What does a person do when they are searching for tangible evidence of what lies beyond the limitations of their own existence? If you’re Frank Knapp you pick up a camera and start making images that transcend the limitations of human perception.
His contemplative black and white imagery offer documentation of a ghostly existence that is just beyond the realm of natural vision. Crashing waves melt into a translucent fog, raging rivers appear to become frozen sheets of ice, and dark clouds converge ominously upon us within familiar settings. The viewer experiences a kind of visual vertigo that creates a nagging awareness that everything is in constant motion and that we are clumsily suspended within a web of time that is defined by a linear beginning and end.
Frank Knapp began photographing in 2008 shortly after the unexpected death of his wife. Through photography Knapp realized that he could see the texture and details that eluded his own myopic vision in a way that his eyeglasses could not correct. Candid photos made with exposures that were fractions of a second became highly resolved records of things not seen or remembered. This led Knapp to a greater exploration of could be revealed when the camera was used to record increasingly longer segments of time. The results of these experiments are the hauntingly beautiful photographs that show us the blur of constant movement that is juxtaposed against the solidity of the elements within the scene that are stationary and bear witness to the historical record of what has transpired in each of these settings. They are a record of love, loss, and renewal.
There is a subtle element of fear that is composed of darkness and light and the jarring separation of solid detail being torn from an indiscernible background of movement and time that creates a sense of reverence for what we are witnessing. As one peers at these photographs there is an experience of feeling simultaneously left behind while also becoming apart of something much more vast than or own daily lives.
Knapp creates these photographs by securing a camera firmly in place and making exposures that range from minutes to several hours. He is attempting to show us a reason to believe in something beyond our perception by making time lapse photographs using dark filters that block out so much light he cannot see anything through them. For Knapp photography is an act of faith and meditative awareness of the sublime beauty that he believes to be everywhere if he can just slow down long enough to record it.
He has sought to extract hidden elements by making long exposures that reveal features that are unseen in the darkness of night and lost in the daylight to the instantaneous passage of time. To look at the scenes depicted in these photographs is to become aware of their existence from a historical perspective; to make note of the primordial past, our transient present, and the infinite possibilities of a future spanning far beyond our presence.
His imagery shares similarities with the earliest photographs of Nicéphore Niépce whose materials were so insensitive to light that all day exposure times charted the arc of the sun across the sky. Perhaps more accurate comparisons can be made to the later U.S. Geological Survey photographs from the late 1800’s by photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan and Carleton Watkins whose film emulsions possessed a limited spectral sensitivity that resulted in cloudless skies and blurred rivers. But unlike these early photographers who utilized their cameras with an eye towards future technological advancements and western expansion Knapp uses the very latest digital technology to interrogate the very limitations of time and detail, and to pay homage to the sky and water whose depth and vastness have yet to become subjugated to human knowledge and whose tidal and gale forces still inspire awe.
Like the contemporary well known work of Michael Kenna, the photographic artwork of Frank Knapp ask timeless questions about human existence whose ineffable answers cannot be adequately expressed within philosophical and scientific terms, but can be deeply felt within the medium of photography whose aesthetic qualities are blend of facts and emotive symbols.
One cannot come to any real resolution regarding these questions but perhaps we can understand and appreciate the effort by looking at it through the lens of Albert Camus’ words, “It is impossible to give a clear account of the world, but art can teach us to reproduce it / just as the world reproduces itself in the course of its eternal gyrations. The primordial sea indefatigably repeats the same words and casts up the same astonished beings on the same sea-shore”.
September 19, 2012
Photo by Alex Abercrombie