From the very beginning of film you have this idea of artificial, illusionistic trickery and yet, on the other side, the most direct use of the lens, its indexical aspect, to create the so-called document. That fusion which you see emerge from the origin of cinema […] I think had a beneficial effect on photography’s own concept of itself —a concept which was, on one hand, the documentary impulse and on the other hand, the dubiousness of that impulse . Jeff Wall
During the early 1940s to the late 1950s, the American film industry released a series of low budget films which were particularly dark and absolutely pessimistic in theirs storylines. A few years later, these series of films were mostly known as film noir –cinematic term coined by some French critics once ended the Second World War in response to a sort of Hollywood films especially gloomy and seemingly existential.
Film noir that sombrely portrayed a world fraught with alienation, despair, deceit and sleaze, which was accentuated by means of a distinctive visual language finally traduced into a dark atmosphere created from a low-key aesthetic, where the use of the light was an indispensable element. Film noir which through a wide range of ordinary stories, showed the most basic human instincts and which at the same time was absolutely enticing by its visual imagery; ‘simultaneously innocent and incendiary, naïve and nasty’ (1), simply fascinating by its shameless sensationalism.
According to the common idea largely evoked by film noir in which the absence of light means total uncertainty, nothing seems more obvious then than the use of a dim light in order to recreate a strong sense of disillusionment and moral ambivalence. Likewise, nothing seems more appealing than the use of a complete fiction in order to recreate a harsh reality. It has been this notion of deceit, the starting point of the Deadline at dusk project. A project that initially comes from the appropriation of some tricks or special effects used during the classic film noir period to recreate that sense of darkness and despair. In particular, I refer to the traditional film technique called “day-for-night”, ‘that is, [when] the scene is photographed in bright daylight, but filters placed over the camera lens, combined with a restriction of the amount of light entering the camera, create the illusion of night’ (2).
Hence, the Deadline at dusk series has taken the deceptive notion of night once employed by the Hollywood classic cinema, depicting desolate places as mere crime scenes based on the fiction of the film noir and the reality of stories which have emerged from the current sensationalism media. Nevertheless, the night effect created remains just as a false illusion, the elements depicted are suggesting merely a potential narrative that must be activated by the viewer, no matter if the picture hides either the reminiscent of a film set or the appalling denouement of a real story.
The Deadline at dusk project also takes literally from the vast film advertising imagery that burst in through sensationalist messages, which loudly were displayed in the form of posters, theatrical trailers and some other promotional material. Eye-catching texts that have been extracted and gather together through an extensive research focused on the visual material once publicised by the Hollywood film studios. Texts that have been segmented and removed from their original source, and which subsequently have been put into new narrative sequences that stress on that sensationalist frenzy, that fascination for the tragedy.
Deadline at dusk brings through its photographs and text-based works created from film stills, a dark atmosphere which emerges as a deception based on the cinematographic. Where reality and fiction, evil and horror, and the lure of sensationalism intertwine constantly.
Nelson Guzmán Avellaneda
(1) Muller, Edie. The Art of Noir: The Posters and Graphics From the Classic Era of Film Noir (New York: The Overlook Press, 2002), 7.
(2) Silver, Alain & Ursini, James. eds. Film Noir Reader (New York: Limelight Editions, 1996), 67.