BooksFavorite BooksLinksMoon DatesFAQ
Photographer Does His Best Work in the Dark
An interview with Tim Baskerville
by Laura McInstry

Outside of Gallery Sanchez, located in the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, the shrill drilling of construction crews disrupts what could be a quiet, sunny day. But inside, as Noe Valley resident Tim Baskerville speaks softly about the peacefulness of night photography, the noisy sounds of daytime fade into the background.

Baskerville is curator for "The Nocturnes," a night photography exhibit at the gallery through Nov. 22. The show features Baskerville's work, as well as that of nine other photographers, Doug Burgess, John Chan, Steve Harper, Lance Keimig, Nathan LaBudde, Wende Lee, Tom Paiva, Mari Stefonetti, and Chris Sullivan. A night photographer for the past 10 years, Baskerville produces photos that are distinctly different from those taken when the sun is out.

"With straight photography, a lot of things tend to be things you find [in] the moment, the snapshot effect," he notes. "With night photography, there is more mystery, more of an artistic approach." Baskerville's prints are the result of a careful and involved process, one that is affected by many variables. Since he is dealing with darkness, exposure times for one shot can range from a few seconds up to eight hours. "ln the city, you can keep your exposure times shorter," he explains. But "with landscapes, such as the beach or Marin Headlands, the process is even more involved."

If Baskerville's work looks somewhat unrealistic and strange, there are a number of good reasons for it. "With long exposures, the duration of time changes what you see," and often common sights "are totally altered by night," he says. Possibly the most notable effect of long exposure times is the appearance of "star trails." Photographed stars don't appear as pinpoints, but rather as bright lines of varying length, streaked across the sky-an effect caused by the earth's rotation during exposure. "You can see the passage of time and space - that line conveys that," Baskerville says with a certain audible pride.

An important consideration for night photographers in the Bay Area is fog. But this unpredictable, uncontrollable force of nature poses no great problem for Baskerville. "I use the fog," he says. "The fog is a great blender of light. It takes a variety of aberrant light sources and blends them together, so they mix and appear more natural." Although Baskerville describes his craft as "pseudo-scientific," he still finds room for excitement over the possibilities for artistic expression. "Surrealism, the mystery of place, solitude, and a heightened sense of the nature of things-night photography seems a worthy vehicle, a ritual to express these themes," he says.

When he first took up photography 15 years ago, Baskerville attended classes and workshops at the Academy of Art College, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and U.C. Berkeley Extension. At the time, however, he was working two jobs and driving a cab part-time, which left little space to squeeze in any photography, save between jobs and late at night. But "the night shift," with its "dark, cold, strange hours," held an appeal for Baskerville. He began to focus more and more on night photography, until his work, he recalls, took a noticeable turn after the October 1989 earthquake. "After the earthquake, the freeways and the industrial areas that were hit hard provided a lot of motivation to convey not so much the devastation, but the change, the vulnerability of these areas." His work matured at this point, he believes, and led to a one-year scholarship from the Academy of Art College, beginning in February. Even after 10 years of midnight madness, Baskerville remains intrigued with his art.

Most recently, he has been working on a new technique superimposing a negative image onto a positive one. "I take two images at night and combine them," he explains. "It's more manipulated, but is still true to the overall feel of the night - the mystery of it." With "The Nocturnes" exhibit, Baskerville says he wants to display the diversity and range of night photography, which, he adds, "doesn't have to be this realistic landscape look. I was looking for more of a variety . . . a nice blend of different people's visions." Fall, notes Baskerville, is prime time for Bay Area night photographers to do their work. "With warm weather, it's comfortable to be out," he says. "A lot of night photography is done in the Bay Area because it's a good overall climate for being outdoors. . . with natural areas close by. "As we go into winter, the nights are longer, and the sun sets sooner. It's a nice time for this show." Gallery Sanchez is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. On November 3, 1991 a reception for the artists in "The Nocturnes" will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Darkness comes early this time of year. It's the end of the harvest, and winter is coming (in a big way this year?) The band Blue Rubies rehearse their druidic mantras, blending Leonard Cohen, Curtis Mayfield, the Clash, et al. into a deathly brew. The Rituals - Day of the Dead , Halloween, Samhain (the Celtic New Year), and the upcoming winter solstice - have become important to us. The Prevailing Imagery- death and destruction (and a day that looked like night) in the Oakland Hills, senseless death in the stormy Sonoma night [a reference to the late Bill Graham], the anniversaries of the runaway car accident in Noe Valley, and Loma Prieta (Dark Hill) - is embedded in our collective psyche. And These Images - the deadly stillness of alien landscapes, the decaying autos, buildings, freeways , graveyards, and monuments; forms that echo ancient Celtic dolmens and passagegraves; Death Row and Death Valley, in "living color" - all touch us, and hopefully bring us closer to an understanding of our fragile relationship with the world around us. What we call our life.

I did not set out to curate a show with decay, destruction, and death as thematic goals. Certainly, some aspects of the nocturne do concern themselves with these and other related themes. And even in this exhibit there are notable hold-outs from these themes. But the overall sense in viewing these pieces is one of mystery, of deathly quiet, of hinted at rituals, of people-less landscapes.

Darkness does come early this time of year.

Tim Baskerville
The Nocturnes
November, 1991