Wednesday, March 31, 2010

At the heart of darkness

Almost every eminent photographer over the past century has made at least a few memorable images at night. Technical hurdles to noctural picture-taking, once a lonesome specialty of astronomers, were overcome long ago with the advent of high-response films and the portable flash. It is odd, therefore, that so few photographers have produced major bodies of nighttime work, especially given the centrality of shadowy goings-on in film noir and other cinema genres. Brassaï, Bill Brandt, Weegee, Ted Croner, O. Winston Link, Henry Wessel and Larry Fink are very much exceptions.

 Robert Adams is another, and his series "Summer Nights, Walking," at the Matthew Marks Gallery in Chelsea through April 17, may rank as the subtlest investigation of the world after dark ever attempted. As an artistic endeavor that successfully joins black-and-white formal experiment to documentary essay, it is unique. 

 Many photographers have adopted the unheroic approach to landscape gleaned from the work of Mr. Adams and his colleagues in the New Topographics movement of the 1970s. This influence hasn't been altogether for the good. Too many of their younger imitators are cavalier to the point of indifference about what deserves to hang on a wall or appear in a book.

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