Thursday, May 23, 2013

Brian Jolley - Zurich Triptych

Zurich Triptych by Brian Jolley

Here is a photograph of one of my favourite views in Zurich. On the left, the Neo-Gothic city hall and the towers of the Fraumunster and Saint Peters churches. On the right, the two towers of the Grossmunster. The River Limmat divides both banks, yet unites the photograph, muscling its way out of the lake and moving northward to the Rhine. The deep blue of the sky and darkness of of the river bind all three panels together. This work is from the American photographer, Brian Jolley.

It is a painterly photograph, the work of an artist who uses modern technology while displaying an awareness of tradition. The left panel is almost abstract, with layers of blues, a hint of brown stone and slash of crimson red. Moving across the work, from left to right, the scene brightens, like night into day. The middle panel captures the magic of the river, steadily receding into light, where the white water almost meets the white of the horizon, bordered by the ancient stone embankment. The darkness at the bottom of the work is balanced by the darkness at the top, the eye is eventually led into the pool of light that forms the photograph's centre.

The secret of Jolley's work, is that he has allowed time, duration,to insert itself into his photograph, drenching the work with a glaze of light and colour. The colours have been impressed upon the piece, layer after layer. This is not a view that you will ever find with the naked eye, no matter how hard you try. The effect comes from using a camera obscura.  Jolley has made his own version of a cardboard shoe box. A pin hole at one end of the box allows the light to enter and the image falls across a layer of tissue paper. Jolley has cut a larger hole at the other end of the box, into which he inserts the lens of his digital camera. With a long exposure, he then photographs the image that is on the tissue paper.

The effect not only impresses duration into the image, but the technique marries the old and the new. The camera obscura has been known for centuries and was made use of by, for instance, Vermeer. So Jolley is in good company. In the nineteenth century primitive images were captured using various photographic papers. Since the late 20th century Cuban photographer Alberdo Morrell  has been using the camera obscura to photograph tantalizing urban scenes from hotel rooms in a variety of cities. Jolley uses modern high tech - a digital camera. But his use of the camera not only is enriched through this technique, but is in itself a performance that demonstrates a respect for tradition.