I've been watching a recent nature series titled Earth At Night In Colour (2020) by Off Spring Films. It is a remarkable series in which camera's that are 100 times more sensitive than the human eye record footage of wildlife at night. As the cameras are so sensitive they can record by moonlight alone almost as if it were shot in daylight. The footage reveals aspects of nature that have never been recorded before but also of behaviour that nature experts were unaware of. The opening introduction announces the show capturing the earth at night in 'Earth's last true wilderness'. I am trying to reach somewhere in nature far away from human touch in my photographs. Earth's natural wilderness has all but been recorded, there is nothing left to photograph, we have covered the globe, except the depths of the oceans, but at night, the darkness hasn't quite been captured. Darkness is the wilderness and it is uncultured and untamed, it is also fear. Thinking about fear in terms of nature at night is a new way of thinking about my work. We can't see in the dark, animals can, this speaks of a limiting.
Darkness, like religion it might be argued, is a human construct as humans have a low sensitivity to light, many creatures can see perfectly well at night. Wolukau-Wanambwa points to Giorgio Agamben's essay What Is the Contemporary? (2009) in which an answer to the question “What happens when we find ourselves in a place deprived of light?” he states: “The absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells” which “produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness”. So in fact “darkness is not, therefore, a privative notion but rather the result of the activity of the “off-cells,” 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). This highlights the vulnerable limits of human capacity.
I photograph at night, early in the morning, or at least in low light, usually with relatively long exposure times - longer than conventional shutters speeds in daylight, long enough to need a tripod that is. My general rule is 'before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down', sans solaire, in this respect, I am starting to refer to my photographs as 'nocturnal'. It is not always possible, or safe, to reach the places I want to photograph at night so I monitor the Met Office and photograph those places when the weather is poor. It feels instinctively right, there is something more primordial and wild about low light, as opposed to stark daylight where nothing is mysterious and there is no element of fear. In a previous post, I spoke about the influence of William Mortenson's strategies for making pictures based on concepts of 'primal, universal and ancestral fear' in my work.
The polarity of lightness and darkness, or rather, the photographic strategy of transforming darkness into light, makes it difficult not to think about religion - the transformation of dark into light is the very essence of Christian faith, which is already playing a role in my work with photographs of hermitage cells and oratory's signifying contemplation in solitude and away from society in nature.
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]]