by Carolyn Blais
Night—it can be a time of peaceful tranquility when all the world seems to be at rest; or it can be something more sinister—a time when nothing is as it seems. For many of us as children the darkness of the night presented a slew of frights. For me, a vivid imagination too often got the best of me as I saw a desk chair to be an angry lion or a bureau to be a looming monster once the lights turned off. Could it be the world transforms as day turns into night? Or are our minds just playing tricks on us? In any case, for whatever reason our perceptions of things seem to change at night—sometimes making the world more beautiful, other times more mysterious. A walk through the current exhibit at DNJ Gallery entitled “Night Lights” is what spurred these thoughts as the three artists on display present photographs of various scenes, all taken solely at night.
Having been sick for the opening of “Night Lights” on March 13, I head over to West Hollywood one week later on a Saturday afternoon, thankfully feeling much healthier. I climb the stairs to the second floor and enter a bright, clean space with lots of interesting photographs that immediately grab my attention.
In the first room lives the photos of Bill Sosin, a Chicago based photographer whose photos on display are all taken from inside his car. The results of driving around Chicago at night in various rain storms are the images of things like headlights, blaring red and out of focus, and shadowy silhouettes adorned with umbrellas and hats. With the pane of glass in front of the lens and the rain to boot, it’s sometimes difficult to figure whether these silhouettes are predators lurking in the dark corners of the city, or just hustling pedestrians on their way home from work. Sosin’s photos capture the essence of nighttime existence in the midst of busy city life where one must use discretion in interrupting their surroundings as the glare of artificial, neon light is often the only thing that guides one’s path, while at the same time blinding one’s focus.
In the next room my eye is met with black and white photos in square frames. These, the work of artist Ginny Mangrum, are part of a series called Night Moves II which Mangrum explains “grew out of several years of photographing public urban spaces, void of human activity, signage or identification of purpose for the space.” Like Sosin’s work, Mangrum’s photographs are up for interpretation. A man sitting at his desk unaware of the camera, photographed from outside his office window—creepy or uniquely picturesque? Only the beholder can render a verdict. For me, it depends on the picture. “Subway” depicts what it implies—a subway car, at night of course, completely empty with its door open. For some reason, this image is incredibly eerie and makes me feel anxious. On the other hand, “Shop” displays a clothing store window with woman’s clothes worn smartly on two sleek mannequins. One might think mannequins at night to be the epitome of creepy, but for some reason I see this shot as stunning. Such a simple store front one would probably pass by in the day time without a second thought. But at night the bright lights from inside the shop that shine through the paneled glass seem to give the whole store an air of high fashion that would surely make any woman curious as to what is within.
Helen Garber is the third photographer whose work is currently on display at DNJ. Garber captures a most clever design in her work by taking photos of Venice, Italy and juxtaposing them with photos of the different yet sometimes similar Venice that is Venice, CA. I am touched by the artist’s inspiration: “an 8″ x 10″ photograph of [her] great aunt and uncle sitting in a gondola in the canal in front of the Doge Palace, marked Venice, Italy October 24, 1922.” Having looked at that photo as a child and then through her adult life, Garber finally got to see the real thing in her early 50’s. Anyone who has ever been to Venice, Italy can relate to Garber’s dismay upon realizing that the city’s charming canals and narrow passageway streets are often completely beleaguered by annoying tourists and filthy pigeons. While of course the beauty of the city still exists even under such circumstance, it took nightfall to allow Garber to more adequately document this beauty as most of the tourists had then returned to the comforts of their hotels or cruise ships. In this series of photographs there is, in my opinion, no need to deliberate as to whether the images are beautiful. The nighttime captured in both of these cities that share the same name is utterly breathtaking—whether it be of the canal verses the marina, or of sailboats verses gondolas, every picture made me smile with admiration.
“Night Lights” will be on display through May 1st and the exhibit is free to the public. Experience a little night magic through the works of these three very talented photographers whose work will not disappoint.
WHAT: “Night Lights” Group Exhibition featuring Helen K. Garber, Ginny Mangrum and Bill Sosin
WHERE: DNJ Gallery154 ½ North La Brea Ave, LA, CA 90036
WHEN: Now till May 1, 2010