“Michael Light: New Work”

Pub date February 24, 2009
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

REVIEW After viewing Trevor Paglen’s contribution to the SECA Art Awards exhibition at SFMOMA, you can stroll six or seven blocks to Hosfelt Gallery, for a small — yet vast — sample of new work by Michael Light. The walk is a revealing one in terms of SF’s urban landscape, and once you’ve had the Alice-like experience of stepping out of Clementina’s abandoned-alley atmosphere through the Hosfelt’s enormous door, you can dwell on the influence that San Francisco resident Light has had on Paglen’s photography, and the back-and-forth (not to mention the up-and-down) between their vital visions.

"I work with big subjects and grand issues," Light told Robert Hirsch in a 2005 interview. "I am fascinated about that point where humans begin to become inconsequential and realize their smallness in relation to the vastness that is out there." In the past, this fascination has revised moon landings and nuclear testing in a revelatory manner. Light’s current work has him shooting the American West as part of an ongoing project that has sported tentative titles such as Dry Garden and, more recently, Some Dry Space: An Inhabited West. This project ricochets off of Paglen’s recent written and photographic studies of black spots in Nevada, as well as Olivo Barbieri’s aerial film-and-photo endeavor, Site Specific_Las Vegas 05, which had a stay at SFMOMA not too long ago.

The film segment of Barbieri’s Site Specific_Las Vegas 05 followed a trajectory from the ambiguous Nevada desert to Hoover Dam and then Sin City. The overall flight path of Light’s project is even more ambitious. While Barbieri’s imagery is stunning, it lacks the figurative and symbolic depth of Light’s gorgeous, absurd, disgusting, and lovely shots of landscapes under human siege. Light has argued that the oracular power of books is strengthened when set against the playpen of the Internet. The book he’s put together for this show — a citizen’s update of Timothy O’Sullivan’s congressional railroad surveys of the 1870s, displayed on a cinematic camera tripod — is too good for a screen and awesome on the page.

MICHAEL LIGHT: NEW WORK Through March 21. Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Hosfelt Gallery, 430 Clementina, SF. (415) 495-5454, www.hosfeltgallery.com