When most people confide that they’re going through a “dark period,” it’s reason for concern—but from photographer Tim Hyde, the same admission promises a burst of artistic insight.
“I’m spending a lot of time looking at things in low light or at night,” Hyde explains. “Darkness has a way of altering the shape, heft, color, and even meaning of the things we think we know. In both literature and our collective memory, nighttime is charged with meaning: sometimes the provenance of evil and ignorance, sometimes the setting for disguise, concealment, identity switching, and nearly always the locus of confusion.”
Hyd’’s intriguing new perspective on the night shines in “Darkness Visible,” his first solo show, which opens this week at the Torpedo Factory’s Multiple Exposures Gallery. The show emphasizes Hyde’s skillful use of the latest digital technology to shoot more reliably in extremely low light, but the photographer hastens to add that creating “Darkness Visible” was a weird, unsettling experience—hence the name of the show, derived from John Milton’s description of the fires of Hell in Paradise Lost.
“There’s an illicit quality to picture-making in the dark,” Hyde explains. “My biggest challenge was in lurking around urban alleys, the rear of shopping centers, and on residential streets. Photographers working at night cannot escape the feeling of being someplace they should not be, like trespassers. There’s always some sense of danger, the fear of whom you might to meet in an empty industrial park—and of course, one looks like a ‘creeper,’ to employ a word my kids sometimes use. Be prepared to explain your activities to police.”
Frequent visitors to Multiple Exposures Gallery know that Hyde is a zealous traveler who documents natural disasters through photography, so at first glance, “Darkness Visible” seems like a remarkable departure. Nearly all of the photos were taken in the Washington, D.C., area, and none of them shows the aftermath of a fire, storm, or earthquake—yet each one builds subtly on Hyde’s previous work.
“Nature demonstrates our human limitations in ways other than natural disasters,” he says. “This show is more about psychological space than geographical space. What we see in a night photograph is defined by what we don’t see, by what lurks in the shadows—or maybe it’s the other way around. What is undeniable is that the blackness in these pictures is where our fears and obsessions reside, and we are closer to those fears and obsessions at night than in daylight.”
Taken together, the photographs in “Darkness Visible” offer a perspective most of us rarely see—underscored by an unorthodox view of photography itself.
“The night photographer does not stand in the light and shoot the shadows; the photographer stands in the shadows and shoots the light,” Hyde concludes. “We stand outside the circle of light, one with the shadows.”
See “Darkness Visible” at Multiple Exposures Gallery, studio 312 in the Torpedo Factory, from January 7 to February 16, 2014, with an opening reception on Sunday, January 12, 2014, from 1 to 4 p.m. Hyde is represented by the Susan Spiritus Gallery in Newport Beach, California; check out more of Hyde’s work at his website and at Photoriffs, his regularly updated blog.