Heliography


With the advancement of technology, the photographic image has become a highly resolved, razor sharp, instant. It is capable of describing even the most obscure minutia. But I fear what we have gained in definition we have also lost in intuition.


The work I call Heliography is an examination of the extended length of the photographic moment, as well as the aesthetic possibilities of primitive cameras and chemical processes. I originally set out to build a camera that could look beyond the instant and immediate present. I wanted it to accumulate time, slowly, like a meditation on its own purpose. It was designed to continuously capture the landscape until even the sun distorted to trace an arc of time across the sky. Throughout the history of photography the emphasis has been on capturing ever smaller slices of time. My approach, however, shifts away from capturing the instant and focuses on describing the expansive motions of extended time.


In order to achieve an exposure of days and even months I returned to the oldest optical device, the pinhole. I think it is a beautiful indicator of the burden of progress that in order to capture the slightest amount of time, the greatest amount of technology is required. But in order to capture great lengths of time all that is required is a very small hole.


The organic nature of film is well suited for this process because of its relative simplicity and flexibility. However, even after just a few moments of exposure to the intensity of the sun the material begins to deteriorate and is no longer suitable for conventional processing. In order to overcome this limitation I formulated specific chemistry to compensate for what would normally be considered a massive overexposure.


My hope is that the images this process produces begin to reveal the ancient connection and adoration man once held for the sky and seasons. From the perspective of the pinhole, the sun appears to arc across the sky and is reminiscent of the ancient geocentric model of the heavens. From this I can begin to glean what a massive paradigm shift the heliocentric model must have been and why it seemed for so many to defy common sense.


When I study these photos I feel as if I've stepped into the mausoleum of time, and the transitory nature of existence becomes painfully bare. It's as if the image has somehow become untethered from reality, or perhaps the scene appears alien because it lacks the ubiquitous movement of people. Regardless, I sense my own insignificance and a visceral dejection when confronted by the grander patterning of the heavens and the idea that time itself will die with its last witness.


Matthew Allred