Because the Night: from After Dark, Prospect Park and Allegories of a Posthumous Landscape
I began taking pictures at night in Prospect Park in the spring of 2001. I had just purchased my first serious camera and was looking forward to making something technically impressive, as my work up to that point was handicapped by often slipshod technique and always roughshod equipment. We had just come through a great political tumult, with an impeachment followed by an election which saw an intellectually incurious man assume the office of the President after losing the popular vote (and save for the Supreme Court, the electoral college as well). The dot-com bubble had burst and the crisis was beginning to spread to the wider economy. Enron, voted “the most innovative company in America” and one of the sitting president’s biggest financial backers, was revealed to have committed financial fraud on a massive scale. All summer long, I watched with fascination as its share price slid towards zero, waiting for the penny to drop. And then of course it was September.
Like everybody else I was experiencing elevated levels of anxiety, but my true panic was realizing that our leadership, emboldened with the highest approval ratings on record, was about to commit an even greater tragedy: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So what does all of this have to do with night photography? I’m not sure except that I was compelled to look for a place where the truth could not be refuted, and I sought that in nature, where, for the time being anyway, truth was eternal.
In the park I re-discovered history. I made note of the gas lamps lining the pathways and knew that one day the jaundiced light emitted by the sodium vapor lamp would also disappear, and it gave me a strange comfort. I observed statues commemorating past conflicts, listened as men on horseback whispered to me about human folly and found I was a little less bitter. The park revealed to me the present as it has always been, a crossroads of the past and the future. In my work I always strive to sit at that intersection. This new camera of mine, a rangefinder, required me to use the center portion of the lens to find focus, but I recognize now something else was motivating me to hew to the visual center in my frame. As a practical reality, the political center was dead. I think part of me hoped to anchor this expression in the guise of composition, where the rule of thirds reigned supreme.
It’s been over a decade since I’ve made those pictures and I again find myself drawn to night and to nature, tilling the same ground: failure of leadership, arrogance and hubris, a desire to invent our own version of the truth. Barack Obama, an erudite, measured centrist was elected President. Inheriting an economy on the brink (and a constitution under assault) it was his misfortune to have to save the established order; our misfortune was that he succeeded a little too well. His greatest success was his greatest failure, for it gave rise to the Tea Party, which in turn brought us Donald Trump. That Donald Trump could be ushered into office under the auspices of the working class is almost enough to shatter the very meaning of irony, which is now blooming like so much algae, consuming all the oxygen in the pond. The fourth estate, having abrogated their role in the run-up to the Iraq Invasion is now desperate to reclaim the mantle of responsible journalism. Hopefully this newfound vigor on the part of the press corps can help restore the balance of power. In Allegories of A Posthumous Landscape, I revisit the figures that spoke to me in my Prospect Park series, only this time transforming real people into statuettes, in hopes that they might whisper to the future that “yes, we were here once too.”