The exhibition is called ‘cloud landscapes’ because this is an important and constant element for Bill Henson and the term is part of his ordering system for his images. For someone so known for his photographs of the human figure and face, it is important to note that skies and landscapes are as significant in his work though they may seem more abstract and less compelling to the viewer.

In 1996 Henson acknowledged that we can never relate to an image of a landscape in the way we relate to a face or figure yet, ‘I think someone with an understanding of the way we are affected by photography, by the way it operates as a memento mori (and that precedes any expectations we might have of particular images) can create a landscape image that reveals much more about ourselves than an image of a human being can.’

Issues for consideration

  • Look at Untitled 2005/06 and explain how your eye travels across the image. List words to express the mood and how it makes you feel. Analyse the visual elements of the work that create this atmosphere. Consider tone, colour, composition and light and dark. Study other cloud landscapes in this exhibition and identify similarities and differences in effect.
  • Spend some time observing clouds and their movement across the sky. How may they express ideas of transcendence, emotion and mystery? Speculate on the reasons for Henson’s choice of sky and clouds as a subject. Consider how he incorporates elements such as sequence and musicality.
  • Consider Henson’s observation that an image of a landscape can reveal much more about ourselves than an image of a human being can. What do you think he means by this? Do you agree? Discuss this idea and speculate on what a landscape can reveal about a person. Take a photo of a landscape that expresses a mood or quality about yourself. Have a class exhibition of your photographs and talk about the ideas communicated by the images.