding; you become aware of a deeper resonance, and a quiet power to Stevenson’s photographs that makes you want to look at them again and again.
Although he’s inspired initially by a subject’s beauty and the aesthetic pleasure derived from it, it is the ability of that subject to represent a deeper meaning that compels Stevenson: “This is my expression—an image so obviously a presentation of a real subject, expressing a message about the passage of time, the temporary nature of existence, and the preciousness of the moment.”