Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Tuesday, April 19, 1983

Photos
use light
to record
time

By Regina Hackett
P-I Art Critic

Roger Vail's "Santa Cruz 1981" is an example of the photographer's ability to track and record light as it wraps itself around stones, piers, ships, passing figures, fun-house rides and oil refineries; as it streams across the night sky, and as it collects in nervous, scribbly calligraphy on the surface of bays and inlets.

 

Roger Vail is a Northern California photographer who uses light as a means of recording time, turning light into an elastic and translucent trajectory that reveals the present shape as well as the past contour of objects in the world. In these remarkable photos, what is past and present, object and shadow lose definition and fuse into lyrical conjunctions.

Fifteen of his pristine prints, large format, black and white photos are currently on view at Silver Image Gallery. They are selections from the last 10 years of his work.

Vail shoots at exposures of 10 minutes to several hours in duration. He is therefore able to track and record light as it wraps itself around stones, piers, ships, passing figures, fun-house rides and oil refineries; as it streams across the night sky, and as it collects in nervous, scribbly calligraphy on the surface of bays and ocean inlets.

Light is a radiant envelope that encircles the operator of a Ferris Wheel in "Spinning Carnival Wheel, 1972." Small figures lolling about the fun-house grounds are blurred by their motions into shadows, while stationary objects, such as a booth at which snow cones, hot dogs and popcorn are sold, acquire a dense, pellucid clarity.

Hard coinage

In "Ship's Hull, 1976," the angular
bow of the boat knifes through the water, and the ship's shadow casts a quavery double form of itself into the sea. All around, light streams from the shore, the sky and surrounding vessels into the air and across the water, a cosmology of illuminated motion.

Vail's most recent work in the show is from his series of photos shot at night in an oil refinery. Vail's subject matter here is the hard coinage of industry. Vail locates the images that express the power of the place. A huge oil bin sits squarely in the foreground of one print, cast in velvety dark. The bin's upper rim is a thin, dark lip maintained against the blacker dark of the night. In the rear, gaseous fires from distant smokestacks belch and flare.

Vail is a visionary artist whose work maintains its stance against the drier, structuralist school of photography and photography criticism that is presently in vogue. Against those who would reduce art to information, Vail says in his work that art is in its deepest heart an enigma, with spiritual properties that cannot be explained or ignored.


 

 

back to Night Images page