Brenton Hamilton – A BLUE IDYLL: Cyanotypes and Dreams

Review by Melanie Chapman ·

One of the rare gifts of the year 2020, perhaps the only silver lining to a deeply challenging period for so many people throughout the world, has been the opportunity/necessity to look within for a sense of mystery and adventure. We’ve all been required to slow down our frenetic modern pace and open ourselves up to new thoughts, new emotions, and new ways of communicating. Yet as we hover on the brink of “returning to normal”, we may also want to hold on to some of what we discovered about our collective consciousness, or we may want to remain in a space with more silence. Words may not flow as easily; surfaces may not seem as dazzling anymore. We may have climbed so deeply into our interior lives that we are disoriented or disinterested in fully coming back out.

Rarely has reviewing a photobook been so confounding as has been the case with A BLUE IDYLL, the recent career retrospective of Brenton Hamilton’s beautiful yet hard to categorize imagery. Made with nineteenth century photographic processes such as gum bichromate, collodion ambrotypes and embellished cyanotype, Hamilton’s work defies classification and challenges this reviewer to find a method of communication beyond the written word in an effort to convey the dreamlike world evoked within the pages of this handsome hardbound book released in 2020 by Schilt Publishing. 

The most concise summation of the work is offered by none other than William Blake on the opening pages of this must-have book: “For the Eye altering alters all.” If you prefer to dive directly into the images, be prepared to refer back to Lyle Rexer’s informative introduction. “…this isn’t really a book of photographs. It’s an interior autobiography…a dream book if you like.”

A luminous face emerges from above the Tower of Babel; apparent constellations fill the silhouette of a statuesque woman; birds seem to swallow sculptural figures or gaze at the viewer with oversized human heads. Hamilton’s work invokes collage, botanical etchings, art history, and surrealism, tracing a lineage from Bosch and Bruegel to Talbot and on to Breton and Ernst. Utilizing non-lens-based photographic methods and the illuminating power of sunlight, Hamilton offers us windows into imaginary landscapes washed with faded colors and reoccurring themes, open to interpretation and defying explanation.  

If you are fortunate enough to obtain a copy of this book, you will find it has a perfect place in your collection, nestled right between the “photo” and the “art” books. Or better yet, A BLUE IDYLL should be kept under your pillow in hopes that this quarter century’s worth of mystical images breathe life into your post Covid dreams.


A BLUE IDYLL: Cyanotypes and Dreams, Brenton Hamilton

Photographer: Brenton Hamilton, Born and Resides in Maine, USA 

Essay: Lyle Rexer

Text: English

Publisher: Schilt Publishing and Gallery, Amsterdam, copyright 2020

Hardbound with cloth cover, stitched binding, 93 images, 112 pages, ISBN: 9789053309414

Book Design: Victor Levie, Amsterdam


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

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