Posted by: Justin Hopper | October 23, 2008

Photosensitivity: A Follow-up on Gravity of Light

“…For light doth seize my brain…” – Wm. Blake

Since seeing Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light, in its debut American exhibition at the Pipe Building in the Strip District through Oct. 30, I’ve noticed a change in my own sensitivity to light. It’s something that was striking in the hours after visiting the show. But that feeling’s stuck around to some degree. And what do we do in ’08 when something like that sticks with you? Blog it up, son.

Notes after visiting Gravity of Light, Oct. 10, 2008:

Leaving Gravity, light has changed: Not permanently, but certainly for this evening – I hope for this weekend, week, month. Driving down Liberty Ave. in Pittsburgh’s Friday-night dead zone between late Downtown happy hours and the 10 p.m. Strip District rush, the head-lit street and bright moonlight frame the industrial train bridges. It’s like Edward Hopper’s houses, ordinary American abodes made extraordinary in their portrayal: It’s hard not to see Pittsburgh just a tiny bit differently.

This time of year makes our minds susceptible to subtle changes in light and shadow – a defense mechanism, the same that makes us carve and light pumpkins, stock our shelves with candles and strung bulbs, and buy those hearth-log DVDs. The Starn brothers have evoked both sun and moon with Gravity of Light, drawing our attention to their stark lamp in the bare ways we might once have seen fit to worship: spend too many hours in the Pipe Building and you’re likely to revert; build a Stonehenge. A friend pointed out yesterday that Gravity‘s most beautiful aspects are simply the architecture of that building as prompted by the lamp. I’m starting to think that’s the whole point, the photographs some kind of gorgeous MacGuffin that simply allow us to look at our own illuminations differently.

I generally wake up early – early enough to enjoy the pre-dawn dark on most autumn days, like this morning, when the moon beats down like a carbon-arc lamp across the pavement. Most of these recent mornings, the deciduous leaves of Pittsburgh’s tree-lined streets sit on that pavement, like the Starns’ leaves sit in the Pipe Building, crinkling visibly in the light.

This is a beautiful city – one of the most beautiful cities in America – and sometimes that’s easy to forget, mentally buried under one’s worries over the election the recession our own profession life in general. With Gravity of Light, Doug and Mike Starn make us sign a waiver, don protective eyewear, and scamper around a dirty and dilapidated building just to remind us that our streets, sidewalks, houses and neighbors are all reflecting whatever beauty we choose to see in them. It’s simple, and for that I thank them.


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