Bob Avakian admits that he discovered his passion for night photography by chance. Taking the ferry back to his home on Martha’s Vineyard, he began making long exposures of the moon-lit shorelines, relying on the ferry’s railing in place of a tripod. Pleasantly surprised by the results, he began to experiment with shooting at twilight. “I separate my photos by either day or night . . . . One day while looking at sunrise and moonset times, I discovered a day that they were the same time. Out of that came the title of my series,” A Moment in Time Between Night and Day.
Into the Light
Avakian takes an organic approach to his nighttime explorations. Much like the sea captains on Martha’s Vineyard long ago, Avakian pays close attention to weather conditions. If the weather is promising, he packs up his gear and heads out for a night of photography. In the weeks surrounding the full moon, he keeps an eye out for drama in the night sky. Critic and Juror Vicki Goldberg commented on the magical qualities of his work:
Avakian photographs at these off hours, which always deliver to his camera something that his eye had not registered. He considers the camera’s lies a form of invention and happily adds a fillip of his own. The results are what ought to be ordinary landscapes, however nicely composed, but when cloaked in effulgent light and color they give birth to a parallel world.
The Guard Shack
Finding inspiration from form and design, Avakian strives to find places and buildings that intrigue him. His love for architecture is evident by the strong horizons and leading lines in his compositions. He also takes inspiration and motivation from literature and writing, quoting George Elliot, “It is never too late to become what you could have been.”
Avakian has been trying to place where his work fits into the world of contemporary art. At a recent portfolio review one reviewer labeled his work “fine art” rather than “contemporary art.” When he asked the reviewer to explain the difference, he was told that his work had a consistent theme and that contemporary photography will have many themes. One could argue, as Vicki Goldberg does, that landscape and the night hours are not the only themes in this work, “Early and late day also confuse color film, throwing at it more, or less, of one of its three component colors it is calibrated for; digital is also affected. Add artificial light to the mix and a photograph will no longer even be posing as truthful.” While keeping the work visually consistent, Avakian explores ideas of truth and its relationship to technology, as well as landscape and solitude.
While he may not be able to define his place in art just yet, his definition of success is unambiguous. “I think of success by how much I love what I am doing. To do something for the sake of just doing it, that’s when I am the most happy. You can try to define it monetarily, but in my experience trying to define it in those terms is just not the same.”
Standing at Guard
A Moment in Time Between Night and Day is part of The Kiernan Gallery’s second annual Portfolio Showcase, and was on view July 3 to July 27, 2013.