Not Afraid of the Dark

Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, & Special Collections Library
March 31, 2003

 

One of the library's newest collections of visual materials consists of works by Lynn Saville, who photographs urban landscapes at night. Saville'71, a native of North Carolina, now lives and works in New York.

It was no accident that Saville took to photography. Her father and brother were both avid amateurs and introduced her to the camera when she was a child. She explored her interest as an undergraduate at Duke, citing Hendrik van Dijk, formerly of the art and art history department, as influential in her career.

While doing graduate work at the Pratt Institute, Saville experimented with different photographic styles and found that her nocturnal shots turned out the best. At night, she says, she could better control the play of light and uncover "the abstract formality of the universe."

She likens her work to turning the day inside out, revealing the unexpected in what is otherwise familiar. She says she does not construct scenes but prefers to happen upon them. She may pass a setting many times before a slight change--a burned-out streetlight, for example--inspires her to photograph it.

Every city has its own story hidden beneath its daily hustle and bustle, Saville says. She endeavors to capture this implicit narrative when the city is stripped of people and other visual "noise." This draws her outside at the very time others secure themselves safely behind locked doors. In search of her next shot, she often flirts with danger, venturing into places others avoid.

One critic, impressed by Saville's apparent familiarity with deserted nighttime streets and back alleys, commented that she "knew Brooklyn like a thief."

Saville's book, Acquainted with the Night, bears witness to her photographic artistry. It is replete with images that whisper secrets and exaggerate dreamscapes. She acknowledges what many perceive as an eerie loneliness and sense of fear in her photographs. "Darkness is comforting and threatening, soft and ominous," she says, describing the paradoxes her photographs seem to capture.

Saville, who is represented by the Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, has photographed night scenes in France, Great Britain, India, Canada, Greece, and Italy. She says she admires the work of William Gedney and the Hungarian-born photographer Gyula BrassaÔ, among others. She was a student of Gedney's at the Pratt Institute; his photographs and journals are also part of the visual-materials collection at Duke.