John M Carney's current series, Night Light: The Aesthetics of Time by Events in Space, is an ongoing photographic series exploring trace human and astronomical illumination within the landscape. These images take place within the American West, primarily, where low humidity allows the prolonged film exposure to record the movement of the stars, moon, satellites, and aircraft across the night sky. The monumental landscape of the American West frames this celestial movement alongside the built environment: buildings, roads, and human movement within this space. As the title suggests, these are images that use the movement of people and the movement of the earth to describe space and time. John M Carney selects a location to act as a stage, opens the shutter of his large format camera, and watches as the prolonged exposure (up to two and a half hours) captures evidence of events in space—cars, planes, satellites, stars, and the moon—as they form calligraphic marks of light. These light traces are the actors on the stage. They are evidence of our movement, past and present, within our built and natural environment. This record of movement, alongside the larger movement of the earth, satellites, and moon, serve to remind us of the much larger space-time environment to which we belong.
Night Light investigates who we are in time and space. The images challenge the viewer to consider that time, as commonly conceived, is a purely psychological construct, an illusion of the mind, a figment of our imaginations. In his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking writes, “The psychological arrow of time. This is the direction in which we feel time passes, the direction in which we remember the past but not the future.” Real time, simply put, is merely another aspect of space, the fourth dimension. As Hawking says, “Imaginary time is really the real time,” and these photographs endeavor to depict this tricky reality—that space & time are one.
One cannot help but search these images for the familiar and pause for great lengths to decipher the unknown. The content in the pictures appear transparent—this is a road, the sky, a large rock formation—but the calligraphic light that moves dynamically across the space draws the viewer in and entices further study and speculation. This embodiment of the space through the recorded light movement allows the imagination to take over and transform the notion of photograph as record of fact into the photograph as a stage where a dynamic play is unfolding.
All photographs are made using large-format cameras, hand-built by the artist. The large black and white negative allows for great value gradation, clarity, and detail in the finished print. John M Carney hand-prints his images using traditional wet process silver gelatin printing techniques on fiber-based paper. The photographs are 18 x 22 inches and 26 x 34 inches.
John M Carney