“Featuring a new body of work by Bill Davis, Associate Professor and Area Co-Coordinator of Photography and Intermedia, the exhibition No Dark in Sight examines light pollution in such locations as Kalamazoo, MI, Las Vegas, NV, and Machu Picchu in Peru. Pointedly questioning our social and physiological relationship to artificial light, Davis’ work considers how synthetic lighting affects or distorts our perception of the natural world, our experience (or disruption) of circadian rhythms, and the visual environment of our times.”
Director of Exhibitions
Western Michigan University
Gwen Frostic School of Art
Richmond Center for Visual Arts
Bill Davis’ project is focused on one of the most pressing, yet rarely recognised problems of modern civilisation; the role of artificial light in transforming our nights. This series of photographs tackles how sky glow, light trespass and light pollution create a never-ending circle of cause and effect in terms of being the effects of the advances of modern civilisation and at the same time also becoming the cause of some of the ills of it.
The project reminds me of how startled I was as a city kid when I looked up to the night sky of the countryside in the small village of my grandparents during my summer vacations. As a child I was just wondering about the stars I never saw in the city, while as an adult I understand the experience in terms of the notion of light pollution. Looking at Davis’ photographs what strikes me most is the strong tension between the perceptual and aesthetic experience of the compositional beauty of the photographs and the cognitive recognition of what Davis considers being dangerous or even harmful for our lives.
The tension is based on the observation that we can often see and record with our camera scenes that we are not supposed to see and record. We are not supposed to see and record with our cameras these scenes because our eyes and cameras are not designed to function under those circumstances without artificial lights. And that is precisely the point of the project; according to Davis artificial lighting of the night sky and night scenes cut short our connection to our natural perceptions and experiences. What is supposed to be limited by the natural available light of the night sky, constituting a markedly different perceptual and aesthetic experience from that of the daytime, is now replaced by the artificiality of the human-made night. What is supposed to be a standard visual and photographic experience is now replaced by the contra-standard artificiality.
It is the compositional rigour and aesthetic beauty of these images that force us to consider their ethical dimension beyond their photographic content. We must ask what makes these compositions beautiful, and the evident answer is that they rely on the compositional transformation of the night. The human intervention, however, comes with the price tag of losing what lies beyond the artificial, what was destroyed by the artificial. What we feel is the void in the place of our raw myths and primary cultural heritage, taken over by the artificial safety of the light.
You may or may not agree with Davis. You may or may not consider the battle between the natural and the artificial in our nights significant. You may even consider the artificial to be the given, the standard, as I once did as a city kid. Nevertheless, while studying these images you have the chance of becoming that awe-struck boy who first realised the sheer beauty of the unpolluted night sky in his grandma’s garden in that small village. Then and only then will you realise that you did miss out on something, then and only then will you realise that the answer is not predetermined. I may only hope to see Davis’ interpretation of the true unaltered night in his next project.