"Elements of Nature"

Encounters with the Elements of Nature. 

Visualizing the World's Environmental Issues.
A longterm visual project by photographer and journalist Lizane Louw

With my work, I tell stories. In the past, it was news and photojournalism; now, my work evolved into more conscious experiences, more documentation, more being a witness to events that interest me, places I am curious about, cultural experiences that inspire me and the stories of these places and people that I want to share with others.

I look for lines, textures, movement, and verbs and am constantly inspired to create if I find myself in interesting situations with good light. I am always switched on; I take my camera with me everywhere I go.

It takes time to define my ideas about projects that I am passionate about. I need to do my research, brainstorm, makes sketches, and write as much as possible. I read a lot and look to eastern cultures, philosophy, and ancient books for direction. My thoughts and ideas are influenced by my studies of ancient and classical cultures and a decade of living in Asia.

Elements of Nature is a lifelong project, it is a work in progress and with the following article, I would like to share some thoughts and ideas on the project. 

Within the theme and framework, "Elements of Nature, I investigate changes in natural environments and our human relationship with nature. The developing body of work focuses on ever-changing landscapes and cityscapes and the effects of climate breakdown. 

The elements. The building blocks of nature.

The Shu King in Book IV summarise and explains the concept of elements eloquently and this was the starting point in my research to define my framework and the concept of the body of work.

The "basic principles or building blocks of which all things are composed" are what we mean when we use the word "elements."The four elements of the Pythagorean system—Earth, water, air, and fire—were not so much intended to represent the nature or essence of material entities as they are the natural forms in which matter is presented to us.

The elements never stop moving back and forth between heaven and Earth according to the Shu King, Book of Historical Documents. The characteristic of the elements inspired the reference "the five divisions of time;" However, if we consider them in their most basic and essential form, they are the things on which a person's life depends and upon which the humanity, in fact, cannot exist. 

I work within this framework, the encounters with the elements. It is easier for me and also more constructive to work within a framework, if not the work I do would be all over the place and I would never arrive at a point. In the end I create to share my thoughts, feelings and the way I see the world.

The Shu King's interpretation of the elements of nature

The references above and the concept of the body of work are derived from references to the five elements in ancient texts and philosophy. As my research and understanding of the ideas and philosophical references develop, I will define my interpretation and definition of what I will refer to as the five elements. For now, I am going to go with Legge's translation of the Shu King or Book of Documents

"The first is water; the second is fire; the third is wood; the fourth is metal, and the fifth is Earth. (The Nature of) water is to soak and descend; of fire, to blaze and ascend; of wood, to be crooked and straight; of metal, to yield and change; while (that of) Earth is seen in seed-sowing and in-gathering. That which soaks and descends becomes salt; that which blazes and ascends becomes bitter; that which is crooked and straight becomes sour; that which yields and changes become acrid; and from seed-sowing and in-gathering comes sweetness." The Shu King, Book IV. The Great Plan. Translated by James Legge.

So what are the nature of the elements?

"The nature of Water is to moisten and descend; of Fire to flame and ascend; of Wood to be crooked and straighten; of Metal to yield and to be modified; of Soil to provide for sowing and reaping." The Shu King, the Great Plan. 

Water: One of the five dividers of time.

The first element is water; the nature of water is to soak and decent.

Water can rise, moisten, and fall. It flows and seeps into the ground.

Fire: One of the five dividers of time.

The second element is fire; the nature of fire is to blaze and ascend

Fire blazes and rises. It is active, combusting, burning, and consuming while flaring upward.

Wood:  One of the five dividers time.

The third element is wood; the nature of wood is to be crooked and straight.

Wood can curve, arch, spiral and twist. It moves outward, accepts, holds shape, and can be manipulated with tools.

Metal: One of the five dividers of time.

The fourth element is metal; the nature of metal is to yield and change.

Metal shrinks inward and is hardened and moulded by other natural elements, like water and wind.

Earth: One of the five dividers of time.

The fifth element is Earth; the Nature of Earth is to provide for sowing and reaping

Crops are received and given by Earth. The Earth is fertile, associated with the thriving of fruits and flowers, and the primary source of sustenance for human life.

My inspiration for this summary comes from the Shu-King, the Great Plan.

From its early days, landscape photography was a way for photographers to mimic the work of master painters, this time not painting with pigment but with light. Photographers, like painters, like to document the natural world, and one can say that landscape photographs mimic landscape paintings in terms of composition and subject matter. Landscape photographs are created in spaces that move slow. Cameras are objects that record the natural world and tools that create art through vision and artistic expression.

As a photographer, I am working on long-term visual projects focusing on climate change and the human condition.

In essence, the bodies of work move between landscape and nature photography.

In recent work  I focussed on the climate emergency, climate breakdown and global heating. Within the theme and framework, "Elements of Nature, I investigate changes in natural environments and our human relationship with nature.

The visual work focus on ever-changing landscapes and cityscapes and the effects of climate breakdown. In my long-term photographic work, I investigate the human impact on the environment.

The landscapes and urban spaces I photograph are fragile and influenced by weather patterns and natural elements. Most locations in these images, especially in the two-landscape series, are remote and in hospitable due to climate or challenges due to the environment.

As the body of work develops, I hope to focus on a solutions-based approach, I want to create stories and images that drive change and spark conversation. I enjoy working on slow multimedia and photography projects that are inspirational and educational.

I am not a climatologist, scientist, or environmental specialist, but I am curious and learning as I continue the documentation. Hopefully, by continuing within the framework and delving deeper into these issues affecting the environment, global climate change and the climate emergency, I will define the concept and idea and hopefully create a body of work that studies and comments on climate breakdown and global heating.

The idea behind the project "Elements of Nature"

When someone looks at my work, I don't want them to feel trapped in a moment in time in a particular space. Instead, I like the viewer observing the split-second moments in a photograph to experience and feel something that will take them on a journey. That said, taking someone on a visual journey in one photo is a challenge.

With the bodies of work I produced on the current nature theme and future work I will create, I want to experiment with the surface level of a one-piece artwork. I don't think one photograph of these extraordinary locations would capture the imagination as much as a collection of images. Instead, a group of pictures expresses a whole experience.

One photo does not give the viewer an understanding of what a place is about. One individual photo can share only a snapshot of the story. To immerse the viewer on the journey completely, there must be more than one moment; there needs to be a visual narrative that takes you, the viewer, on this trip; I want the viewer to journey with me. I like the viewer to engage with what I see and also experience.

I thought about it long and hard, and the only way to do this was to present the work in series. So the result of this idea is these bodies of work created and put together on my site; the screen becomes a gallery wall.

The visual story on the gallery wall will take you on a journey. 

With a series the viewer can immerse themselves deeper as they go from one moment to the next and the viewer journey along. You are going on a trip with me.

What is the purpose of the "Elements of Nature" curation?

Firstly, I am creating these bodies of work to add more images to my portfolio to experiment with travel, nature, culture, and landscape in all the different countries I have always wanted to visit. I am drawn to nature and the natural elements. As a journalist focusing on environmental and sustainability stories, it is natural for my photography to follow suit.

Most importantly, I want to start showcasing the type of projects I can do and the type of work in environmental journalism and sustainability related to visual storytelling that I want to be hired for.

The premise of this body of work is the space in which these photographs were taken. Many photographers will visit countries like Namibia and Iceland and take beautiful landscapes and nature. But unfortunately, most will throw themselves in the image to document the ultimate travel dream. It works for some, but my idea is different. I am not interested in being the focus of the photo.

With the explosion of social media  that I also witnessed and experienced over a 17-year career, Instagram became saturated with these awe-inspiring landscape photographs. Some focus on the human element in the photo. This observation relates to many countries with an influx of tourists that line oversaturated tourist spots for that "top 1 instagramable picture." Is "instagramable" even a word in my personal dictionary? Definitely not!

My questions to all these photographers are, have you printed the image? Is it work that is hanging on your wall? What motivated you to get out there to create an impression?

This is where my interests, my line of thoughts and my ideas gave shape to my projects.

Most tourists or flash packers don't realise that some of these environments are beautiful and extreme because of environmental challenges; I think we miss that half of the beauty from countries like Iceland and Namibia comes from environmental challenges and issues relating to climate change.

I don't want to intellectualise my work and give it too many meanings; I want to keep the message simple. But these are essential facts that I consider when working on projects, especially now.

Apart from looking at the elements of nature as I have been exploring it in Land of Fire, I wanted to build on that by experimenting with earth, water, fire, wind and space as I would experience it in a climate closer to the Arctic. So it was a natural choice to go to a colder country. Iceland has always been on top of my list.

Land of Ice and Fire is a work that experiments with and expands on the "Elements of Nature's" theme. Moving forward, I will try to focus my work on this theme and the variations of this theme. I hope my work on the environment and the natural world will showcase the beauty of nature. Still, I also hope to ask essential questions about our human relationship with the natural world.

"Elements of Nature" is an extensive developing body of work representing my love for nature and photography. I also feel this body of work reflects my skills in journalism and photography and is a mature representation of my passion for exploring adventure and travel. I have a lot of experience under my belt. These skills are tested in adverse weather conditions and remote locations.

The theme and sustaining the idea of "Elements of Nature."

I find serenity and inspiration in vast open spaces and remote locations. These open spaces were hard to find in Asia, and I think the release I felt, after spending three months exploring Africa, before I moved to Europe in 2019, made me feel as if my mind opened up. Being very visual, I always felt my work was very cluttered. Too busy. 

My career is evolving and I find a lot of inspiration in the work of the abstract master painters like Rothko, Kandinsky and Pollock amongst others. Living in Berlin and having access to the best galleries and exhibitions in the world and also the exposure to the work of the masters are definitely influencing my way of seeing. 

I also want to be challenged on a journey and arrive somewhere; it does not have to be a place, sometimes inside my heart or mind. So, the images I create on these journeys, exploring and fighting these natural elements and extreme weather and climates, excite me as a photographer.

Preparing for the journey to be comfortable, safe, and able to deliver some work in extreme conditions is part of the challenge. Will your gear withstand harsh weather conditions, and can you tell the story of challenges faced?

Structure and planning of "Elements of Nature"

There are no expectations or pre-planned ideas in creating these bodies of work. I leave everything open to chance and good light.

I don't want the work to be too structured and too organised. But, if it can shine a light on climate change and how fragile our environments are, I will achieve another goal.

The aim of these explorations and adventures is first to be challenged, to see how to adapt to the space and to set out to work outside, regardless of the challenges faced. 

The "Elements of Nature"framework and development of more bodies of work 

These bodies of work and frameworks are the ever-changing landscapes, urban spaces, and the effects of climate change. I will continue to investigate the human impact on the environment.

I am draw to experiencing the elements of nature in their full force.

Part of developing this theme and creating these images is researching the topics I want to explore. Setting out, I am a journalist, yes, but how do you tell a story only with photos? No texts. That is the challenge.

My focus in my career moving forward is to continue the work on this theme within the framework and delving deeper into these issues addressed in relation to climate change and global warming, I will refine the concept and idea and hopefully create a body of work that comments on that.

I want to learn more about how these remote and fragile landscapes, desert-scapes, ice scapes, and sub-artic landscapes are changed and influenced by human activities. I have curiosity and a desire to learn about these places. If it so happens that I have good light, I would also document the space.

These images are the visual documentation of my travel experience in places I love exploring. 

In these spaces and remote locations that I have been to where I worked on these bodies of work, what we see, and experience is stripped of all the visual clutter. After the over-saturated feeling of visual bombardment in Asia, I am more drawn to minimalism and minimalist art. I am searching for spaces where I can recharge my mind and creative spirit and breathe and make more art.

I was challenged by the work I produced in stepping out of my comfort zone into stories based on the environment and the planet's health.

My work in photography, journalism and design- How does this all relate?

I come from a photojournalism background, and most of my career was focused on people, experiences of these people, portraying emotion, and being busy.

Most of the visual work produced in the last two series is stripped of human representation. Instead, it is more about what is to be found in spaces with no human inhabitants or, in the case of Kolmaskop, from Land of Fire, Series I, what is left after the humans vanish. So why are no more people living in Namib or the remote locations we explored in Iceland?

I have decided to only produce thirty five images for each series. I stick to the number thirty five. The rules are to keep each work simple, play with natural lines, horizons, and shapes and find the essential colour palette of the places visited. The colour palettes draw me to these places in the first place.

Some of the images are experiments in colour field photography. I try to break what I see down into simple forms. I don't want too much visual information in my work.

I work mainly in the desert's colour palettes and the colour schemes of the sub-Arctic regions. Each image created for both these bodies of work belongs in the physical space due to the colour palette that ties the images together. However, the visual narratives of the desert landscape and the subarctic landscapes are different. The colours of the desert are hot, and that of the sub-Arctic regions are cold.

I was experimenting with images and text and combined the two series in work titled Fire and Ice.  Some other images that did not make the cut for the first selections, are divided into smaller collections. Desert and Dust, Metal and Rust  are collections that build on this theme.  As I revisit my archive and develop the collections for my online art gallery, more ideas are inspired and work is put together. 

I will always continue to develop my skillset in photography and design and work on putting more work together. I am happy to share with you "Elements of Nature" a body of work and work in progress. 

With these bodies of work, united under this one theme, I want to showcase the extremes and the beauty of these natural elements in contrast. 

With my encounters with the elements of nature in all the remote places I visit, I will continue to visualise the world's environmental issues.

Text and images by Lizane Louw

Lizane Louw  is a South African photographer, multimedia journalist and designer based in Berlin, Germany. Louw combines her love for travel and photography in her work and long-term projects and has worked internationally as a journalist and photographer for 17 years.

Lizane’s multimedia work focuses on travel, culture, and the environment. Louw’s dedicates her photographic career to climate change and the human condition.

View a selection of work available as fine art prints in the online art photography gallery, studiolizanelouw. See new stories and photographs on @lizanelouw on instagram or see new developments in the studio @studiolizanelouw. 

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