Nuances: a journey through an artist's landscapes

by Janet Botes


Nuances: George Sedgefield, Janet Botes, digital collage on archival fine art paper, edition:5, W:80cm x H:80cm (paper size, unframed), 2012

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust

Nuances is a series of unique, crafted photographic landscapes, printed in a limited edition of 3, 5 or 7 prints each, onto Somerset Velvet paper. Each work is a digital composite or montage of photographic images, drawing, hand-painting and scanned textures to depict a landscape that I visited or have a personal connection to. Often the landscapes are created by merging images of geographical areas that are located very far apart in reality. One of the earliest examples is “Seapoint Upington” created in 2010 – it merges photographic material from Upington in the Northern Cape province of South Africa with photographs taken in Strand, Gordon's Bay and also from Signal Hill in Cape Town, all in the South of the Western Cape.

"Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution." -Ansel Adams

A Nuances work usually comprises of hand-painting, textures, and photographic images combined into a single composition using digital collage as technique. The final artwork is completely unique, and can be considered a mixed media work of art. Digital media is used to bring together photography and traditional art techniques such as painting and drawing.

Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling. If you can't feel what you're looking at, then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” -Don McCullin

The Nuances series subtly represents the natural landscape as a memory instead of reality, as humankind fails to change unsustainable habits and the abuse of resources. Urbanization, agriculture and conservation are some of the issues depicted or hinted at in some of the works. Nature conservation and the prevention or combat of pollution are matters that are very important to me, and this sometimes show in my work. Nuances also aim to celebrate the beauty of natural spaces and encourage the viewer to cultivate a new respect, appreciation and connection to nature. Mountains, beaches, deserts, forests, grasslands, and how we feel in these spaces, and form part of these spaces, are part of the essence of what my work is about.

To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” - Danny Kaye

I rarely use photographs by other people in the series, and have included images from different towns, cities and uninhabited places. This automatically also makes the works about my travelling, about the different places I inhabit and visit. They are inspired by and derived from landscapes across South Africa, including Cape Town, the West Coast, the landscapes between Cape Town and Upington in the Northern Cape, Pretoria, Vanderbijlpark, the Garden Route and the Karoo. Through my work I'm aiming to capture some essence of these areas – an essence that draws an emotional response from me. We live in a beautiful country and due to our busy lives we often neglect focusing and appreciating the vastness, of the ocean, the serenity of the veldt and the expanse of landscape up to the horizon. Even our cities have a unique quality and beauty that sometimes complement the landscape, which is what a lot of my works from 2010 is aimed at. “Bridging Over”, “Plains for View” and “City Living” are ideal examples of these city-focused works. Their production was prompted as a commission, but I very quickly and easily found myself enthralled in an effort to express my experience of living in the city. We were living in Cape Town, in the city bowl itself, at the time, and I walked a lot. I was pulled in and inspired by the architecture, the diverging lines, the sounds, the textures, the grime. It can become quite overwhelming, of course. But I decided not to focus too much on the overwhelm in the works, although you get some sense of it in “City Living” which I had to make quite monochromatic because the composition is so full.

Places matter. Their rules, their scale, their design include or exclude civil society, pedestrianism, equality, diversity (economic and otherwise), understanding of where water comes from and garbage goes, consumption or conservation. They map our lives.” - Rebecca Solnit

In December 2013 I traveled overseas for the first time, to the South coast of Turkey, and the coastal region of Egypt’s Sinai desert. Photographs taken during this trip is integrated into Oludeniz (inspired by Turkey) and Sinai Mountains (inspired by Egypt). While neither of them can fully contain or illustrate the impressions that I have of these two incredible destinations, they do represent a glimpse or moment captured into a multi-faceted newly created landscape.

Each Nuances work can take anything from a week to two months to create, as I work very intuitively and experimental – building up each landscape in layers of photographic elements, textures and other scanned pieces. Often I would have to discontinue work on a particular piece until I can find the correct image, texture or element that would fit the artwork. One of the most enjoyable parts of the production process is taking trips to go and find and shoot the right photos! Before spending hours in the studio to get the right combinations and layering effects. The textures I tend to use most often is watercolour washes on a smooth paper, and pieces of teabag-paper stuck together into seamless areas. In a finished Nuances work the separate elements can hardly be identified, as together they blend into a unified whole.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” - Dorothea Lange

While it is mostly a lot of work, sometimes a composition just seems to 'click' into place. All the elements effortlessly fall together into harmony and it then seems like photographs taken years earlier were captured for the sole purpose of being part of the particular artwork. This is part of the unpredictability and joyful unexpectedness that is involved with these works. I never really know how the colours and textures of different paintings and photographs will react or fit together, until I try to merge them through digital blending effects and layering. Pure magic... the possibilities that technology opens up for us as artists are incredible. I am very grateful for my background in Graphic Design – first studying for four years at the Vaal University of Technology, and then working as a designer in agencies in Johannesburg and Pretoria – without the skills I attained there I would not have been able to do my work in the way that I do it now.

Ultimately the works in my Nuances series aim to capture the essence of a landscape, while also instilling an awareness about the intricate balance and interconnectivity of all things, and of us within and as part of nature. And quite incidentally the works in the series map out my own life, my journey as an artist within the landscape of the world.

View available works from the Nuances series in Janet's gallery on, or commission work in this technique or style from Janet, read more: