Light maybe known to many for his exquisite printing technique which he used to great effect in making prints from NASA moon explorations photographs. Equallly noteworthy is a book of his prints made of the images of the United States Atomic Bomb testing programs.
This exhibit is comprised of framed photographs and six innovatively displayed handmade books of Michael Light’s photographs. The richly printed books are the best way to see Light’s talents. Printed on heavy stock using Epson ink jet machinery, the images spreads are seen in a book in which the open pages spread to approximately 40×50”. Each book is supported on a stand constructed from large vintage movie camera tripods, their legs splayed out wide so that the viewer can look down and easily view each open page.
After Light had completed the book of the moon photographs, he had decided to photograph our own planet from the air. Those photographs were compiled in the book Some Dry Space,. The photographs were made of Nevada and California desert landscapes. In this book, the landscape looses scale, and dimensional reference. The black and white images are tonally rich, graphic, and texturally sharp. The aerial photos of ground foliage render small bushes and their shadows as black, negative space, and so the land appears pockmarked and cratered. Similarly furrows in the ground appear as severe scars. In these works, the transformative capabilities of photography are well demonstrated.
Two books of Los Angeles are on view. One was made in late afternoon light, and the other at night fall. With both series, Light deliberately defies technical convention, and the results are expressive studies in searing light or velvety blackness. A long standing rule in photography is to keep the sun behind the lens, but Light points his camera into the sun. In the last hour of the day, the late afternoon light rakes the cityscape at a low angle, and with the sun itself at the top of the picture frame, the entire image flares with indistinct shadows and diffuse highlights. Graded on technical excellence and defined detail, an important requirement for general aerial photography (say for a land survey ), these images would be considered to be poor quality. In this case, the artist sucessfully breaks the rules for expressive purposes.
The strongest images conjure an apocalyptic view. The upper portions of the images dissipate into an explosion of whiteness. The smoggy atmosphere spreads across the streets and buildings. In these photographs, not one human figure can be seen; only vehicles. One could imagine that every car and truck is fleeing the aftermath of an atomic explosion.
The night book captures the view from the airplane window that we all have marveled over when landing over a major city. Light’s richly printed images are of the deepest carbon black dotted with glowing orbs of every manner of electric illumination found in Los Angeles. Virtually no architectural detail can be seen in these images. The specular quality of these night photographs suggest the work of Vija Clemens. To make these night photographs from an airplane entailed breaking a number of technical rules. But no matter, Light is a virtuosic printer, and these images envelope and engage the viewer.