Man has always had a complicated relationship with the dark. The Kiernan Gallery first looked at this relationship in our show Between Dusk and Dawn earlier this year. In his series The Navigation of Mystery, Tommy Matthews examines the human fascination with darkness. “I started taking real notice of the night and what it did for my senses when I began taking my dog for late night walks in the city. The darkness provided me with an unknown element that was akin to the wilderness.” Matthews executes this otherworldly feel of the night in Sax Man and The Stranger.
Other images, such as Held, have a distinctly voyeuristic feel to them, representing the heightened awareness and unique perspective that comes with the darkening of our environment. The vignettes in this series are linked by their use of shadow to make pedestrians faceless and sinister, and city streets alien and menacing. The photographic process that Matthews uses is important to the work. “I use an array of different cameras. Whatever the photographic job entails, I’ll choose the best single tool.” The many variables of night photography demand an array of options. Matthews scans his film negatives, which compresses the tonal range of the images. This adds to the dream-like feel that he seeks to create.
Matthews draws inspiration from literature and cinema, with some of his favorite books and movies informing the tone of his work. “Stylistically, I feel that film noir left an impression of atmosphere and mood on me that I carry when photographing.” Nonetheless, Matthews sees exploration of the unknown to be the overarching theme of this collection. That innate human desire to discover connects him with his audience.
One thing that our world has had from the beginning of time is a frontier. A space of unknown. However our society today has no frontier for the common man. Aside from the darkness of space and the bottom of the ocean, we have lost worlds in which our imaginations can truly roam. For me, the night is a frontier by which the common place is erased and reformatted.
And as a young photographer in an art world that is rapidly changing, Matthews is enjoying the challenge of getting his work seen by the art community. “For myself, success in photography means living and breathing photography while managing to feed you and your family. It’s a struggle without a doubt, but a beautiful struggle.” He certainly seems to be on his way.
Images from Tommy Matthews’ series The Navigation of Mystery were on view in The Kiernan Gallery from June 6 to July 14, 2012. They can be seen on our website under the Portfolio Showcase link.