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David Stephenson

Drowned No. 176 (Lake Pedder, Tasmania)  2002

toned gelatin silver print, frame

frame 90 × 106cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010

2010.44

About the Artwork

Drowned no.176 (Lake Pedder, Tasmania) documents a site of environmental significance – Lake Pedder in south-west Tasmania. Once a natural lake, it became a much larger impoundment and diversion lake when the Gordon Dam was completed in 1974. The massive upper Gordon River system was dammed, flooding the original Lake Pedder and the valleys of the Serpentine and Gordon Rivers. Vast grass plains and heavily forested hillsides were drowned. Very little timber was removed prior to flooding, resulting in extensive stands of submerged trees. This work is part of a series of photographs by Stephenson which depict various Tasmanian hydro-electric impoundments, focusing in particular on the stands of emergent dead timber which occur in many of the lakes.

The Drowned photographs evoke many of the dilemmas in the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. The corpses of dead trees stand as silent historical witnesses to the complex changes which technological culture perpetrates on the environment. The pictures were created with a large-format view camera to provide highly detailed, large-scale prints. Stephenson also used photographic techniques such as solarisation and split toning to enhance the expressive qualities of the images, creating works of formal beauty as well as important environmental records.

David Stephenson

– About the artist

Born 1955, Washington DC, United States. Lives and works Hobart, Tasmania.


David Stephenson emigrated from the USA to Tasmania to take up a teaching position at the University of Tasmania School of Art in 1982. He continues to live and work in Hobart. Stephenson’s work has focused on the aesthetics of environmental representation through the use of photography and video art. Through extended projects he has explored cosmological and technological manifestations of the sublime in subjects including the Tasmanian environment, the Antarctic landscape, star-filled skies, sacred architecture, hydro-electric developments and global cityscapes. His works are marked by a sense of self-deliberation; they evoke notions of the sublime and man’s capacity to pass time.

In 1982 the largest conservation battle ever fought in Australia took place over the damming of the Franklin River. This was also the year that Stephenson emigrated from Washington, USA, to Hobart, Tasmania. A year earlier, as a recent art-school graduate, Stephenson produced a photographic series called New Monuments. In these works, industrial structures invaded the natural world; they depict controversial oil pipelines, the Californian Hetch Hetchy hydro scheme and the Stanislaus River being flooded. Stephenson used the word ‘monument’ in the series title to suggest that these manmade structures stand today as man’s equivalent to monuments of the ancient world. Following his arrival in Australia, Stephenson depicted the endangered coast of Tasmania, its rivers and hydro-electric schemes.

In a career spanning four decades, Stephenson’s art has been exhibited extensively nationally and internationally. Solo exhibitions include Transcendence: Photographs by David Stephenson, Monash Gallery of Art and regional tour (2011-15); Light Cities, Julie Saul, New York (2011); Vaults, Julie Saul, New York (2007); and Sublime Space: photographs by David Stephenson, National Gallery of Victoria (1998). Group exhibitions include Lost in Landscape, Museo de Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Italy (2014); Australia: Land and Landscape, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2013); Geomorphometries: Contemporary Terrain, Queensland Centre for Photography, Brisbane (2012); In the Balance, MCA, Sydney (2010); Shared Sky, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2009); and Ingenuidades: Fotografia e Engenharia 1846–2006, Galeria de Exposições Temporårias da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon and Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (2007).

Stephenson’s work is represented in many public and private collections including all major Australian institutions and many international museums, such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Three monographs have been published on Stephenson’s work. Of these, two are authored by Stephenson with Princeton Architectural Press: Visions of Heaven: The Dome in European Architecture (2005) and Heavenly Vaults: From Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture (2009). David Stephenson: Sublime Symmetries, a French/English-language monograph on Stephenson’s work by Jorge Calado, accompanied Stephenson’s retrospective at the Gulbenkian Cultural Centre in Paris in 2006.

Learn more
– Other collection works by the artist

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