“Trace Heavens,” an exhibition of photographs by Vancouver-based artist James Nizam, is the result of patience and, perhaps, obsession. The large black and white photographs depict the transformation of darkened rooms into uncanny light sculptures that intersect elegant geometry with math-class daydreaming. Bridling sunlight into streamlined rays via perforated and sliced walls, and with the aid of artificial fog to intensify the slants of light, Nizam creates imagery that might bend our perception of photography.
The majority of works in the exhibition were created in a darkened studio space where small mirrors were fastened to ball joints for easy pivoting, perfect for manipulating the light streaming through holes in the walls. The logistics were no small feat; Nizam sometimes had as little as five minutes of perfect sunlight in which to create his images. And the process of waiting for those brief periods no doubt felt like déjà vu for a photographer who has spent plenty of time in dim rooms watching dust dancing in sunlight (his Anteroom series, where abandoned homes were transformed into pinhole cameras, is a good example of this).
One image in the show was not captured in a studio space, however: Shard of Light was photographed in a house that was due to be demolished on River Road in Delta, BC—a house that Nizam was able to purchase for just $1.00. Hiring a structural engineer, Nizam opened up 1.5 feet of roof, wall and floor, only to build it in again to a one-inch thickness, allowing him to achieve edges that granted him knife-like rays to photograph. In part, Shard of Light references ancient observatories like the “sun dagger” at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, an archeoastronomical space that was used by the Anasazi people between the 9th and 12th centuries in order to track and interpret equinoxes and solstices.
The works are jarring in their understated elegance, and they do a good job of hiding the mess it took to create them. While it is easy to admire the series for its lovely simplicity, the images have their own mesmerizing pull—possibly an instinctual reaction to the fact that we once watched the shifting rays of the sun as a means of gauging time itself.