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Lorraine Gilbert
From March 7th 1987 to March 28th 1987
Nuits de Vancouver et de Montréal

Ironically, Lorraine Gilbert’s colour photographs of Vancouver and Montreal at night bring to mind Henri Cartier-Bresson’s essay, “The Decisive Moment”. For Cartier-Bresson, the “simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as the precise organisation of forms which give to that event its proper expression” was the essence of the photographic experience. But while Gilbert’s photographic activity- her perceptions and technique- bears resemblance to Cartier-Bresson’s, “the decisive moment” here is not her own experience but one which she gives to the viewer. It is her subject. And, for Gilbert, “the decisive moment” is not a fraction of a second but a determinate few moments. Coloured light illuminating her scenes, moving through the frame, exposed over seconds and minutes describes the passage of time and infers its continuum.

Like Cartier-Bresson, Gilbert’s “thinking is done before hand”. She selects her otherwise mundane locations for their potential. All in one image, what might happen becomes what did happen, evidenced in the trail of light patterns throughout the scene. The warm orange glow of an interior space insinuates activity within. A person approaching a parked car will inevitably turn on the ignition and the lights and drive away. The static form is illuminated by the street lamp, taking on a life of its own as the tail lights and subsequent motion describe its departure.

Jayce Sallum, describing Gilbert’s early night photographs of suburban gardens (1982), suggested that they “seem to preface an unwritten novel” (1). Bob Sherrin, writing on her portfolio of Vancouver street scenes (“Nuits Blanches: Night for day”- 1983) found in them the character of a “stage set or drama” (2). With Gilbert’s upcoming exhibition at Optica we see both drama and action- elements of the novel and theatre- becoming cinematic.

Gilbert’s frame sights an erratic, frenetic collage of human constructions. Streets intersect with buses and poles, fences with walls. Light gestures across the sharply static architecture, in the foreground and distance simultaneously, disorient. The camera eye becomes the viewer’s eye caught up in, recording, involved in the action at hand.

The combination of natural and artificial light lend to her otherwise mundane urban scenes, surreality. A main artificial light source, printed white, deceives the viewer’s perception of natural light. What was natural is now colour cast, seeming somehow artificial. Conversely, what is artificial becomes strangely animate. Fluorescent buses and telephone booths, tungsten halogen lit benches and neon signs, set against an exaggerated night sky, come to life leering forward, outward, inward. Human beings, when they appear, watch, dwarfed by their own creations. For Gilbert “the decisive moment” is a theatre of the absurd.
- Cheryl Simon
- Press communication
- (1) New Canadian Photography, Image Nation 26, Fall 1982
- (2) Vanguard, Summer 1983, p.35