David Stephenson

Light Cities

January 9 - February 19, 2011

A meditation on the sublime has sustained David Stephenson's artistic practice over 30 years, which has evolved through long-term, interrelated projects. His newest body of work titled Light Cities brings together a number of his previous interests, including the idea of the sublime, environmental concerns, and the transcendental power of light These urban nocturnal images have been made in a number of international cities, including Melbourne, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. We will present a selection in his fifth solo show at the gallery. The prints are large-scale pigment presented as single images, diptychs and triptychs.

Stephenson is well known for his photographs of the cupolas and vaults of European sacred architecture (which have been presented in two monographs.) While travelling for these projects he made his first photographs of cities at night. The glowing "light city" seems the perfect emblem of so much that is both good and bad in our industrialized culture: an extraordinary example of a monumental technological sublime, where awe, beauty, and human aspiration are tinged with the horror of potential environmental catastrophe, our engine of modernity seemingly running on empty.

A key aspect of these city pictures is the explosion in growth of the modern city. The visible symbols of economic aspiration such as the skyscraper have spread across the globe. Every reasonably sized city contains a downtown area of high buildings, with urban sprawl often extending for hundreds of square miles, and all those buildings glowing with electric light from sundown through to the early hours. With the vast majority of this electric power generated by coal-fired thermal power stations, it is not difficult to see that this situation has a finite timeframe, before the fuel runs out or climate change has drastic effects on the world's ecosystems, requiring major changes to take place in the entire fabric of our modern industrialized culture. That many of these cities were founded as ports and are located at sea level, making them highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, gives further urgency to a close scrutiny of the modern city.

Stephenson is working towards his third book which will be on the Light Cities. He lives in Tasmania and is chair of the photography department at the university there. His work is included in many international institutional collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, George Eastman House in Rochester, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. He is in virtually every public collection in Australia.

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