Solve for X: About These Photographs


These images are photographs. Instead of drawing with light, however, I draw with shadows. I manipulate the attributes of shadow fields to make images. Although my background  is in traditional photography and studio art, this work grew directly from the project of creating complex natural light effects for film production. Many of the (often modified) tools and techniques I use would be familiar to anyone with a background in film. But if the tool I need doesn’t exist, I create it, sometimes derived from observation and sometimes theorized from principles of light or optics. At its simplest, I am making the shadow of a rabbit with my hand, projecting it onto a screen and photographing it. Beyond that it gets a little more complicated. 

A shadow in an image or a film is an economical and succinct way to reveal much about the world – time of day, time of year, place, spatial relationships, environmental context and more – even though our awareness is mostly subliminal. For many reasons – and with rare exceptions – since the film noir era, shadow is often handled superficially in modern live action film, but it is an extremely important aspect of CGI and animation. Much of the most insightful contemporary writing and research about the significance of shadow is in technical papers written by animators and software engineers. Some of the best recent work with shadow can be seen in films like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Toy Story and Wallace and Grommet.

The most important characteristic of an individual shadow field is its focal depth, which is largely determined by the nature of the light throwing the shadow. There are an almost infinite number of ways to bend, scatter, soften and manipulate a light source, any and all of which will alter the characteristics of the shadow it throws. I am constantly finding or making new ones. Within a given shadow field, the important variables are the relative distances (between the light source and the occluder and the occluder and the receiver). Conceptually, it’s very much like working with lenses.

My process is perhaps best described as algebraic – like solving a complex equation in which only one or two values are known. At the root of my process is observation. I spend a lot of time decoding shadows I see: Where and what is the light source/s? What modifies it? What does it tell me? How could it be re-created? A shadow can be read or constructed only by understanding the relationships between light, what it touches, where the shadow falls, the relative distances between those variables and the individual characteristics of each. Solve for x.