Monday, September 09, 2013


(on James Benning's Nightfall, 2012)

I appreciated the chance to see this, as digital Benning is a blind spot of mine. At first I was unsure about the efficacy of the project: a single 97-minute take documenting dusk (but not a sunset, mind you) from a woodland view. A few dozen trees. Incredible stillness - I don't know that we see a bird or a bug fly onscreen the entire time. (Or perhaps they did, and escaped this sleep-deprived viewer's gaze.) We hear changes almost more readily than we see them: crickets, occasional birdsong.

It's intriguing as a temporal photograph, in that we're invited to stare for a long period at an image that retains a certain amount of mystery. The sense of depth is tricky because after twenty or thirty feet in front of the camera the hill drops off and the beyond is foliage - but we have no sense of what the landscape is like beyond. So Nightfall is more like an offscape experimentation of landscape. In the act of walking through the woods, moving even a few steps in one direction helps orient oneself to space, but by keeping a still frame on this particular view, we reflect on this natural transition to dark from the unnatural limitation of the frame. As I said, I was uncertain about this one for a while, but the fireworks arrive in the final minutes. The pixels record darkness in uncertain ways, as subtle fluctuations of light transform the image we're seeing (or not seeing), and this "window on the world" becomes also a reflexive expression on the digital technology of that very window.

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