Monday, February 6, 2012


Photography, by its nature, is the art of light--light art. Ars Lumina.

I have a book in hand that was brought to me by my friend and assistant, Emily. It's a book of texts and photographs by a friend of hers, Samuel Partal, and it's called Ars Lumina (not sure what to make of all the Latin--liturgical intent?--both at the website and in the text; I have to confess my own is Latin too rusty by now to understand more than the two words of the title!) Partal works with spectacularly dramatic images of outer and inner space, macrocosm and microcosm, finding lovely rhymes and rhythms that echo between the two. As one who has a meditation practice that sometimes takes this journey into the inner spaces of the body and out into the universe, I found his pictures quite fascinating--and indeed, as you might expect, quite awesomely beautiful.

(The images are borrowed from the artist's website, see link above...)

The text, I have to admit, I find more difficult than the images. Interspersing his own words with quotations from such luminaries as the 19th century French boy-poet, Arthur Rimbaud and the 20th century philosopher Michel Foucault, Partal loses this one reader in rather esoteric, quasi-religious abstraction which seems to me to load the images down with a freight that can seem, well, heavy-handed on the spiritual/intellectual side. It's my own bias, I admit, but to my mind, the pictures speak to, and of, the divine in our human imagination of the cosmos without the need for commentary, whose high-flown rhetoric risks seeming either overblown or banal by contrast, depending on your point of view.

Here's a couple of quibbles about the book. First, it's well to remember that such awesome beauty as the photographs reveal can itself be a trap. I suspect that Partal has understood this; his instinct with the accompanying text is a good one, though I personally could have wished for plainer words, working to ground the beauty of the images in solid language and allowing the images themselves to do the high-fly act: they do this well enough. If the mind is to be boggled, they're enough to do the trick; their associations are richer, more mysterious and sink deeper into our consciousness than the words allow.

My second quibble has to do with the graphic presentation of the book, and is related to the first. Partal has opted for the drama of bold, gold typeface against a black page, and large font size that serves to heighten this dramatic effect, as though to give some added significance to the content. I find, to the contrary, that the graphic drama tends to argue with, and weaken the intense drama of these beautiful images. They neither want nor need enhancement. Let the phenomenon of light speak eloquently for itself.

It's hard, these days, for any young artist to beat the odds and bring his or her work to the attention of a generally inattentive public--yet that's what art is about: communication. More kudos, then, to Partal for the determination of his effort in bringing out this book. I wish him all the courage it takes to refine his particular vision and persist in his work. I trust that my own observations--which are of course mine alone--will be taken in the spirit of encouragement in which they are intended. A critical view from another eye, I have found, most often leads me off in new and challenging directions.


Jean said...

I can't view the photos, which look like the kind of thing I would like - on the website, just empty boxes appear... I don't know if this is a problem at my end or the artist's

PeterAtLarge said...

Sorry about that, Jean. They do show up on my computers. Don't know what the problem could be. Since I borrowed them from the artist's website, it's possible he has them protected in some way. But then why would they show up on my Macs? A mystery. Did you check out the link to his website? Does the same thing happen? Cheers, P

Jean said...

I meant on the artist's website. I can see the ones you posted here. But if you can see them there, I don't know what the problem might be...

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for the clarification, Jean.