Xavier Guardans is a world traveler whose photographs reflect the comfort he feels in varied cultures.
Much of his work is packed with visual and emotional intensity. It is attuned to structure, whether in buildings, the landscape or the human body. When humans are present, there is a strong interplay between figure and space.
But in “Traveling Lights,” his first U.S. solo exhibition, on view at SOCO Gallery through Dec. 23, Guardans steps away from intensity to explore the subtleties and pleasures of light.
Although these images are from numerous places, including Egypt, Kenya, Belize, Senegal, Argentina, the U.S., and Mexico, they really aren’t travel photos. Nor do they address the turmoil present in many of these countries.
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The locations are not obvious. In fact, some of the photographs barely function as landscapes; instead, several are studies of patterns in nature.
The concept for this series germinated slowly. Guardans was born in Barcelona, went to art college in England and now lives in Brooklyn. Living in Japan in the late 1980s, he was drawn to the idea of doing quiet, spare work. He wanted to explore the essence of photography – as a pure experience of light on surfaces.
But he did not begin “Traveling Lights” until 2004. The first photograph in the series was taken in Egypt. All were shot on color film with a Hasselblad camera.
And all are the result of chance encounters and unplanned moments. With one notable exception, Guardans used only existing light sources, whether natural or artificial.
Mirroring Guardans’ experience in creating these photographs, the viewer must be quiet and attentive in order to fully appreciate them. Some of these images look simple, but they reveal a quiet complexity with time.
Stripped of locale, the images are intended to be contemplative. But in the midst of contemplation, wonderfully jarring, odds things become apparent.
In “Sinai, Egypt,” a desert palm is so harshly lit that it appears to be surprised. It is, literally, a tree caught in the headlights – the headlights of Guardans’ own car. (It’s the single image not shot with existing light only.)
In “Pine Creek, Minnesota,” a pickup truck is bathed in foggy street light that could be construed as heavenly light.
“Giza Desert” depicts a tree buffeted by the wind. The tree is blown dramatically to the left, while its shadow rakes dramatically to the right. Together, tree and shadow form a stark, almost 90-degree angle.
These photographs are devoid of people, but there is ample evidence of them and their intrusions on the landscape. A particularly beautiful example is “Giza, Egypt,” in which a pole bisects a desert.
Traveling light, free of physical encumbrance, is a common goal for people with wanderlust. “Traveling Lights” reveals a yearning for peace and freedom from psychic encumbrance.
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
Want to go?
SOCO Gallery: 421 Providence Road; soco-gallery.com; 980-498-2881. 10 a.m-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.