Garry Fabian Miller

Valentina Moncada

In the series of works entitled “Thoughts of a Night Sea,” 2000, Garry Fabian Miller seems to be returning to the nineteenth-century origins of photographic technique. In fact, he uses neither camera nor film but works in the darkroom directly with light and with paper prepared to receive its impression. The horizon between sky and sea has long been his favored motif. In his earlier series titled “The Sea Horizon,” 1976–77, there was a real referent, the Severn River estuary, but here, the luminescent horizontal strips that gather at the center of the image do not correspond to anything real. They are the result of the light sources and filtering systems that Fabian Miller arranges in the darkroom to control form, brightness, and the tonal values through which light interacts with the dark blue ground.

Eliminating traditional photographic apparatus along with the object as an external referent, Fabian Miller reminds us that, for an artist, it’s only the formal result that counts, not the technique used. Indeed, it is no accident if in these works photography merges so indissolubly and at the same time so freely with painting, with the pictorial tradition in a strict sense. Turner’s sublime seascapes come to mind, but also, in terms of the formal structure of the image, Piero Manzoni’s “Achromes.” It is as if this mist of light were revealing a deeper interiority. But there is something more. From Plato on—from the celebrated archetypal allegory of the cave in the Republic—ideas develop in light, and this is the inalienable foundation of Western metaphysics. The evidence of reality takes light as its privileged medium: immanent, radiating, expansive, capable of capturing and restoring to view places and people, facts and situations. The luminous element measures distances, and it is in distance that the clarity of the act of vision is constituted.

The enormous power of this fundamental principle, the dynamis that light unleashes, seems for a moment, for a flash, to be captured in the other two works in the exhibition, taken from the 2002 “Burning” series. The structure of the image—a glowing rectangle placed toward the center, standing out against a dark ground—brings to mind the paintings of Mark Rothko. It is as if the very incandescent magma that lies at the center of the earth had left a trace on the photographic paper, scalding it in a burst of fire that seems to have ignited in a sudden flash. The red-orange edges of the rectangle are neither clear nor hard; they are pulsating and nebulous halos where the light fades away and disappears. The center, however, achieves a whiteness in which the luminous element reaches its climax. These images almost explicitly require the active participation of the viewer’s glance, and it is precisely in this link that another connotation emerges. The light that invests them also has a cold, ultra-technological effect. It is like standing in front of a TV screen giving off an impossible image: the All and Nothing that, for a moment, reciprocally arouse each other.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.