Robert Llewellyn – Lexicon

Review by Gerhard Clausing

How do you decipher the unfamiliar and the unknown? What cues from your past can be applied to new, unfamiliar shapes and textures, seemingly incomprehensible, yet eerily demanding your attention? Do you need to design your own new personal visual system or “language” to deal with such new information that is only partly familiar?

Such is the task that Robert Llewellyn presents to us in this photobook. An accomplished nature photographer, he also developed techniques to make all parts of a photographed object super sharp by combining multiple layers in one final photograph, long before in-camera technology facilitated such a process. Thus, objects acquire a certain multidimensionality that makes them bigger than life, more real than seems possible.

Confusion about the nature of items is a good thing. It is also the stuff that abstract art is made of. In our imagination, textures of small rocks may strike us as gigantic mountains. Special markings may make a rock look like the head of an animal … you get the point! It is here that the realm of associations – similarities and differences – take over, and symbols and ancient archetypes can become meaningful. We apply what is known to the unknown to make some personal sense out of what we see. Ah, the old literary figures – metaphors, similes, pars pro toto (the whole is represented by a part), and more – can also be used to make some sense out of what is shown.

“Get up, go out, look at things, smell things, touch things, look down, collect things. The action and movement from human looking to human seeing makes an enormous difference.”   — Robert Llewellyn

This photobook strikes me as a manual that wants us to learn to see, and not just look, a more involved form of discovery that can be a joyful experience. The images are all printed full bleed or with black margins; they are all monochrome, and the binding is a spiral, similar to a workbook. Thus, there is nothing to distract us – we face all the objects directly and are prompted and stimulated to react to them, to integrate them into that which we bring to the experience from what we knew before. No jarring margins or other distractions around the pictures, hardly any words, no foreword, no afterword, no preface, no introduction. You are free to apply your eyes, mind, and heart in the process: not just looking, but seeing, and hopefully in new ways that train your appreciation of what is presented and what it might mean for your life and what is to come.

“We all have to leave at some point. What are you going to do with that time you are here? There’s so much we don’t know.”    Robert Llewellyn

Llewellyn’s half century of nature photography benefits us in forming the foundation that encourages us to use our imagination to integrate such a book of symbolic visual information: we hover between the real and the imaginary, the concrete and the abstract, and can develop new personal definitions of visual intake and interpretation, both intellectually and emotionally, on our way toward developing a more differentiated personal lexicon of seeing.


Robert Llewellyn – Lexicon

Photographer:  Robert Llewellyn (born in Roanoke, Virginia; lives in Earlysville, Virginia)

Publisher:  Albemarle Books, Earlysville, Virginia, USA; © 2020

Text: Robert Llewellyn

Language: English

Stiff cover, illustrated, spiral (coil) binding; 72 pages, unpaginated, with 41 images; 8.75 x 10.75 inches (21.5 x 27.5 cm); printed and bound in Charlottesville, VA, by Bailey Printing


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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