It is six years since our first exhibition of Charlie Waite's photographs and in the intervening time he has become one of our best-selling artists. As one of Britain's most collected landscape photographers, the enduring appeal of his photographs is in their celebration of traditional notions of beauty, each one a tour de force of spectacular lighting, resplendent clouds or glittering light on water. Waite's photographs allow us to stop and applaud the ephemeral beauty of our natural world.
It is a pleasure to represent an artist who believes and understands that beauty is good for us, and reminds us of our need to feel more connected to nature. I have always regarded Waite's photographs as the perfect antidote to the bleak realism and sombre concerns of much contemporary photography. His works belong more to the Romantic tradition of the 1850s when landscapes were celebrated for capturing a 'mirror of nature', and beauty in the landscape was presented as a refuge from the continuous busyness of modern life.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Charlie Waite worked very much for the benefit of the illustrated book market, which as an industry was flourishing. He was commissioned to work all over Europe and published prolifically: to date 30 titles and counting. Works were curated by book editors specifically to illustrate travel books, but weren't exhibited publicly as the gallery scene was still in its infancy. In 2019 we were privileged to be given full access to Waite's vast archive and what we found was hugely exciting: a significant number of transparencies of hitherto unpublished works had remained hidden from the public domain. At the time, not 'chosen' by magazine editors for illustrative purposes, many of the photographs in this collection had been all but forgotten, hidden under the weight of Waite's ever-expanding oeuvre. Together they document the crystallising of a unique talent; Waite's artistic journey. As a curator, to come across work of this significance and be able to publish it now is hugely satisfying. These hidden works deserve their place amongst Waite's best-known photographs.
During the 1980s Waite became a master of the big view with deeply personal interpretations of European landscapes, proudly carrying on the practice of 'straight' photography in the spirit of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and gaining a reputation for painterly, serene studies that captured 'nature suspended in one of its great performances'. Waite has always pursued his art privately alongside the demands of the book publishers for the simple joy of beautiful photographs for their own sake. He developed a passion for making his own silver gelatin prints in the darkroom, and this collection will showcase some of these hidden works for the very first time, tracing his entire career that started in the 1970s.
The late 1990s saw a natural evolution of Waite's style. Simpler architectural cameos within the landscape explored the arcs and lines that abound in both contemporary and classical architecture. In each new study relationships of colour, form, design and light all combine to elicit a positive emotional response; a perfect harmony found in the aesthetic 'rightness' of things. In recent years he has pared back his landscape studies with more minimalist compositions, capturing geometric relationships and patterns in the environment.
Today, Waite is celebrated primarily as a colour photographer, and few will know of his love affair with black and white photography. I expect collectors will be delighted to meet the Cuban cyclist of Cienfuegos Study 1, Cuba 2003 in black and white, which Waite has chosen to publish as the lead image for this collection. Hidden Works captures photographs from all over the world, including Japan, Italy, Belgium, England, Cuba, Scotland, Mali, France, USA, Australia, Morocco, Namibia, Egypt, Germany, Libya and Spain.
In a career spanning nearly 50 years, the reason for Waite's success is clear: he has unapologetically stayed faithful to beauty and tirelessly committed to photography as an art medium. When beauty went out of fashion in mainstream art circles, Waite refused to join the bandwagon of modern conceptual art photography. As we enter a new era and the art world grapples with how to reclaim beauty as a concept, Waite's work takes on more significance. In these environmentally uncertain times he reminds us to cherish the precious and ephemeral beauty of the natural world while we still can.
Luke Whitaker, 2020