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


BY Lynn Saville
(The Monacelli Press, 2009)

From the publisher:

“Lynn Saville photographs New York during the time of transition from daylight to night, the fleeting moments when natural light gives way to streetlight, moonlight, window light, and advertisement and surveillance lighting. Subdued tones and shadows reveal a geometry hidden beneath the visual distractions of daylight. Saville has sought out places that seem questionable — deserted factories, back alleys, the shadowy infrastructure of urban highways and bridges that suggest the city’s exoskeleton.

Unpopulated and sometimes unsettling, these images can be read on many levels; their evocative colors can seem garish or sublime. Taken together the photographs of Night/Shift create a unique portrait of the city and a personal meditation for each viewer.”

Do you believe in photography as a contemporary expression of aesthetics?

Absolutely, yes. Photography has always been in the vanguard of the visual arts because of its apparent “reality” and “truth” as well as its ability to address contemporary issues such as politics and the theatre of day-to-day life. One artist I admire is Brian Ulrich, whose photographs of “Dead Malls” and thrift shops address the financial crisis we’re experiencing now with a sense of narrative in a visually interesting and compelling way.

Photography seems to record “reality.” Our constantly shifting world, our existence, is impossible to “pin down.” Photography seems to be able to come close in recording a moment of truth — but the moments are constantly changing. There is a tension between what seems real and what seems more subjective. The camera angle, light, attitude of the artist, all influence these images of “truth.” The art of photography invites the exploration of truth and the search of truth, fakery and other intentional artificial truths. Photography is able to handle these seemingly contradictory interpretations of reality.

You seem more interested in tapping energies of places so as to explore their (in)temporality. How about portraits and personages?

In recent projects I have concentrated on urban architecture and landscape, with hints of figures or the ghostlike images of people passing through some of my images. I feel a special resonance for these structures as a home space through which so many people pass… I can observe the subtle (and not-so-subtle) transformations of these spaces. It’s fascinating to see the slow progression of time on a city. However, I also love to photograph people. I’m approaching people I happen to see as I’m out photographing. Sometimes I photograph them unawares… as they walk through my “scene” and sometimes I ask to take a portrait. I’d like to include more people in my new project, “Vacancy.” In this new project, I’m hoping to explore ways to visualize that link a city’s fringe and marginal areas to its fashionable avenues.

Could you elaborate further about the interest in “ghosts”? Does this interest introduce you to dark energies of a place, event or memory?

I think of “ghosts” first of all as people and/or animals who “just happen to” walk into my frame as I’m taking a photograph. But the moment seems charged with an uncanny person-to-person intuitive connection. I often think that these people (and/or animals) might be keeping me company… being there to support my fantasies about the place I’m photographing. I don’t take the dark energy concept very seriously, but I do feel a connection to people who walk into my photograph’s frame.

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