Calm chaos

Roger Vail, “Yoyo,” color photograph, 2001.

Roger Vail, “Yoyo,” color photograph, 2001.

Photography, as an artform, always has faced a bit of an inherent conflict. Part of the struggle lies in the nature of photography—that it’s a more science-based process, one in which the human hand doesn’t take a direct role in the imagemaking. It also has been argued that the photographic process is more about recording and less about expressing. For more than 100 years, photographers have been forced to assert that the medium can deal with valid artistic concerns.

Spin Out, which runs through February 21 at JayJay, features a recent batch of photographs by respected photographer Roger Vail. The show puts any concerns about the validity of photography as a viable artform to rest. First, Vail has a focus. He has been able to close in on what intrigues him about the process. He consistently takes long-exposure nighttime shots of carnival rides. By limiting his work this much, he is able to perfect his particular process, and what comes from this is a unified form of genuine expression. It’s quite clear that Vail creates images and not simply visual recordings.

On the surface, these images are gorgeous. The long exposures allow for color saturation so intense that the colors are beyond real. The color alone in these photographs makes the images appear as two-dimensional designs rather than photos of objects in space.

Another characteristic of a long exposure is a balance of extreme focus and blurring in the images. Seeing a tree and miscellaneous junk in ultra focus in the foreground of one shot, with a brightly lit, seemingly out-of-control, spinning carnival ride in the background, brings a number of points of interest to light. Though the carnival itself is fascinating, with all of the chaos of light, color, noise and energy, Vail flips it upside down. He shows us that, while capturing the energy and thrill of these rides, these are still just moments in time. There is a haunting, peaceful silence about them that runs counter to the mania. Even though the exposures take place over several minutes, they are still, and they allow for the viewer to take everything in and almost stop the chaos.