There is a wonderful, sometimes complimentary, sometimes contradictory, relationship between representation and implication.
Photography has always had a strong leaning toward representation. More often than not, photographers value clarity, definition, and sharpness. We ask that our images have at least the potential to be as factually accurate as possible. Everything from the texture of the water in a glass to the shading of the sun on a sea of sand dunes should be, to use the cliché, tack-sharp.
But photography has also always had another side which has little interest in the representational. Approaches like ICM (intentional camera movement) work from a different set of values and seek to take photography’s power and technical potential into a space where mood and tenor are more important than contrast and sharpness.
Just as abstract and impressionist (and cubist, surrealist, and abstract expressionist…) painting seeks to evoke emotional responses based on something other than realism, photographers have understood the emotional power of color and light and diffusion.
Twilight, the new book by Arthur Drooker, is a collection of 44 images taken at twilight from his beach home in California. Confined by the COVID pandemic to limited movement, he turned his camera to the west each evening, and the result is a remarkable, contemplative, moody, and deeply rewarding collection of images. Not one of them is photo-real. Yet every one of them is true.
In the introduction, Drooker writes, “Since 2020, I’ve been living part-time at The Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast. With an unobstructed panoramic view of the sea and sky, it’s the perfect setting to photograph twilight, the time of day I find most captivating. In those fleeting minutes, vivid colors paint the sky with magic and mystery, briefly transporting me to another realm before vanishing at dusk.”
A bit later, he writes, “The artistic challenge of capturing twilight proved most revelatory. At first, I photographed it in sharp focus. The results were too literal and too predictable. Anybody could see the same thing just by looking at the sky. There had to be another way to photograph twilight that would offer something new. One evening, I decided to take the opposite tack and photograph twilight in soft focus. Looking through the viewfinder, all earthly indicators disappeared, and I entered a realm of color and light that I never knew existed. I wasn’t looking at twilight, I was in it. I was among the clouds, enveloped by misty bands of color and immersed in their transitions. It was one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had in my life. At that moment, this series began.”
These images are all diffused and soft focus, images of sunsets and twilight skies transformed into gauzy oranges and yellows and browns and reds and blues, mostly in horizontal bands across the frame. While there is no way to be sure, I believe the images are taken at sometimes differing focal lengths. The result is beautiful and calming, a collection of meditations.
Each image is given a date and time stamp, such as 7.30.2020 and then 7:25 pm, but no title to propose or impose a meaning. There is no intent to connect date stamps with seasons or weather. Sometimes a narrative is evident, such as two images from 8.03.2022, presented on facing pages, with timestamps of 6:07 pm and then 6:14 pm., wherein we can see the deepening blues, the subtle change of the sun’s orange to include more red.
Purples come and go. Oranges and blues and yellows are persistent. Every image is an invitation to wonder. Not so much to wonder what this frame would look like if it were in sharp focus, but to wonder about the emotional response we have looking at these colors and the softness they contain.
Once you get over the urge to turn the pages quickly, because you’ve realized that every page is the same invitation, the desire to linger grows and the reward for that desire grows along with it. These are pleasing images even when the colors might be a bit oppositional. None of the images carry angst or sarcasm or irony, and none of them approach the sentimentality or cliches that can make sunset photography trite.
Opening to any page is an emotional and situational reset. We live in complicated and conflicted times. A book like this is the kind of book you should have displayed and accessible.
These are images that create peacefulness, and for that, I am grateful.
Arthur Drooker’s previous books include American Ruins, Lost Worlds: Ruins of the Americas, Pie Town Revisited, Conventional Wisdom, and City Hall. His work has been the subject of a feature story on CBS Sunday Morning and has been exhibited widely, including shows at the Virginia Center for Architecture and the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, DC.
A note from FRAMES: Please let us know if you have a forthcoming or recently published photography book.
Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>