by Daniel Fiset
In the nineteenth century, sunlight held a prominent position in photography, and it became a favourite subject for numerous commentators and authors. For instance, Daguerre bragged of having “forced the sun to take pictures [for him],”1 Francis Wey published a history of the invention of the daguerreotype titled Comment le soleil est devenu peintre (How the Sun has Become a Painter), and Baudelaire, in Le public moderne de la photographie, went so far as to discuss, not without scorn, photographers who adored the sun. But what about clouds? Clouds block the sun, are difficult to capture in images; were they doomed to become photographers’ archenemy? Were they to remain the bailiwick of painters, who had made them a subject of romantic projection? Nevertheless, scientists – such as Frenchman Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck and Briton Luke Howard – had set out to invent a system to categorize clouds in the very early nineteenth century. Clouds were like everything photographed in the nineteenth century: not satisfied with letting time (that it made or that passed) disappear, photographers tried to capture and classify it.
We can thus say of these temporally related histories of the classification of clouds and the invention of photography that they testify to an accepted and satiated desire for order and for capture of the fugitive, the fleeting, the furtive. These histories meet again in Denis Farley’s Espaces aériens series, begun five years ago and to be presented in exhibitions at Plein Sud and Expression in early 2018. Clouds have appeared in a number of Farley’s works in recent years. In 1995, in a working document for the series Camera obscura, they were reflected in a satellite dish used as a receptacle for light. In a photograph in Paysages étalonnés, taken in the Prairies in 2001 and now in the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, round-edged clouds contrast with the severe line of the horizon defining the bottom third of the image.
Espaces aériens marks a turning point in Farley’s aesthetic, developed since the 1980s, of working mainly in documentation of landscape and architecture. In this series, he gradually abandons horizontal composition and aims his lens upward, letting layers of clouds dictate the composition and perturb the unified reading…
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