Strange Beauty in the Realm of Night: Lynn Saville’s Nocturnal Images

Lynn Saville
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

After settling down in New York City during the seventies to pursue her studies in photography at Pratt Institute, LYNN SAVILLE has since gone on to produce different sets of nocturnal images, many of which are documented in her books, Acquainted with the Night (Rizzoli, 1997), and more recently, Night/Shift (Random House/Monacelli Press, 2009).

A native of North Carolina, and an alumna of Duke University, Lynn Saville’s work has been collected by venues and museums in different corners of the world. Such places include Bibliothèque nationale de France, Brooklyn Museum of Art, California Museum of Photography, International Museum of Photography (George Eastman House), Museum of the City of New York, and the New York Public Library. She has also held exhibitions (both solo and group) at galleries in London, Paris, Turin, Palermo, Zurich and other major cities.

A regular lecturer and visiting artist at institutes and centers of photography in America, Saville works towards diversifying her photographic output and contributions by constantly seeking, exploring and shedding light upon the little-known and neglected corners of places and cities at small hours — however “dark” they may seem. Read more at www.lynnsaville.com

How has your relationship with the night evolved over these years, particularly after your project Night/Shift?

My relationship with night has evolved in several ways. At first I saw the night as more monochromatic and more “night” than twilight and dawn. As I worked on Night/Shift, I became fascinated with the transition when the flat, low-contrast time after the sun sets (or just before it rises) suddenly emerges and calls attention to itself… as if a huge glow illuminates the sky.

Photography has always been in the vanguard… because of its apparent ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ as well as its ability to address… issues such as politics and the theatre of day-to-day life.

In Night/Shift, I perceived the many hues of blue and the way the hidden sun somehow was still etching edges of light onto clouds. After Night/Shift, I’m not as focused on the sky itself for the moment. Although I’m very aware of what the light is doing, I’m looking at the illumination from within buildings and stores and structures… and not as focused on the exact time of night. Perhaps I’m just thinking of the quiet and vacancy of the evening hours, more than the sky versus the structures.

How did you encounter photography?

My sense of beauty was first awakened in Italy. At ages 5, 10, and 15, I accompanied my parents on visits to that country. There, I admired the cunning of the Italian hand in everything from window displays to the placement of cypress trees in front of villas.

Summers in Vermont also provided me with opportunities to observe and participate in the photography projects of my father and older brother. For example, I photographed the night sky and then developed and printed the pictures in a tiny basement darkroom.

In 1971, when I moved to New York City, I began to photograph the city constantly, fascinated by its strange beauty and changing character. During that period, I also studied various ways to render light and shadow when photographing theatrical performances and nocturnal street scenes. I was inspired by Edgar Degas’ monoprints of dancers and the way in which their texture resembles certain grain patterns visible on enlargements from 35 mm photographs. Since then, I continued to photograph in the twilight and at night wherever I went.


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