In August 2013 I visited Venice, Italy for a trip to the Venice Biennale art exhibition and I captured this image looking onto the Venetian skyline. The image became a starting point for a photographic series entitled: Watching the light. In Watching the light I am interested in exploring Venice as a city of the light; initiated from the idea of a series exploring a theme of people watching and contemplating the gleaming water surface of the Venetian lagoon. As I was situated in this place all the time I was contemplating what they might have been thinking while they looked upon this otherworldly city.
The medium of light unites and disunites moments, times and places creating a trajectory of thoughts, observations and transformations both in the beholder and in the beheld.
I am interested in the concept of the two cities that exist in this watery metropolis, one as the reality of the real world, and the other city below that exists solely in reflections. This reflected city forms another world for contemplation. During my visit I recognised light in its many incarnations – refracted light manifested in water, light consoled upon faces, light transformed, warped and bent in mirrors, or in the effects of sunlight that erode the material of stone on ancient sculptures. As light is the primary medium of photography, its substance is of great value to this essay.
Light consoles us and creates us; as people or the apparatus of the camera observe it, it touches us configuring our sensibilities, predispositions, feelings and emotions. I think these images could posit an idea that light forms kind of trajectory between people, places and emotions in enacted photons. When capturing the photographs I was interested in the fascination people had in this simple act of sitting beside the lagoon and using the beauty of that landscape as an exterior facade to their interior thoughts. In the place of exclusion manifested by these images, a place where thoughts, predetermined actions and substance are largely lost to the subtlety of body language and hidden faces, their language can be only imagined through the audience’s conception of them. The water and the light of the sky become synonymous with interior thoughts, in an ascribing and externalising process.
As the light upon the water of the Venetian lagoon refracts the exterior landscape of the city’s buildings, creating a fragmentation of a predisposition of what buildings look like, the water can also become a place for a projection for our interior world, and it is in this way that I want to depict the idea of watching the light.
When I visited the Giardini gardens in Venice, which during the Biennalle houses hundreds of exhibitions, I came across a building covered in mirrors. Like the water this mirrored surface, displays the refracted physical properties of light as a means to transform the body and the real world, transfiguring an altered depiction of reality. In images 6 and 7 children and their parents are seen walking though a transformed and transforming space that is as much visceral and subjectively interior as part of the natural real landscape. While the earlier images depict the division between the borders of habitable land and adverse sea, the following images in some way transfuse the vehicle of the body with space, creating a proximity between the two through the illusory ability of light.
The physical illusions found in mirrored surfaces indicate and encounter between these two dialectical opposing worlds. Photons of light carry messages forming a trajectory between places and times; this is in part what this series conveys, the series of images create links between moments and concepts.
It is not only living bodies of people that are defined and embodied by the subjection of light; the statues that watch over visitors to the gardens of the Biennale in the Giardini might stand longer than the humans that surround them, but their fugitive nature is realised in the erosion subject in the statues faces and the stone cloth of their garments. The erosion of sunlight shapes skin and stone and is captured briefly in the emulsion of film negative of the digital sensor of a camera. Like the people beside the lagoon these statues continue to watch the light as it marks them. While light crafts the photographic image itself, it also crafts and shapes the world around us, as much as light marks moments it also marks the surface of things.
When we look up at starlight or moonlight, we see delayed light observing a 1.3 second delay in the light we observe from the moon and a 8.3 second delay in sunlight. This observed time traversal is both part the process of astronomical observation and the act of photography to miraculously distill a moment in time. As statues erode and skin decomposes, the material of photography attempts to create an immortality of these finite elements. The medium of light unites and disunites moments, times and places creating a trajectory of thoughts, observations and transformations both in the beholder and in the beheld.
Watching the light series.
Captured in Venice, Italy. Ad Howells, 2013.