Light is truly one of the great wonders of our universe. It is seemingly everywhere, but almost impossible to actually locate. It has caught the fascination of scientists, philosophers, and creative thinkers throughout time. Light illuminates our perceptual world, allowing space and the physical to exist as tangible form, but light itself is intangible. So what, then, is the nature of light? My own intrigue lies not within the answer to this question, per se, but in the stream of questions that continue to arise in its wake. Intellectually, we have formulated an understanding of the workings of light, but it’s our direct experience with light that is the motivation behind my work.
When I first began working with the photographic medium in 1987 I was interested in things as they appeared to me “in nature”: landscapes, the figure, still lives, and subtle abstractions of the like. Yet at a certain point it occurred to me that I was no longer interested in taking pictures of these things. Wasn’t the thing itself more true to its nature than the photographic representation of it? Why make an optical reproduction of a sunset, or a person or an object when the real thing is happening right in front of you? Why represent anything at all when you can have an experience of it directly? These questions led me to discontinue photographing altogether for several months, but I eventually came back to the medium by accident, literally.
I was making an adapter for one of my old cameras to try ‘one last thing’, and when I checked the adapter for light leaks I found that I indeed had them, and they were beautiful. Consequently I began exploring this finding’s potential. I have worked with this process now since 1998, and find that it gives me a viable way to work with the photographic medium by paring it down to its most essential ingredients: light and light sensitive material. There is no longer a traditional camera or lens involved, and nothing is being represented on the film but pure natural light leaking across the film in an even gradation. In a sense I’m taking photographic recordings of the amount of light present at the exact moment the exposure was made. Since the density and luminosity is entirely determined by both the amount of light present and the length of exposure, it is impossible for me to separate light from time, and so in a sense I’m also documenting time. Conceptually speaking, the work leads me deeper and deeper into the realms of physics, and the intuitive relationship between perception and conception.
Using Polaroid film has played an important role in the first series of Light Leaks, giving me a way to free myself from the conventions of traditional photography. Polaroids are instant, generally considered disposable, and fade over time, making them an ideal medium with which to talk about the impermanence inherent in nature. Everything in the universe is in a constant state of flux, but the “conserve and preserve” philosophy attempt to evade this fact. The Polaroids gave me an opportunity to be completely unconcerned with the longevity of the work, and made the importance of having an “in the moment” experience with the work even more poignant. Also, it is the presence of light that allows me to create the recording, but it will be light that is the image’s ultimate demise; in the Polaroid pieces, creation and destruction have the same source.
Installing the pieces with pushpins directly to the wall was another way to dismiss the idea of conservation and preservation. It also communicated to me the idea that each of the pieces was merely an experiment and not necessarily a lasting theory. The grid formation of the work is a reference to sacred geometry and the rhythms inherent in nature. It is order, but as no grid is entirely perfect it is also chaos. The grid is a completely comfortable form for me to work with literally and metaphorically, and it feels natural to the material. It has also taught me to redefine my idea of what perfection is (i.e. there is beauty in the imperfections!), and since installing one of the large Polaroid/pushpin pieces can take me up to 5 days, the grid has taught me about value of patience and repetition in my art practice.
In the more current work, Light Recordings, I am now using large sheets of photographic paper instead of Polaroids and also large-format film, both inherently more stable materials. It has become more important for me to increase the surface area of the light leak, which diminishes the intensity of the grid a bit and places more significance on the light recording itself. The more recent work is also not installed with pushpins but is mounted on aluminum panels in order to accommodate the larger surface area of the light recordings—as the intention of the work itself changes, so must the materials. I am finding that by working with these larger and more stable materials I’m becoming more focused on the action of the light documented, and less influenced by the conundrum of the fading Polaroid material.
Though I have been primarily working with the photographic medium as a way to record light, I am also currently working with other mediums and materials that work more directly with light itself. As I continue my explorations into the nature of light, I am increasingly interested in our direct experience with light in the many forms it exists in our world.
—Erika Blumenfeld, 2004