Sights of Light is a duo exhibition by Belgian photographers Liesbet Grupping and Nick Geboers.
To capture the world of light; this seems indeed an appropriate way to define photography. But, what does ‘capture’ mean in this instance? Is photography an optical instrument to reduce the vast world into a miniature image that we can carry around as if it were a highly prized possession? Or is it on the contrary a medium that turns the tables on us, that presents us with a vision of a world that radically excludes us? Is photography a tool to harvest the world, and thereby to own it, or is it an instrument of dispossession, a way for us to jolt ourselves out of our anthropocentric beliefs? These are (only some of) the questions that are addressed by the works in this show.
The slideshow of Nick Geboers (°1987) presents different shots of the same object: a wafer containing three CCD’s – CCD stands for Charge-Coupled Device and can be understood as the digital equivalent of the light-sensitive emulsion on a film negative. The slide show is organized around two movements, one from back to front, closing in on the CCD’s, followed by a second one, from left to right, circling the CCD’s, looking at them from different vantage points. During these movements, something weird happens. While the subject is still recognizably present in the first slides, after a while it seems to disappear from view: the closer we get, the more it fades away. Instead of the object itself, sparkles of colorful light, in the form of beaming rays or blurry dots, come into view. The CCD’s dissolve behind the fractured reflection caused by the gleaming smoothness of their surface. The focus has changed; the camera is now capturing the space in-between, the field of light that exists between itself and the object in front of it. In the meeting between an analogue recording device and its digital successor, the element that stands out, is the one that binds both together: their dependence on and reaction to light. At the same time, the projected images also contain traces of the specific nature of camera-seeing (of machine vision) and how it radically differs from human perception. This discrepancy becomes visible in the shift between the rays and the dots: the blurry dots are the result of a camera that is aimed perpendicularly at the object, while the rays are a result of a skewed perspective. In both cases light enters the lens, but it is recorded differently. A discrepancy that reminds us of the double nature of light (wave and particle), expressing once more how intimately the photographic system is linked with the fundamental laws of nature.
This ethereal quality also returns in the work by Liesbet Grupping (°1984). Her images, which could be called studies in blue, started from an interest in the way light interacts with the chemical layer of the light-sensitive material. Sometimes, she creates her images in the dark room, as in the two color-photograms that are put on opposing walls. For one photogram, she employed an unexposed (and therefore totally transparent) piece of a film negative, for the other one, she used a developed negative of a blue sky. In using these negatives to manipulate the amount of light that fell on the light-sensitive paper, she created intricate images of dynamically intersecting shapes (rectangles, squares and triangles). Untitled (Clermont-Ferrand) was produced by putting a color transparency in a large-format camera. Using different masks, she exposed each time a specific part of the image while obscuring the rest, creating a patchwork of different hues of blue. Still another image, Untitled (Beauregard), was created by photographing the night sky for a period of 14 hours straight. The deep, dark blue color of the image is the result of the Schwarzschild effect, a particular photographic failure. This effect points to a discoloration of the light-sensitive emulsion caused by an exposure that took too long. As in the slide show by Geboers, these photograms and prints reflect on the condition of photographic seeing itself, inscribing on its surface the two basic elements that constitute a photographic image: light and time. Whereas time is strictly controlled and measured in the previously discussed images, in the diptych blauw, it is differently present and even remains, at least partially, active. While the image on the left is a developed and fixed image, the dark blue image on the right is an undeveloped and unfixed color-print, which means that it is still sucking up light and will keep changing under the influence of it. Time is here an open-ended adventure, an invitation to permanent change.
The more photography deals with its own conditions of seeing and registering, the less we actually see. In these sights of light photography folds back upon itself, revealing its inner core, its basic alchemic nature. The wonder of photography is not to be found in its capability to render the world accurately in all its pointless details (this amounts to nothing more than the shady showmanship of a second-rate magician) but in its deep association with the basic laws of nature (of physics and chemistry). What these works make clear, is that to photograph is nothing more than to experiment with nature.