Nic Shonfeld. 2021. Untitled from Interminable Chain work in progress.

In his essay on Awoiska Van Der Molen's work (Van Alphen, 2014), Ernst Van Alphen points to Flusser's point of that she works in black and white not because of nostalgia but because of the critical position that black and white is 'concrete' and thus 'true', not because the world is black and white but because photography's origins lay in 'optical theory'. He quotes Flusser: “black is the total absence of all oscillations contained in light, white the total presence of all the elements of oscillation” (Flusser, 2000:42) to explain that: 'Black and white photographs are images of concepts that belong to the theory of optics, they are generated by that theory. Black-and-white photographs are beautiful because of the beauty of the conceptual universe'.

Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa points out: 'In chemistry, the term phosphorescence describes a circumstance in which energy absorbed by an object is released slowly in the form of light, in a process analogous to the receptive activities of a photographic exposure' (Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2014). Van Alphen asserts that whilst colour photographs share concepts of black and white photographs, they 'veil its theoretical origin' because colour photographs come from an (invisible) chemical theory rather than the optical theory - photography is optical first and chemical second. “The ‘more genuine’ the colours of the photograph become, the more untruthful they are, the more they conceal their theoretical origin” (Flusser, 2000:42).

Black and white photos make you aware it is a photo, unlike colour when people read too much into them as truths. In my approach of photographing in low light or moonlight, the longer than conventional exposures make apparent that the lighter areas of the image are only possible because of this photographic process. Low light tends not to cast any shadows and as such, these type of images become a paradox in conventional ways of seeing, which as Wolukau-Wanambwa poetically states: '...awakens us to the mysterious difference of a nocturnal life that seems to breathe in the steady cadence of light passing from a celestial and utterly untraceable distance'. The lightness comes out of the darkness through a process of photographic time, this can be seen as a metaphor for the biblical tropes of light out of darkness.

Darkness, like religion it might be argued, is a human construct - many creatures can see perfectly well at night. This highlights the vulnerable limits of human capacity. Wolukau-Wanambwa points to Giorgio Agamben's essay What Is the Contemporary? (2009)“The absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells” which “produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness... a product of our own retina.” Agamben concludes that therefore darkness as a concept is only intelligible within the narrow confines of our own optical capacity, and not an immutable register with which to measure the shape and nature of the world. (Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2014).

Fig.2: Paul Graham, American Night 1998 - 2002

In his essay Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester (2014), Wolukau-Wanambwa compares Paul Graham's In American Night (fig.2) work to Awoiska van der Molen's. Graham's work challenges conventional printing methods with his high-key images which reject the traditional methods of using dark and shadows to reflect poverty and deprivation, instead he 'inverts' the expression of class disparity. By contrast, van der Molen's 'landscapes' lead us to: "know it differently and perhaps in a manner that no longer presumes our own pre-eminence. Her photographs gradually and cumulatively reveal the untroubled stillness, grace and complexity of a world undeniably indifferent to our hopes, if presently vulnerable to our numerous interventions." Van der Molen's images reveal a world invented by the 'human compression of time' to 'a sense of animate life unlinked to human activity', and by way of association and shared characteristics, this is what I hope my photographs also allude to.

REFERENCES:
Agamben, Giorgio. 2009. “What Is the Contemporary?” from What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella. Stanford University Press.

Flusser, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by A. Mathews. London: Reaktion Books

Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]

Wolukau-Wanambwa, Stanley. 2014. Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester. Published online at 'The Great Leap Sideways' - New York 2014. Awoiska van der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/writing_stanley_wolukau.pdf [accessed: 30.08.21]