“From an early age, I was captivated by the night,” said Lynn Saville. “I found it fascinating. Things looked more mysterious, scary, but intriguing at night. I didn’t put it together with photography until later.”
Saville’s photography exhibit Night/Shift will be on display at the Yancey Richardson Gallery in Chelsea through August 28. Night/Shift coincides with the release of Saville’s new monograph of the same name by Monacelli Press. Through Saville’s eye, we see well-known landmarks and lesser-known streets of the city as we have never seen them before. Bethesda Fountain at nighttime, viewed from under the Terrace, is devoid of people and seems ethereal, while Post No Bills, showing a deserted corner of Times Square, seems threatening. That Saville’s photos elicit such emotions speaks to the power she wields with her camera. Traveling around the city at odd hours, she finds intrigue in the nooks and crannies overlooked by others.
A graduate of Duke University, Saville studied at the Pratt Institute with Philippe Halsman, the Latvian-born American portrait photographer. “I would practically sleep with my camera and shoot everything, from my sandals on the floor to what I saw on the street,” she said. Shooting in black and white, her photos of the nighttime city were compelling. “I loved it when the city got foggy and scary. I would go out there and shoot as quickly as I could.”
Of course, wandering around the city late at night, a woman alone, with expensive equipment, presented a safety challenge. “I would try to be safe,” she said. Her most frightening moments occurred years ago before Times Square became “Disney-fied.” “I was scared then,” she recalled. “The only people around were the pimps and those begging.” Now, she noted, the entire area is bright, bustling, bursting with people and, in her mind, less appealing. “Those who are interested in crowds can have a field day,” she said.
Saville, however, goes out of her way not to have people in her pictures. “I’m always wandering around trying different places,” she said. On one trip she shot the famous Pepsi- Cola sign from the Queens side. Her photo (left), showing the dirt and rubble behind the sign and the glittering cityscape in the background, illuminates the stark contrast that exists in so many areas of the city. For Saville, the photo is a reminder that the city was once dirt and rocks. “We lose touch with the dirt,” she said. “That image appealed to me because it shows the muscle and grit of the city.”
Acquainted with the Night, published in 1997 by Rizzoli, showcased Saville’s black and white photography. Her husband, the poet Philip Fried, selected the poems interspersed throughout the book. “He’s just great and I’m really lucky,” she said. “He found poems that make a dialogue with my photography.” Following the book’s publication, Saville had several solo shows in Atlanta, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and at the Yancey Richardson Gallery. Shortly after, she started to experiment with color. Although Saville said she finds it “tempting to go digital,” she loves her Leica and still uses film. “Digital is good for seeing how the exposure is going to look and I can be freer with digital,” she said. “But I love to have a film image.” She has a black and white darkroom in her apartment and prints her color photographs at the International Center for Photography, where she teaches.
Saville said she had visited the Bethesda Fountain on several occasions. “It was a toss up how many lights would be on,” she said. “I photographed it a number of times when there were four or five lights.” When she took the photo shown above, there was only one light bulb burning in the foreground. “I love that picture,” she said. “The fountain is so beautiful.” Besides lighting, Saville was also experimenting with symmetry. “Everything about the picture is symmetrical.” The photo echoed her earlier experiences in Rome and Florence. “Those cities have classic architecture, archways and arcades,” she said. At the Bethesda Fountain, “the influence behind the arch as a central part of that bridge was a classical one. So it was resonating with me.”
Saville said she is happy working with color. She also noted that she is “in the mood for more figures. I’m thinking of allowing the figures to emerge a little more and see where they take me.” Elevated trains also fascinate her. “I like the way the city looks from that heightened advantage,” she said.
Nighttime, however, will be a constant in her photography. “I love the busy aspect of the city, but at night I like to feel it’s my own,” she said. “I feel this privacy of my own thoughts and enjoy the fantasy.”
Saville’s website is www.lynnsaville.com
Lynn Saville Night/Shift
Yancey Richardson Gallery
Through August 28
535 West 22nd Street
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