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

Acquainted with the Night

Acquainted with the Night
(Rizzoli, 1997)

From the publisher:

“The mysterious, seductive essence of the night has long entranced the imagination of artists and writers, and now it is the focus of a unique book that pairs evocative black-and-white photography with classic and contemporary poetry. Lynn Saville’s photographs, shot after dark in and around New York and at other urban and rural sites in the United States, Portugal, Greece, and India, reveal unusual aspects of familiar cities and monuments as well as the dusky allure of fringe areas such as Manhattan’s industrial district and desolate waterfronts. Rich with light and shadow, the photographs suggest the suspenseful, provocative quality of film noir.

Accompanying the photographs are 35 poems and poetic excerpts about the night, beginning with Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night,” which inspired the book’s title and mood. Selected here are works by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Charles Simic, and Octavio Paz, among other award-winning poets, and citations from ancient verse such as the Rig Veda and The Epic of Gilgamesh. This volume speaks with contemplative beauty to those who love photography and poetry, and especially to all denizens of the night.”

I once asked a journalist/poet-turned-publisher if it was possible for her to write silence. She was unable to answer me, and in fact, evaded the question as if silence was a form of anguish (or politics) that she could not confront. I’m tempted to ask you if silence could exist in photography, particularly yours, as it appears to aspire towards fixating stillness (however one may define it), only to reset stillness in another motion. What are your thoughts?

That is a wonderful thought. Yes, silence plays a major part in the way I work and what I seek. In poetry, the pause or moments in between words, phrases and stanzas are vital to its rhythm and meaning. When the city is quiet, people are not as active and I find I can communicate and understand the city and the landscape better. The cacophony which I often experience in the city can be marvelous also, but when it’s silent, I can concentrate, focus my thoughts and perceive the stillness in a creative way.

Do you have a working “ritual” or routine?

Lynn Saville

Yes, I like to leave my apartment a couple of hours before sunset and often I have a specific place to go. I like to study maps and do research on the internet… I look for new locations by seeing different websites. Once I have selected an area, I usually take a subway or bus, then walk. I wander around an area (people often ask if I need directions or help) and I am just looking and listening. These days I bring a digital camera and a medium format film camera and a tripod. I take test shots with the digital to see if I like the lighting or the particular framing. Then I switch to the film. Often, once I set up the film camera on the tripod, I walk around with it and keep working just with the film camera. When I get back to my studio, I upload the digital and look at those images… and take the film to a color lab for processing. Recently I’ve been scanning the film negatives and making prints from the scans. I also print in a color darkroom for some of the photographs.

How do you renew your energies as an artist, and as an individual?

I like to ride a bicycle, watch movies and see friends. I also love to read… a variety of books. I admire writers who write in a visual way or who communicate a place as part of their narrative. One of my favorites is Denis Johnson. His books Tree of Smoke and Jesus’ Son are very colorful and lurid. I also like the book Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman who described the Battle of Stalingrad from a variety of perspectives. He was a journalist and so had access to a lot of different places during that period of history. He was very good at describing the “scenes” and the characters in his book. I like to read interviews about artists as well. One of my favorites is Conversations Before the End of Time by Suzi Gablik. When possible, I also attend lectures.

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