Michael Kenna served as a juror for Nocturnes & Noir, a night photography exhibit at the Harvey Milk Photo Center.
Nocturnes & Noir runs from February 11 to April 2, 2017.
The title of this exhibit reflects our hope to shine some light on two schools of thought re: Night Photography (NPy). The first, a romanticized landscape photography of Nocturnes traces its origins to the late 19th century, the Pictorialism movement, and later on, the efforts of the Photo-Secessionists. It is noteworthy that a number of the photographers practicing within the Pictorialism / Secessionist ethos (Steichen, Struss et al.), a decade – maybe even a few years – later, can be found showing work that falls thematically or stylistically within the purview of a new Modernist aesthetic, as promoted by the Group f/64. So, even at this early date we find a fluidity of intent, as the lines of distinction were being drawn.
The second style of NPy – Noir – was heavily influenced by German Expressionism, Surrealism, and associated, as early as the 1920s and 1930s, with the newly formed cinema, which attained its apex in the Classic Film Noir period of the 1940s and 1950s. In an intensely urban, between-the-wars period of angst and uncertainty, photographers like Bill Brandt and Brassai echoed the dark vision of the Film Noir tradition with surrealistic content; punchy, “contrasty” scenes; and heavy darkroom manipulation.
Of course, for the post-modern-day Somnambulist, things are not so cut and dry. There are artists producing work that might well be described as Nocturnes or Noir, or something – Neo-noir? – in between – an ambiguous “grey area” of focus. We are reminded that it was that way, even in the days of Stieglitz, Steichen, and Struss. These days, Crewdson, Kenna, and Keimig roam freely in a nocturnal milieu of their own making, carrying the “torch” forward into the Night.