David Smucker on Breaking the Light




Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd http://www.harveylloyd.com

This blog is part of a series entitled

Secrets of Eternal Youth


David Smucker


It has been remarked that with the invention of photography by Niepce and others almost two hundred years ago, painting was finally freed from the bonds of realism. Painters set out on the path to modernist abstraction, which became one of the medium’s finest achievements. Because the photographer could produce an image that more closely resembled reality than painting, the painter was allowed, indeed compelled, to travel down different creative paths. Photographers would preserve an accurate transcription of reality in sharp contrast to the various kinds of abstraction embraced by painters. If photography freed painting from the bonds of realism, then after almost 200 years of realism, the question is, “What will free photography?”

Harvey Lloyd’s extensive new series of photographs, BREAKING THE LIGHT, is an answer to this question, one that leaps free of the conventions of realism. Lloyd creates glowing abstractions of multicolored lights at night. Rebelling against photography’s apparent inability to move beyond an attachment to realism, Lloyd has made a new kind of images in his digital cameras. Thes wide variety of images showcase the ability of digital technologies to create images which break photography’s ties to reality. They provoke the art of photography to stop running in circles.


Lloyd takes long, complex exposures in New York City’s streets at night with his handheld 35 mm Canon digital camera. Far from static and serene cityscapes, his photographs exuberantly embrace the energy of the city and its inhabitants. The word embrace, though, doesn’t fully cover what’s going on in these photos. These works are a dance with light. Trusting an intuitive response to the cadences of the patterns of lights illuminating the city, Lloyd moves himself and his camera in time to their unseen rhythms. Each exposure done this way is unpredictable, made in a kind of wild and blind trance. Lloyd must surrender to the power of light as it tears though the darkness. In his dance he follows the light, enabling it to reveal its secrets to him.

With the record of the dance loaded into his state-of-the-art Mac computer workstations, Lloyd develops a further visual understanding of the knowledge he’s been granted by the light. He explores and accentuates the colors and patterns of the light’s dance in Photoshop. Here the images, removed from any semblance of the visible reality from which they derive, explode into full life. We see an archetypal abstract world of light which challenges centuries old assumptions that photography must remain stagnant in its description of reality. In these photographs, the fresh celebration and exploration of light itself, flaunts rainbows of colors and myriad asymmetrical compositions. Beautiful and iconoclastic, Breaking the Light displays new possibilities for our understanding of photography, and importantly, light and life itself.


Lloyd’s sense of the creative adventure and excitement necessary for an artist’s life has kept him from being chained to any single kind of photography. This has led not only to his venture into the Breaking the Light series, but to an expansion of the kinds of work within this series. The dancing photographs described above, from the series Electricity, could be described as ‘action photography’, likening them to Jackson Pollock’s painting style. Because of Lloyd’s passion for the work of many abstract artists, other notable associations break forth in Breaking the Light’s various parts.

The series Enigmas immediately recalls color field painting, and at first glance could easily be mistaken for it. Among other artists, Mark Rothko’s influence can be felt. Rothko intended his paintings to encompass their audience and flood their imaginations with the expressive and emotional force of the paintings. This yearning for a spiritual experience necessitated a remove from the recognizable world, because the things we associate with the objects in our daily lives separate us from our inner selves. Lloyd pushes outside of the envelope of traditional photography. His Enigma series delve into a world of sheer color playing against itself in ways alternately exciting, meditative, and gently moving. These photographs isolate the expressive elements of his digital captures and use them, like Rothko used his pigments, to create a spiritual photography. By employing the digital technology now available, he produces photographic compositions that stir the soul in ways which words about and pictures of ‘normal’ reality cannot.

The recognizable isn’t entirely absent from all of the pictures in Breaking the Light, however. Like Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings, a number of Lloyd’s photographs provide oblique references to things in the world. Sometimes neon signs make their message clear even when engulfed by a swirling cloud of electric light. These small hints anchor these pictures, giving the viewer a response to the question that inevitably comes with innovative art: “what is that?” Of course, the answer isn’t always helpful or informative. The short answer, “a neon sign” fails to really say what these are photographs of. When a recognizable skyline or monument manages to emerge from these images, it provides a link to our reality. Where the average photograph provides a link to reality which affirms our normal perceptions, Lloyd’s apparent connections do more questioning than answering. Because they provide only frustrating answers to the question of what the ‘thing’ in the photograph is, a different question is necessary: “what is it about?”


It helps, in answering this question, to take a look at Lloyd’s photographic career up to Breaking the Light. He’s been an accomplished adventure, travel, and aerial photographer for many years. His million or more miles around the globe produced images which are stunning in their own right, but that definitely fit the mold of what we expect exceptional photography to look like. They look brilliantly colored and composed, ready to give us things we haven’t seen before, but they don’t question what or how we see. Breaking the Light is this artist/photographer’s question to photography: “what else can you do?” He has a response. Photography can be an exploration of altered, abstract perception. By altering the surface, Lloyd has, in addition to creating often beautiful photographs, pushed our thoughts deeper than the surface, deep into our own minds and our thoughts about vision and pictures.

Friedrich Nietzsche remarks that, through the physiological processes that convert the light that exists in the world into the perceptions that we experience, what we think of as of ‘true vision’ is really already metaphorical. When, then, we claim that photography reproduces the world truly, we have a misleading idea of what truth and perception are. Breaking the Light can be a vehicle for the thoughts that bring us to this realization. Ultimately, what we encounter in these photographs is our own perception. We must confront what we think of as reality and see that it is only a small portion of the large and dynamic truth that exists outside of the way we normally see things. In addition to demanding more from photography, Breaking the Light demands more from its audience. We must take nothing for granted. We must be ready to dance with, to explore, and to embrace the possibilities of a new kind of perception that Harvey Lloyd’s photography has freed our eyes to see.

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