For more than two decades, Michael Flomen has been fabricating a visible skin for the natural world. The Canadian-born photographer makes large format photograms that directly register the conditions of light, precipitation, other natural processes and even insect life and movement within the landscape. Many of the pictures on view at the Boite Noire Gallery through August 29 record the effects of snow. Wild Nights constitutes a sort of mini-retrospective of Flomen’s cameraless (and a few camera-based) works, and it spurred some remarkable apprehensions. The first is that the most direct image of the natural world is the least “natural.” These unmediated registrations of nature required active interpretation, for they offered no parsable referents: scale and perspective, so basic to photography, have gone by the boards.
Altitude and depth also became ambiguous, rendering the viewer’s position unstable. At their most powerful, the photograms produced a kind of vertigo, and the only thing that limited the experience was the edge of the (often very large) paper. Wild nights indeed. Commenting recently on his own purely digital photograms, Thomas Ruff identified this physical boundary of the support as a contradiction of the experience implicit in cameraless work, which records phenomena, more than it does discrete images. Ruff has done an end run around it by severing all connections of his images to the world of natural process and even output; they are not just cameraless but sourceless and theoretically groundless. Flomen stands in the opposite camp, ever more intimately embracing the world, but even he can’t solve this problem of the frame. In Wild Nights he presented finite photographic objects that felt like they wanted to be infinite because the phenomena he captured were boundless and unending. Think of them as glimpses of nature painting itself, as Fox Talbot put it, intricate and thrilling.