San Francisco

Steve Fitch

Lowinsky & Arai

The past few years have seen increased numbers of photographers working in the night landscape, using extended time exposure with combinations of strobe and ambient light. Darkness offers the possibility for greater control through the manipulation of light and provides an intense color saturation that can be employed for romantic or surreal effect.

Steve Fitch has been photographing nocturnal imagery since the early ’70s, initially concentrating on roadside signs in his black-and-white images for Diesels and Dinosaurs. Now, in his Western landscape pictures, Fitch uses color. He transposes ordinary subject matter—neon signs, marquees, and landscape vistas—into intense, vibrating compositions. Through subtle manipulations, such as slight camera movement during lengthy exposure, the photographer can alter familiar sights. The obvious result of these manipulations is a separation of color from form. Hues become fluid, seeming to float on the surface of the print, delineating but overflowing from the objects. Fitch doesn’t opt for overt surreal or dreamlike effect; he simply presents a circumstance slightly askew from reality.

Motion counterpoints stillness; some parts of the picture plane remain sharply defined; others, such as moving cars or light sources, form ambiguous, lyrical shapes. The most potent images are elegant and monolithic, a neon yellow-orange arrow undulating against a blue-green horizon, or a turquoise entranceway with a zigzag Indian motif floating against a deep black background. Light forms are transformed into calligraphic notations, imbuing these pictures with a sonic sense, as if they emit an electronic music score. The least effective works are a series of shots of asphalt in which headlights cast long tracks or shadows. The combination of color and movement that pervades the other pictures is lacking here, replaced with an unethereal, monochromatic factualism.

Fitch is a romantic, but his handling of subject resides somewhere between Pop rendition and a painterly, amorphous abstraction. Commonplace artifacts are seen as iconic forms, resilient symbols of mass culture. At his best, Fitch offers a Kerouacian vision—a solitary Western America deliriously glimpsed from a speeding car in the middle of the night. His synthetic depictions are expressionistic but measured, the West simultaneously understood as reality and myth.

Hal Fischer