Time, Light & Space
Astral Photography by Stefan Roberts
STEFAN ROBERTS Waiau River — Waterlog — 53mls 2019 Pigment ink on paper, 470 x 210 mm.
In the age of media saturation and ever-decreasing attention spans, Stefan Roberts asks his viewers to slow right down and to appreciate once more the nature of time and our relationship with it. In his most recent work, the basic elements of photography—time and light—are also the subject of the finished works, as is the artist’s long-standing relationship with specific locations.
Roberts was raised on a farm in rural North Canterbury. Waiau River — Waterlog — 53mls not only references an iconic local river and the critical role it has played in the formation of the landscape he grew up with, but he also points out that water is a critical and much-contested natural resource in the region. The image was produced with a pinhole camera, fashioned from a tin can lined with old photographic paper. Roberts places these basic devices in remote locations and collects them again many months and sometimes years later. The unpredictable result is a single paper negative produced by the sun traversing the rural sky and the marks left by the rainwater collecting in the camera. The fragile negative is then turned into a limited edition of positives by digital means. Thus the artist’s patience and acceptance of the power of the elements is rewarded with subtle yet magical images that evoke not only the historical origins of photography, but also the enduring rhythms of nature.
In terms of technique, much separates the two bodies of Roberts’ work represented here, but they are two sides of the same conceptual coin — the contemplation of time and our place in the universal order of things. We are reminded that stars are light that takes thousands of years to reach us during our own brief existence. To make this point, each work of the Relic series combines a montage of multiple digital exposures of the night sky with carefully lit images of man-made structures. It is this combination of content and technique that separates Roberts’ work from other popular forms of astral photography. It is a poignant reminder that all we build and fight over will decay and become nothing more than a memorial to our own brief and troubled existence on this planet. In the Relic series we accompany Roberts on nocturnal excursions motivated by the human ability to question the nature of the universe and our place within it. These images invite us to pause and distance ourselves temporarily from the pace and petty preoccupations of everyday life.
There is a spiritual comfort that comes with a contemplation of Roberts’ work. We need not take ourselves so seriously. Once the traces of humankind’s brief occupation of this planet have disappeared, what will remain is the land, the elements, time, light and space.
STEFAN ROBERTS Relic #2 — What will be thought of us? 2016 Pigment ink on paper, 290 x 390 mm.
STEFAN ROBERTS Relic #3 — What will be thought of us? 2016 Pigment ink on paper, 290 x 390 mm.
STEFAN ROBERTS Relic #4 — What will be thought of us? 2016 Pigment ink on paper, 290 x 390 mm.
STEFAN ROBERTS Relic #5 — What will be thought of us? 2016 Pigment ink on paper, 290 x 390 mm.