BLACK & WHITE MAGAZINE
"I find myself drawn to wherever the light is," says Lynn Saville. This could be the statement of many a photographer, but Saville's fascination with light has a twist. Hers is not the bright light of day, the comfortable light of detail and explanation. She finds herself, armed with camera and tripod, venturing out into the dark of night or earliest morning, fixing upon a streetlamp, car lights, and even the moon. Hers is light that interrupts the dark. Light itself becomes protagonist in a drama. It makes the action happen. Look long enough, and details emerge out of the darkness. And, like a moth to a flame, you are pulled into whatever scene she has discovered.
Saville spent her childhood in North Carolina, and was encouraged to photograph by her father and brother, both avid amateur photographers. At a young age she was out under the night sky photographing stars. Her family spend three years in Italy -- when she was five, 10 and 15. Many experiences of those early trips helped to shape her aesthetic. They always traveled by boat, and she recalls thrilling to the view as they sailed into New York Harbor.
One of Saville's images -- of the Staten Island Ferry--resonates with memories of those childhood ocean voyages: "In the middle of the ocean, ships would pass, and at night the other ship would toot its smokestacks, and put on all the lights and you would see this thing! It was like a birthday cake coming out of the black water, and the stars...it was so beautiful, like something out of Fellini."
After graduating from Duke University, it is no surprise that Saville moved to New York City, that sparkling vision of her childhood, where she studied at Pratt Institute. She would photograph day and night, but "over time my pictures at night started to seem more interesting to me." Buying tickets to the ballet, she would sit in a dark theater photographing, captivated by the illumination of the dancers.
This theatrical sense is an undercurrent in all of her photographs, whatever the subject -- buildings, alleyways or country scenes. They appear deceptively still, but look closer, there is action, the light creating what she calls a "compositional dance" in the dark. Her pictures have only the suggestion of people, as if they have just walked off the set or are waiting to enter. We are waiting for the story to be told. One of Saville's influences has been Alfred Hitchcock, and she feels a strong kinship with Brassai, whose images of Paris at night are legendary.
Saville met her husband, Philip Fried, when he came to look at her portfolio for his poetry journal, the Manhattan Review. The two collaborated on her first monograph, Acquainted with the Night (Rizzoli), an evocative pas de deux of poetry and photography.
Saville has exhibited both in the U.S. And Europe, and her work is held in collections both private and public. Recently, Duke University arranged to purchase a large portion of her production.
"A lot of times, what I'm photographing feels transitional. A streetlight might blink off any second, a car might be waiting at a red light and take off suddenly. I have to work quickly." Indeed, Saville knows well the danger of photographing at night: she was robbed at gunpoint and is more careful these days, listening to every footstep, watching all shadows. If there is a sense of the wary, of danger, of the melancholy in her photographs, it is real. But she intends to go on capturing that "darkness at the edge of town"
-- Shawn O'Sullivan
(c) 2003 Lynn Saville