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In darkness

In which we find art in a cave


One of the things I like, about living in this city, is the randomness of things one comes across. One will turn a corner and find something new happening, something unexpected, something undreamt.

We were ambling around the harbourside, at the weekend, along the stretch that is overlooked by red sandstone cliffs. There are caves dug into the cliffs there, gated and walled off now; but as we walked along the quayside we noticed that one of the gates was open, with a sign outside it: “photography exhibition, this weekend only”.

We looked closer; and saw a brick archway let into the cliff, with darkness inside it, no sign of anybody about. Tentatively, we stepped inside; the brick walls gave way to rough stone, and a sign warned of falling rocks. And, inside, in the darkness, we found: a photography exhibition.

It turned out to be by a local photographer, Jesse Alexander,* who has taken long-exposure natural-light photographs of various underground locations. Caves, cellars, underground reservoirs, and so on. When I say “long exposure” I don’t mean “get the tripod out”, I mean “get the tripod out, set the camera up, then come back a week later”.** To show them in a suitable location, he’d found an unlit cave, printed transparencies of his work, and mounted it up on individual lightboxes. The whole installation he called “Threshold Zone”.***

It was an interesting and unusual concept. Printed normally, set up in a gallery, the prints would have been examples of technically good and well-composed photography, but without anything particularly distinguished about them. Mounted there, in a dark, quiet cave, they took on something special.

* not to be confused with Jesse Armstrong, who isn’t a photographer but a comedy writer.

** although he loses out slightly, in the long-exposure stakes, to Justin Quinnell’s six-month pinhole camera exposures

*** If you go to his website, you can apparently download a PDF about the work. Whether you can read it is another thing; I can’t get it to open. But it might be worth a try.

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