Evan La Londe: Sundials and the Telling of an Immaterial Time
Fall has settled into Portland, and with it an uncertainty in the persistence of the sun. With the winter months fast approaching, the dread of the gloom is momentarily put on hold by new photographic work showing at Melanie Flood Projects. Sundials by Evan La Londe has taken over the space at MF Projects as the final installment of the gallery’s ongoing artist series, Thinking Through Photography. La Londe’s exhibition explores the very nature of what it means to be a contemporary artist creating within this canonical field by presenting works that are original and dynamic, void of all preconceptions of the photographic image. These qualities create a delicate balance in Sundials, with the work functioning as an intimate exploration of photography, both as an artistic medium and a scientific procedure, while simultaneously incorporating the artist’s own methodology to present an ahistorical approach to image making.
On a recent Saturday, the bright and airy space at Melanie Flood Projects was saturated with a delicate October light. Walking into the third floor space, the crisp white walls contrast with the warm, wooden floors to create a welcoming atmosphere for La Londe’s photographs. The large windows allow for ample light to grace the works, playing tricks on our eyes. When I visited, it was a beautiful day and the early afternoon sun was pouring into the gallery. Reflecting off of the window panes, muted shadows in pastel colors danced right alongside La Londe’s works, at times mirroring the very shadows and contours the artist has depicted in the pieces. The show consists of medium-sized framed prints, with minimal monochrome compositions, that draw viewers with their delicate subtlety. Whether intentional or coincidental, it seems fitting that the sun should play such a heavy role in rendering our experience with Sundials more intelligible. La Londe’s latest works may appear simple, but they are far removed from face-value assessments. Their execution is labor intensive, and this labor of care and artistry is translated in their stature. While not large, they dominate the space they inhabit. They are soft and supple in their shyness and their colors; but they are strong in their lines and their presence.
The method of creating these photographic works is quite extensive. La Londe’s stated aim is to record the motion of the sun by capturing colors and light as they reflect off shadow-casting objects in his studio. This light and shadow work is registered by a digital sensor and observed by the artist on a screen in an inverted state. From there, La Londe captures these moments, these ephemeral qualities, and materializes them in paint; think, like a photographic negative. His final process consists of taking this image of an image, capturing it with a camera, inverting it in Photoshop, and printing it to create the final, positive, work we experience in the gallery. In this way, the distortion of light and shadow is seductive and coy; the materiality of the work called into question by its very making, not by its observation.
That is not to imply that the viewing experience is any less dramatic than the production. Part of the manner in which these pieces break away from the tradition of photography is that they evade a clear narrative. The intention of these works is tricky to pin down, but perhaps this ambiguity is precisely what La Londe was attempting to narrate. In the same way that his forms escape our immediate comprehension, so does La Londe attempt to escape the preconceptions of contemporary photography. These new works are inverted -- the colors and forms we see don’t match up with our understanding of the physical world. Sunlight is portrayed as black and blue, not the warm tones of orange and yellow we are accustomed to. Thus, the image we see is flipped. The artist is keeping his audience in suspense, having them question what things truly look like, reconceptualizing the world around them. The prints provoke an essence of wistfulness, where the mechanics of the craft are superseded by a meditation of light versus dark, of veiled versus exposed.
Recording the motion of the sun and its ephemerality, what makes these pieces so powerful is that they are able to capture more than an instance. Their ability to locate and mark off a distinct moment in time, though not necessarily in the manner in which we’d expect, is what makes the title of this exhibit so engaging. They’re by no means sundials in any conventional sense -- they have no explicit time-telling function. However, they mark the immateriality of time, the possibility for these prints to engage the viewer both acknowledging temporality and eschewing it. La Londe strives to uncover the hidden subtleties of what lies behind the print, the image or presence that might at other times be obscured by the camera in a traditional photographic action. As a result, we become privy to a latent, shadow world of illusions and subtle play of light and color. Evan La Londe asks us and himself what is material… is it the camera? is it the light? Is it the paint? What occurs with these pieces is an attempt to highlight this very interplay between a material world extending beyond its medium. For La Londe, these works do not function as purely photographic; if anything they access a more metaphysical realm of sensation. The material world here is nothing more than an illusion, an effortless and eloquent combination of forms that La Londe masterfully plays with to delve into something slightly more mythical.
The all-encompassing question here relates to the nature of presence. Does the presence of the photograph exist in the product, which is to say the photograph, the physical image? Or does the presence reside in the moment in which light and shadow were captured, thus immortalizing something more akin to a visceral sensory experience? The product and the moment encapsulate two very different qualities of a photograph: the product is the material and the moment is its immaterial counterpart. La Londe seems to be working to distance himself from the tradition of photography, a tradition that focused on the value of the image, as opposed to what it informs and stands for on a larger scale. With this more conceptual framework in mind, I’d like to posit that La Londe goes even deeper in placing his works within a contemporary discourse. He favors the moment and the presence it can evoke for his works and his audience. Roland Barthes puts forth what he calls the studium and the punctum in “Camera Lucida”, his treatise on photography. The studium is what we see in the image, the intended focal point, slightly akin to how photography is conceived as product but even less material. The studium is exactly what you would expect out of viewing a photograph, an intended understanding of the image. The punctum, however, has a more mythical and personal quality. It is what strikes a nerve in the audience, it is the unexpected focal point that garners all of our attention. It is bold, it is unexpected, and most importantly, it is usually overlooked. In Sundials, I would posit that La Londe’s photographs negate the studium in favor of fully adopting the punctum, illuminating the previously neglected.
What we see at first sight is not entirely what we get with Sundials. Our sight is indulged by the complexity of this work and what we get is so much more rich than anticipated. These photographs are capable of evoking a feeling, a nostalgia that goes beyond the framed image. And this is exactly what places Evan La Londe as a contemporary artist creating works that are at once cognizant of their canonical roots, but also innovative and arresting in their experimentation. A fitting end to a series of exhibitions exploring the limits of photography Sundials has audience members, even on the darkest and rainiest of Portland days, rejoicing in the light.
Sundials is on through December 2. For more information on Melanie Flood Projects click here.
Images courtesy of Lusi Lukova