In Praise of Shadows
Looking at Art
Recently, dear friend and collaborator Martino Pietropoli posted images from his visit to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Glass Tea House Mondrian at the Venice Biennale, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore . While googling it, I came across a notice that Sugimoto also currently had an exhibition up at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery, which would be ending the following week.
My daughter and I rushed into the city late that Saturday afternoon to catch the show an hour before closing. We entered, realizing to our delight that we were the only ones there, able to view & discuss the art freely. A short while later, however, we heard someone behind us enter and begin snapping photos. When we moved to step back so he could get a better shot he demurred, explaining that he wanted photos with us intentionally in the shot. He turned out to be professional photographer Richard Nagler, who’d just published Looking at Art, the Art of Looking, a book about the relationship between artwork and the viewer, and their interdependant dynamic. He was kind enough to forward me a photo of us examining Sugimoto’s piece titled In Praise of Shadows, itself a tribute to the Jun’inchiro Tanazaki’s book, with the following text:
Japanese novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki disdained the “violent” artificial light wrought by modern civilization. I, too, am an anachronist: rather than live at the cutting edge of the contemporary, I feel more at ease in the absent past.
Domesticating fire marks humankind’s ascendancy over other species. For tens of thousands of years, we have illuminated the night with flames. Reflecting upon this, I decided to record “the life of the candle”. Late one midsummer night, I thre open the windows and invited in the night breeze. Lighting a candle, I opened my camera lens. After several hours of wavering in the breeze, the candle burned out. Savoring the dark, I slowly closed the shutter. The candle’s life varied on any given night – short, intensely burning nights and long, constantly glowing lights – each different, yet equally lovely in its afterglow.
I left thinking about a Paulo Coelho quote from the book The Alchemist: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”