Night for Night
Night is the dark part of the day. Astronomically, night is created by the rotation of the Earth. The light boundary we call twilight, the rising and setting of the sun, is a local phenomenon. The onset of darkness and eventually the night itself, are clocks for our organisms and a constant stimulant to our imagination. Night is everything at the same time: a daily, unchanging rhythm, a banal change in light conditions, but also a powerful image that is charged and used culturally, ritually or aesthetically. Under the cover of darkness, things happen that are forbidden by day; the blackness of night can become a maelstrom for fear and loneliness. The day, as an apparent flip side, is bright and busy, people are subject to greater control in their visibility than when they become shadows and shades at nighttime hours. The light gives them control over all that is dark, dangerous and unpredictable. In the bright light of the sun, life seems simpler, clearer, in the truest sense of the word, more promising. For the night, actually a time of rest, is also a period of danger. In the depths of the night, crime and escapism threaten, urges rise to the surface, civil standards are shaken, or ghosts awaken. Just as vampires crumble to dust when they see the light, in our imaginary world the abysses of the night are driven away with the dawn of day.
The night can be illuminated. But nighttime light is not an imitation of daytime. Artificial illuminations and exposures are part of the night: streetlights, gas stations and rest stops, neon signs and nighttime shop windows or the glow of an apartment are just as much a part of it as the light from headlights, flashlights or strobe lights. The visualization of darkness through light is a paradox in every respect, since light displaces and replaces darkness. But in the illuminated resolution there is also an emphasis and contouring of the blackness.The physical contrast is all the more a plausible aesthetic means of art. A cone of light in whose glow narrative and projection, myth and enlightenment become visible like swirled dust particles. The face lifted from the darkness, the body in space, a play of shadows and light, of shapes and surfaces, and the illusion of spatial depth are equally familiar to all pictorial modes of expression. The cinema and photography of the night, as genre and subject, work along the border of hard expressionist shadows and dissolves, of distortions and exaggerations, of absolute sharpness and indistinct details that disappear in the darkness
In the age of the black screen of any display, such images of the night also seem nostalgic. Night and darkness in the digital sphere are infinitely more than just an indistinct space. Like a black hole, the dark side of technology inverts and perverts our cultural notion of night. On the one hand, the indirect light of the devices permanently robs us of darkness; on the other hand, the darkness of the blackout also stands for a disappearance of the world that manifests itself more strongly in virtual space than in reality for many people. The coldness and loneliness of a black reflection on the surface of a digital hardware and in the shallows of the software can only be countered by the real false night of artistic imagination.
What is it different when Oliver Sieber portrays people in the dark, illuminating their faces and photographing them in the real but invisible space of an unknown city? A portrait in times of lockdown and threatened curfew? A social study? Conceptual art? The title „10 minutes“ forms the arbitrarily set frame for these photographs, which at first glance are crystal clear, and at second glance already appear opaque, only to finally dissolve in their directness through the replacement of the positive with a negative.
„10 Minutes“ is first and foremost a photographic space and not a genre or typical nocturnal motif. Sieber’s work rather marks a distance that manifests itself pictorially between the artist, the figures and the city and a technology whose essence is the control of light by the photographer. But the proportions and coordinates are more ambiguous than one might think. The brightest point is also the darkest. This is also the poetry of light that shines even though it has already passed. But it is above all the dissolution of the dichotomy of day and night that becomes visible in „10 Minutes“.Because actually there is always darkness, we just don’t see it. The paradoxes of light are also aesthetic categories of deception. Just as the technique of „day for night shooting“ used in the feature film turns day into night. But light conditions also have political and social dimensions. Similar to Paul Graham’s work „American Night,“ in which social reality initially disappears through overexposure, only to emerge all the more clearly, Oliver Sieber reverses the seemingly unambiguous and visible premises of his nocturnal motif through chiaroscuro stylization and negative-positive inversion. It illuminates the night, but does not dissolve it. The images are a black mirror with all its uncertainties and distortions. The gazes of the sitters run side by side endlessly, as in a parallel projection in geometry. There is no common vanishing point. The day artificially becomes night. The night in the glow of the flash, however, does not become day.
The tonal values are reversed, and that’s enough to make you lose your bearings. For the viewer, people and objects stand out clearly in the glow of the flash. The flashed eye of the Photographed, however, sees nothing for a short time. The bright light becomes darkness for them.
Maik Schlüter, Dezember 2020