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Illilluminations

Tim Davis

The classicists who write photography textbooks dutifully translate "photography" from the Greek as "light writing." It was Cervantes who saw translation as “the back side of a tapestry,” and in the case of photography’s many translators, most have been staring at the wall. In photographic language, light is read as grammar; as an aesthetic tool, helping the artist describe an apprehended visual world. I am pursuing a visual world where light is syntactic; light veering close to content. In all my work light is cultural and political. It is put there by someone, for a purpose: to invite citizens to share their money with corporations, to keep workers working, to describe democracy, to allow paintings in museums to be seen in one particular way.

In Illilluminations I am photographing grand and gorgeous failures of light to sync up to its supposed functions: Braille billboards, odd elaborate shadows behind figurative sculptures, spring pear blossoms arc lit into oblivion, neon koans to no one. I am interested in light that obscures as it illumines, that overstates and overblows, and in some cases, that fails to appear at all. You can sift through any photographer’s amassed images and find moments when the light shifts from something that describes to something that is described; moments when the photographer has seen ­ or better, understood — the light.

As a child I used to walk up a drumlin in Amherst, Mass. to look at the stars. Over time it became obvious that the beauty I saw in them was learned. The lights flickering through the valley below were much more beautiful than the ones in the sky: they backed up, they changed color, they disappeared. They strived to illuminate the world, but from that distance, were all that was illumined. They were beautiful failures, while the stars were old saws with great P.R. -— bands that could pack stadiums on the reputation of a few antique hits. Both circumstances interest me now, and Illilluminations is an attempt to stretch a body of work to incorporate beautiful failures and lapsed beauties, ways light can back up into really meaning.