Galerie Raum mit Licht

 

JOHN HILLIARD

»REVERSALS OF LIGHTING, PROPORTION AND POSITIONR«

Opening: Tuesday 27 May 2014, 19:00
Exhibition: 28 May - 11 July 2014

»Reversals Of Lighting, Proportion And Position«

As a characterising device, the dual opposite has made a regular appearance throughout my practice from the Seventies to the present, most recently manifesting itself in two sets of work addressing lighting and scale respectively. Before considering those pieces, it may be useful to examine one of their direct predecessors. In Body Double (2011) the figure of a woman, lying face-up on boldly defined floorboards, is photographed at a low angle from the head towards the feet, and then again, at the same height and distance, in the opposite direction, from the feet towards the head. One of the images is then inverted, so that 'both' women are now the same way up, juxtaposed either by an abutment (one above the other) or an overlay (one superimposed on top of the other) to create a narrative discourse between the two figures. The body and its double are rendered in sharply inverse perspective, depending purely on the relative position of figure and camera - an inflated head looming above tiny feet or vice versa. In the overlay, the inverted woman seems now to be vertical rather than horizontal, her semi-transparency giving her a ghost-like quality - an out-of-body 'other' rising from her more firmly-anchored and supine counterpart.

Light, a defining feature of photography, has recurrently been foregrounded in my work, and whereas Body Double derives its inverse depictions from opposing camera viewpoints, In Another Light (2012) arrives at its own reversals through the use of opposing lighting positions. The two works are further related: both depict a female model, seen twice, each time in the same apparel, each time changed in appearance through a simple adjustment of the shooting conditions. The figures in In Another Light are suspended side by side in an indeterminate space, their faces turned to exchange a glance, a recognition of both sameness and difference, polarised twins shaped by their exposure to ‘another light’. Dreaming In Black-And-White – Days And Nights In The House Of Sleep (2012) deploys lighting in similarly dramatic fashion, in this case by applying directional illumination to adjacent sides of a model building. One face is lit conventionally from overhead, as though by strong sunlight, the other from below, casting abnormal upward shadows as though from some nocturnal source. The imaginary architecture inhabits a place where night and day are simultaneously present, a dream world whose evident artifice nevertheless grounds it to the reality of the studio.

The second group of recent works that employs dual opposition as an underlying structure is concerned with relative proportion, where objects of similar appearance but different size may seem to be either in the same scale or in a reverse proportion to their actual one. In Like Father Like Son (2012), a real-life father and son, man and boy, with matching clothing and postures, both stand on the base line of the image. But whereas the child’s head reaches the top edge, the father’s head only comes to half way up his son’s torso, rendering him as a midget or the boy a giant. In fact, the figures are simply at different distances from the camera while being equally in focus. In a variation of the same work, the distance between father and son is reduced, so that both are now apparently identical in height: meaning that the boy is still perceived as oversized or the man miniaturised.

Enlargement and reduction (as opposed to same-size rendition) are fundamental to picturing, whether in painting, cinema or photography. In the same way that Marilyn Monroe’s face might appear gigantic on the cinema screen, merely life-size on a television monitor, or minute in a film still, the processes of photography allow for a huge variation in the printed size of any one image. Just as point-of-view (Body Double) and lighting (In Another Light) are closely associated with photography, so is scale. The darkroom enlarger does indeed enlarge, and also reduces. Two Objects Of A Known Size (2013) is conceived to incorporate and acknowledge that aspect of the medium. Within the image, two framed black-and-white photographs, identical still-lifes of a pair of apples, are depicted hanging in the same picture plane but on separate walls disrupted by a doorway, seemingly at a similar level and distance from the viewer, so that they are perceived as a matching pair, side-by-side with some space between. The two walls on which the photographs are hung are in fact several metres apart, one inside a room and the other outside in an adjoining space. As well as the objects in each picture (the apples), and the framed prints themselves as objects, there are two other objects included to establish an actual size difference between the photographs. The picture on the right is hung above a light switch, whereas the one on the left is near to a chair (or a gallery attendant, or both). These objects ‘of a known size’, measured against the apples ‘of a known size’, indicate the relative dimensions and distance of each of the two pictures within the field of view – a riposte to any first impressions of sameness.

In being visually configured as ‘doubles’, the various images deriving from reversals of lighting, proportion and position are, by definition, each comprised of two similar yet distinct parts. In early works, such separation was accommodated within a diptych, whereas since 1989 it has occurred within the confines of a single picture space. Either way, two is the least number of elements required in order to compare and contrast, to detect meaningful differences that arise as a simple consequence of varying the basic conditions fundamental to making a photograph of an otherwise constant subject. The reduction to two, and the deployment of the dual opposite, suggests the use of simple constructs: good/bad; him/her; night/day; black/white; and so on. The apparent restriction of such clichés, however, does not actually have to constrain the result: they are best seen as a convenient starting point, both conceptually and practically. The end point, the stage at which these works are complete, is not just a meeting of opposites, but the product of that meeting – a synthesising ‘third image’ which, however controlled its origins, will have acquired a degree of unpredictability and have become more than capable of delivering a few surprises (not least to the artist). It may derive from a cliché but, to use another one, it should have every prospect of being much more than the sum of its parts.

John Hilliard
Feb 2013