Alfred Stieglitz once remarked, “where there is light, one can photograph”. The quote is a helpful reminder for photographers, artists, and living human beings as the days shorten too quickly and the final decisive blow of daylight “savings” time ends. In a stroke, we who live under the pall of DST plunge into sunset an hour earlier. Photographers rub their hands together and wonder what can be done? Stieglitz might answer: “why not photograph by the light of the moon?”
Blue Hour is a seven-artist group exhibition of photographic works at Candela Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. The works orbit around the theme of the “Blue Hour,” a euphemism common among photographers for the brooding, quiet, intense “hour” between sunset and total night. The term is often shuffled into taxonomies of light by landscape photographers seeking to categorize every hour of sunlight and economize their time, capturing the right photograph at the right moment. However, in Blue Hour, a more sensual and human interpretation of these final moments of light is assumed, and the question asked: “Do we keep moving towards light, joy, and the comforts of human interaction, or do we succumb to a natural pull?”
The artists included present bodies of work that all explore this idea of loneliness versus connection, brooding versus hope. As you enter the gallery and look around at the works, there are two primary categories for your consideration- the veiled or concealed human form and the speculative, fantastical landscape. TEach artist’s work invites reflection, and the work entices the viewer to peer at the surface to scratch at the mystery and unravel the process used in its creation. In Blue Hour one will find vibrant yet muted color, uncanny texture, and shimmering disrupted forms- the common motifs that permeate much of the artwork.
Granville Carroll‘s work is, in a word, celestial. From his body of work, Because the Sun Hath Looked Upon Me, Carroll uses digital composites to create landscapes that juxtapose the unlimited possibility of deep space imagery with vaunted, richly lit landscapes below. The juxtaposition and uncanny light develop a tension of speculation, a mood congruent with the broader show, quiet yet enraptured by the possibilities before us. Carroll describes his work as Afrofuturist, and these landscapes are new means of imaging and imagining blackness. His images create a space to imagine and speculate at unlimited personal potentiality, using the expanses represented in the image as “an open world for self-projection”.
Peter Cochrane‘s work also traces the personal journey one takes with and through the represented landscape. Selections from his series The Sensual World on view in the show are vibrant and mystifying images. Cochrane creates these images by re-interpreting landscape imagery through a succession of processes. Images are printed with the risograph technique, creating a pointillist fracturing of the image at the smallest level while maintaining the overall consistency of form. The resulting prints were then re-photographed and printed at a larger scale, foregrounding the fracturing nature of the technique. Cochrane speaks of this process as a means of combatting personal anxiety and panic attacks. Watching new forms appear through the process while maintaining the original vision of the landscape was cathartic, yet it also revealed new realities about the natural world to Cochrane. These revelations were part beautiful and part horrifying, yet Cochrane also found a stabilizing consistency in the forms explored through his work. The fruits of this process are works that contain colors that are everything but otherworldly. The image’s texture compels you to examine it with your face nearly on the glass and take successive steps backward with pauses to consider, revealing the overall form in new and unexpected ways.
Heather Evans Smith‘s work unpacks the Blue component of the show most literally. In fact, it’s the name of her third monograph, from which she draws the images in Blue Hour. Returning the color blue as the through-line, she creates images that explore the ideas of depression in middle-aged women. Citing research that shows that the mid-40s are a pivotal moment of transition for most women, she creates images that give an allusive form to this season of life. In so doing, she makes work that invites the viewer into the unsteady ground of aging: children age, parents age, and women are caught in the middle of this shifting relational landscape.
Another artist whose images hew close to the creative umbrella of blue is Galina Kurlat. Using expired polaroid film, which creates an obscuring and broken field of photographic deterioration between the viewer and the subject, Kurlat creates portraits in which the imperfections of the expired and degraded film echo the fragility and foibles of the flesh of the portrait subjects themselves. The film’s distortions create a sort of curtain or veil that the viewer must look through, around, and past to decipher the sitters’ individuality. The images are sensual yet haunting, timeless yet immediate, and situated beautifully in the quiet and contemplative milieu of the show.
Dylan Hausthor‘s images are sharp, uncanny, and slightly off-putting black-and-white images. Dylan says of himself that he “praise[s] at the altar of the story,” and I think this gesture of worship and mysticism is appropriate for his imagery. In Blue Hour, we find a selection of images that vary from unusual forms found in nature, heightened and rendered semi-abstract through either black-and-white color filtering (as in Bee Swarm) or a sterilizing, wide-eyed treatment of direct flash (as in Owl). The human forms in What the Rain might Bring and Mennonites are sharp yet distant, turned away from the camera in some private ritual unknown to the photographer and, in turn, the viewer. The sharp, contrasty black and white images throughout Hausthor’s work belie ease of interpretation, yet Hausthor builds the “altar of the story” for the viewer’s consideration, even an uneasy consideration.
Raymond Thompson Jr‘s Playing in the Dark series are self-portraits rendered in lively and otherworldly colors with a restraint of form that begs the viewer to closer consideration. The lumen printing process, tinged with split-toned selenium, used to create the original images (of which the images in the show are inkjet prints) shroud Thompson Jr.’s body in fields of color and obscures his form. Thompson Jr. says that his body is “not easily consumed” – his work critiques the racial caste system and charged negative representations of the black body in culture by forcing the viewer in closely to understand the forms they see or think they see.
In Blue Hour, Em White has one piece: an arresting series of 18 tintype images in an austere glassless black case titled Glittering Plane. The photographs are reflections of the sun on the surface of the water. While the imagery is entirely familiar to anyone that has been near a river, the tintype process and repetition of the form in gridded indexical presentation creates a typology of the form, highlighting the subtle differences in the surface of the waters, the shifting quality of light, and the final presentation of form to the camera. Presented alongside Granville Carrol and Peter Cochrane’s work, the forms take on a celestial quality, suggesting the infinite scale visible downwards into the world’s minutiae, even as the tiny ripples of water are highlighted through the immense, distant, blazing sun.
Blue Hour is on view at Candela Gallery through December 21st and online at https://www.candelagallery.com/bluehour