'BLIND #3' Archival pigment print by Luc Demers, 30 by 40 inches, 2010.
Photographer Luc Demers does not so much explore what light makes visible, as what borders on light — darkness. His images explore the difference between knowing and seeing and the role photography plays in that epistemological state of limbo. Demers operates in the gaps, which makes him one of the most interesting photographers working in Maine today.
"Trace: Photographs by Luc Demers" is presented by the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts at USM's Glickman Family Library, certainly not an ideal display environment, amid elevator doors and open stacks. However, viewing Demers's pieces at a center of learning is not totally inappropriate either considering his mode of quasi-scientific investigation.
The exhibition is comprised of 21 photographs from four interrelated series. All works are dark monochromes but vary widely in size, presentation, and photographic medium. The extraordinarily beautiful examples from Demers's series "Darkened Rooms" are the most abstract images, among them "Blind #3." These archival pigment prints range in size from 30 by 40 to 8 by 8 inches and are of darkened spaces penetrated by slivers of natural light streaming in beside curtains and shades or plywood covers. The light's edges are either clean and straight or ragged and slanted, depending on its material borders. The bands of light thus acquire substance and become object-like. The strong contrast of light and dark creates an intense focus for sight but also makes visible the concomitant loss of information as the surrounding space remains obscure. The potential for knowledge and recognition lies neither in stark light nor in darkness, but at the edge of the two, where the texture of a curtain or the grain of wood become identifiable. Occupying a space of both abstraction and representation, these images explore how to represent light without representing anything else.
The other series deal with another world entirely. "Starscapes" and "Galileo Polaroids" are black-and-white Polaroids of night skies; one renders stars in a more naturalistic manner, the other as drawn and identified configurations. Pinned in small shadow boxes, sides slightly curling and generally looking aged, these Polaroids play with the evidentiary quality of photography and its history. The temporal aspect here references the immense stretch of time between stars emitting light and its visibility on this planet. They are nothing but a memory, a past event — as photography can only represent a specific time and place in the past.
The "Galileo Polaroids" transition nicely into the "Blackboards" series. The former's astral configurations are child-like drawings on blackboards, starkly inadequate for the science of astronomy. Knowing and thinking we know come to a head in the archival pigment prints of the latter series. The photographed blackboards show crude drawings of various phases of the moon, and at least in the case of the framed images, their matte surface confounds viewers into believing we are looking at actual chalkboards. Celestial light is here presented as scientific knowledge, yet paradoxically rendered in a medium associated with childhood, which in turn, is rendered through photography — a layering of representation en abyme.
Considering the title of the exhibition, Demers's images indeed contain traces of material surroundings, of stars light-years away, and of man's exploration of space, all mediated through light, not as a romantic vehicle but of enlightenment. These photographs are factual and poetic at the same time, driven by a sweeping interest in photography's generative relationship to light, and ultimately, to the kind of comprehension sourced in sight.
"TRACE: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LUC DEMERS" | through December 21 | at the USM Glickman Family Library, 5th floor, 314 Forest Ave, Portland | 207.780.4270 | usm.maine.edu