Horsehead Nebula

Few places in the world still seem to instil a true sense of distance today; through a proliferation of information, images and travel, even those places geographically far from us can be easily reached both virtually and physically. Yet this slight feeling of melancholy towards dwindling far flung lands is, for the duration of Mattheiu Litt’s Horsehead Nebula, somewhat suppressed and it appears that Litt has found a place that is genuinely distant, and one that he never formally reveals to us.

After a cover laden with galactic gold and black formations, we are presented with one of very few pieces of text in the book, it’s title, which sharply foreshadows two prominent themes within the book; the profound notion of distance, through literally using the name of a celestial dust constellation and secondly that of horses, which progressively become an unassuming motif of this unknown region. Further saturated gold and black pages throughout the book, lined sparingly with poetic phrases, punctuate it’s rhythm and the cosmic hues of these interjecting pages are then delicately echoed throughout Litt’s hazy golden colour palette.

For myself, the deep-seated feelings of distance established through the cover and title are cohesively sustained not only in the physical means that Litt’s photograph precipitate between this unidentified place and my own, but moreover within the photographs themselves; Litt maintains a palpable space between camera and subject and this seems to only accentuate the elusive nature of this land. As a result, Horsehead Nebula manifests itself into a series of exceptionally quiet and astute observations of a region vastly unknown to myself and to some degree Litt as well. At points I encounter familiar scenes in the smaller details of everyday life; dusty roads, washing hung out to dry, a TV satellite and a window, framed by golden drapes with a plant sat on its sill. These all seem known to me yet are then offset with reminders that this place is wildly more unfamiliar than it is familiar to me; a monolithic metal horse head, inhabitants in traditional dress and nomadic horses in endlessly vast landscapes are far removed from what I call home.

Whilst the narrative is anchored somewhat to this distant and unreachable place, it seems at the same time equally unconcerned with it; meandering without an overt purpose, it imposes very little on us and with no given name or context of any kind, it leaves us to rely soley on guesswork and imagination, alongside Litt’s photographs to conjure some rationale to this land. This is perhaps the idea that persistently holds most weight for me when looking through Horsehead Nebula; it’s a book that is far from being shy of content yet even after turning so many pages of alluring photographs, it swiftly ends and we are left with little more true understanding of this wild place than what we started with. So much so that unless I consciously pursued further knowledge, this place would forever remain in a space hung somewhere between the real and the imagined. Far from holding this against it, finishing the book feels subtly cathartic and where some may find it frustrating, for myself, places such as the one photographed should remain in this tentative space. If we had been allowed anything more than what Litt has presented to us, the narrative would move wholly into the realm of the real, and the enticing curiosity that is sustained throughout the book would be diminished. After looking through the book several times, I reassured myself that this was indeed a real place, after all photography’s indexical relationship to what it photographs gives me some confidence that I am right. Yet at the same time there remained, and still does, an inkling of hesitation and if someone was to ask me nearly anything of this place, I would struggle to say anything of concrete value.

It’s a cohesively redacted book; leaving only a selected and beautiful glimpse for us to see, and most tantalisingly of all is the notion that this place will most likely only ever exist to me in the pages of Mattheiu Litt’s Horsehead Nebula.