29
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Carnival: Photographs by Roger Vail’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 11th July – 22nd August, 2015

 

 

For the length of each ride

I just love these photographs. They are thrilling, like the rides themselves.

The photographer Roger Vail comments,

“There was no initial inspiration, just an experiment. I had already been making photographs at night with a 4×5 (later 8×10) camera which involved time exposures. I went to a carnival to shoot the facades. While there I decided to see what would happen it I made a time exposure of the ferris wheel in question. First sight of the negative was thrilling so I decided to make more. Most of the fun was in not knowing what the end result would look like. I made these into large silver prints throughout the seventies. In the nineties I learned to make platinum-palladium prints and after printing one of the older negatives decided to do them again specifically for that medium. Finally in 2001, at the suggestion of my wife Carol, I did them for a third time shooting 8×10 transparencies.”

All the light is ambient light, with the exposures usually around 3 minutes (hence the ghostly shadows of people moving in the foregrounds of some of the photographs). Vail observes, “Carnival grounds are often flooded with fairly bright light, so balancing the exposures is not that difficult. I found out early on that virtually all carnival rides last around 3 minutes. So I would adjust the F stop accordingly to get the maximum rotation and therefore pattern.”

.
I am in awe of this extended investigation. What a passion for what is coming on 45 years working on one idea.

Just as Hiroshi Sugimoto’s time lapse movie screens (where the exact length of a movie was captured by the open lens of the camera, the substance of time and space evidenced by a seemingly empty screen) were wonderfully poetic and transformational – the gesture of compressing the narrative, reality and action of a movie into a single frame of light – so Vail’s photographs focus on the process of transition, the process of transition in the flow of time and space. Whereas Sugimoto captures the exact length of a movie, Vail’s photographs, ‘for the length of each ride’, could be a metaphor for the length of a life, for these rides contain the body of human beings, their embodiment, even though we can’t see them.

All the signs are there. The concentric circles with no beginning and no end. The YoYo circus of circuits or Wave Swinger with atomic cloud remind me of Fritz Lang’s seminal film Metropolis (1927). And then the colour work – Inverter with its Möbius strip non-orientable boundary, giving life a half-twist, SpinOut‘s nuclear intensity, and Evolutions DNA-like strands. And all of this done through serendipity, a fortunate happenstance, with the artist not knowing exactly what each negative will bring, but ultimately thrilling when (exposure) time – overseer of all things – is right. No wonder Vail was excited when he saw his first negative.

A total surprise, these photographs proffer a liminal space, one beyond our usual realm of understanding. Our cycle of life. The process of transition in the flow of space and time.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to Joseph Bellows Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I started making urban night photographs at the end of graduate school in 1969. I used a 4×5 and later an 8×10 view camera which required time exposures of 30 seconds or more. At a carnival in 1971 I decided to set up in front of a ferris wheel, clueless about what the result would look like. I was greatly excited by what I saw when I looked at the first negative and print – a total surprise. The later color images are exposed for the length of each ride cycle.”

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Roger Vail

 

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In 1970, Vail began photographing carnivals and their thrill rides with his 8 x 10 inch view camera. His pictures were made in the evening hours with long exposure times, resulting in images that track the momentum of the ride with a sense wonderment that is both tangible and otherworldly.  Carnival will feature Vail’s extraordinary, large-scale photographs of carnival rides in full motion; tracing the kaleidoscopic light play seen only through an extended moment that photography permits.  In addition to the large-scale color and black and white images, his smaller, more intimate platinum/palladium prints will be featured in the atrium gallery.

Vail’s carnival rides are described and transformed through the act of photography. He allows the viewer to experience the flux of the ride in a single scene, rendering both the atmosphere of the night and the energy of his subject, against the recognizable background of the state fair.

Roger Vail earned his BFA and MFA degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago. His photographs are in the collection of numerous institutions, including: Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, NY, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum.

 

 

Roger Vail. 'SkyDiver 2' 1996

 

Roger Vail
SkyDiver 2
1996
Platinum/palladium print

 

Roger Vail. 'Spinning Carnival Ride' 1971

 

Roger Vail
Spinning Carnival Ride
1971
Gelatin silver print

 

Roger Vail. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Roger Vail
Untitled
1996
Platinum/palladium print

 

Roger Vail. 'YoYo' 1996

 

Roger Vail
YoYo
1996
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23.5 inches

 

Roger Vail. 'YoYo #2' 1996

 

Roger Vail
YoYo #2
1996
Platinum/palladium print

 

Roger Vail. 'Wave Swinger' 1996

 

Roger Vail
Wave Swinger
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Roger Vail. 'Kamikaze #3' 1996

 

Roger Vail
Kamikaze #3
1996
Platinum/palladium print
10 x 8 inches

 

 

“Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Carnival: Photographs by Roger Vail. This solo shows will open on July 11th, with a reception for the artist from 6-8 p.m., and will continue through the 22nd of August. The exhibition will feature Vail’s extraordinary large-scale photographs of carnival rides in full motion; tracing the kaleidoscopic light play seen only through the extended moment that photography permits. In addition to the large-scale color and black and white images, his smaller, more intimate platinum/palladium prints will be featured in the atrium gallery.

In 1970, Vail began photographing carnivals and their thrill rides with his 8 x 10 inch view camera. His pictures were made in the evening hours with long exposure times, resulting in extended moments which track the momentum of the ride with a sense wonderment that is both tangible and otherworldly.

One such image graced the cover of Life magazine, introducing a picture essay with an accompanying text by Garrison Keilor titled, A Magical Spin on a Summer Night (2006). Vail’s carnival rides are described and transformed through the act of photography. He allows the viewer to experience the flux of the ride in a single scene, rendering both the atmosphere of the night and the energy of his subject, against the recognizable background of the state fair.”

Press release from the Joseph Bellows Gallery

 

Roger Vail. 'Evolution 3' 2001

 

Roger Vail
Evolution 3
2001
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminium

 

Roger Vail. 'Giant Wheel' 2001

 

Roger Vail
Giant Wheel
2001
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminium

 

Roger Vail. 'Inverter' 2001

 

Roger Vail
Inverter
2001
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminium
30 x 37.5 inches

 

Roger Vail. 'Kamakazi' 2002

 

Roger Vail
Kamakazi
2002
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminium

 

Roger Vail. 'SpinOut' 2001

 

Roger Vail
SpinOut
2001
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminium

 

Roger Vail. 'Wave Swinger' 2001

 

Roger Vail
Wave Swinger
2001
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminium

 

Roger Vail. 'Evolution' 2001

 

Roger Vail
Evolution
2001
Chromogenic print mounted to aluminium

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girrard Avenue
La Jolla, California
T: 858 456 5620

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, and Saturday by appointment 

Joseph Bellows Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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