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Features / June 1, 1989

Gar Smith: Illumination Dance

Gar Smith’s career began 21 years ago with a silent fanfare and a visual drum roll called Noon, 1968, a color photograph of the sky overhead, the camera held straight up on a sunny day. There is no figure in the photograph to stand against the ground of the infinite, pearlescent blue, no bird or cloud or airplane, no tree branches nodding in from the frame to announce scale, no understandable depth of field. What you see is uninflected space, the camera’s seeing forever on this clear day.

In fact, there is something to see beyond infinite blueness and overhead endlessness. The photograph is also a plane of chemical actions, an enlarged swarm of bluish atoms of colored light assembled and fixed by the photo finisher. The viewer’s vision is thus halted at a certain point of technical limitation, modifying the photograph’s final effect so that it both is and is not a highway to heaven. And yet what the camera was pointed at and duly recorded was assuredly bright blue firmament and the darkness of deep space beyond. Noon, 1968 is simultaneously an alignment with the expectations of the natural world and a lyrical fiction: an elegant manifestation of a famous waggish gloss on a line by poet Robert Browning—a man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a metaphor?

So begins our Summer 1989 cover story. To keep reading, view a PDF of the entire article.