Garry Fabian Miller

Valentina Moncada

When he took the Cibachrome photographs in the series “Sections of England: The Sea Horizon,” 1976–77, Garry Fabian Miller used the same type of lens, film, and format for each image. What is more significant, however, is that he shot all the photographs from the same position—the roof of his home, which is located on an estuary of the Severn River. The dramatic variations in these vistas are thus determined by changes in weather and time of day, rather than vantage point—an approach that reflects a Cartesian emphasis on a fixed, panoramic eye.

Fabian Miller’s technical finesse, as well as his decision to work within this narrow set of parameters, permitted him a range of subtle textures in sea and sky. In one image the atmosphere resembles a sandy expanse of desert; in another, the smooth bluish surface of the sea is contrasted with cloud banks superimposed in layers of color. Many of the scenes echo eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English landscape paintings by Constable, Cozens, Gainsborough, and Turner; while the basic horizontal division between sea and sky (as well as the lush yet somber palette) is reminiscent of canvases by Mark Rothko. It is also no coincidence that many of the images suggest the darkness, solitude, and silence that Edmund Burke characterized as elements of the sublime.

In Photo No. 38, nature seems to be unleashed in all its magnitude. Beneath what seems to be an approaching Turner-like storm, the sea is a dense, inky expanse; on the right a livid streak of yellowish light reveals the skyline of a distant city. The rest of the leaden blue sky seems to weigh down on the world and all human history; here, nature is shaped by the emotions and cultural projections it arouses in the viewer. Photo No. 11, emanating silence and calm, complements this dramatic climax. Only a slight difference in tone distinguishes the blue of the sky from that of the sea. Exactly halfway down this almost perfect monochrome stands the horizon line—tenuous and yet as clear and precise as a Barnett Newman zip arranged crosswise. As if the image were a watercolor, in Photo No. 28 the color of the sea seems gradually to evaporate into the sky’s lighter hue. Soft fragments and vague striations of small clouds resemble ocean waves, while a strip of more intense blue runs across the entire frame, as in some of Constable’s cloud studies.

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” Fabian Miller might paraphrase him to say that the boundaries he chose to work within in creating “Sections of England” coincide with the limits of his physical and imaginative world.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore