MICHAEL LIGHT: Great Basin Autoglyphs and Pleistoseas

by Kim Steele

Carson River and Cow Tracks at Carson Sink, Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, Fallon, Nevada, 2018, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

‘Size is not everything but…’ has a large impact on photography.  This writer has always been sensitive to the size of prints presented in a gallery setting since they broke on the scene in the late seventies. I printed some of the first large (one meter square) prints on the floor of my studio in Seattle, that were exhibited and collected.  I always ask myself when viewing large prints, “how would these look as 8 x 10 inch images?”  There are many examples of images, such as the renowned photographer Richard Misrach, who exhibited very large prints of his shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, which he shot from his deck in the East Bay.  These definitely would not hold up to my test, they would seem like ordinary snapshots.

 

Salt Track Looking Northwest, Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, Wendover, Utah, 2017,  Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

Michael Light’s prints vary up to seventy-nine inches (in limited editions of two) and many are the usual large format size, forty by sixty inches.  I do not wish to belabor this point–the size presenting in photography is very germane to their impact.  Light’s work is enhanced by the size. In his self-written press release he calls them “painterly investigations,” so he is very aware of how large points transform to paintings.  Enough about size.

 

Salt Wash and Tracks Looking South, Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, Wendover, Utah, 2018, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

The subjects are photographed from his own plane at low elevation of the Great Basin between California and Utah, which twelve thousand years ago was covered in 900 feet of water, hence the richly variegated color.  Being the location of the annual Burning Man art festival in the Black Rock Desert enhances the iconography.   He manipulates the saturation and hues of the images in his computer to emote a lexicon of patterns caused by the confluence of natural forms and man-made markings.  Tire tracks form an overlay of rich patterns on the landscape that become a codex of symbols that read as emotional markings, not unlike the famous cloud studies that Alfred Stieglitz shot in the 1920’s that he titled, “Equivalent” [supposedly for various emotions] around Lake George.   I believe these operate on this same level, and have to wonder how they might have looked in black and white. Along this comparison line, a well-known photographer, David Maisel, also aerially photographed Owens Lake in California, only a few years ago which concentrated more on the rich coloration of pollutants and chemical deposits in much broader strokes.

 

Salt Tracks Looking North, Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, Wendover, Utah, 2017
pigment print, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

Beyond the painterly qualities, which are quite oblivious, there is a sculptural quality to the images because of the almost metallic nature of the subject’s surfaces of deposited minerals.  They appear to be found objects, due to their abstraction, but the digitally enhanced colors detract from this response. There is a fossil quality to the imagery, which provides richness and depth like modern petroglyphs. Due to the over saturation of imagery in our lives, it has become necessary to hype of colors to capture the attention of our overwhelmed eyes.

 

Black Rock City in October, Looking Northwest, Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, Gerlach, Nevada, 2017, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

These images and a large format book he presents here, is a wonderful collision of ancient topography, from the Pleistocene period, and the modern markings of humans.  They dance well together.

Hosfelt Gallery, SF: Exhibition closes on March 16, 2019

 

Black Rock City in October, Looking Southeast, Center Camp, Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, Gerlach, Nevada, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

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