At first glance, the images in Rafael Y. Herman’s exhibition “The Night Illuminates The Night” appear to be straightforward photographs of unremarkable natural landscapes. The more we look, however, the more we notice the odd glow, the blur of subtle movement in the trees, the unreal reds and yellows of the flowers in the green fields. Herman has captured them on color film using lengthy nighttime exposures and developed the images in the darkroom. These are also some of the most frequently depicted landscapes in the history of art: those of the Holy Land—the Forest of Galilee, the Judaean Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
By moving around in the dark to get his photos, Herman, who was born in the Negev desert, pays homage to every artist who imagined the same landscapes without ever seeing them. “For 20 centuries painters, mosaicists and writers have represented, described and illustrated Israel, without ever setting foot there,” notes art historian and collector Arturo Schwarz in his text for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, which is showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome through March 26, 2017.
By photographing at night, Herman is placing himself in a similar position of being blind to his subject matter. His camera, Schwarz notes, is “like the human eye after much darkness, it learns to discern the features of the trees, the dunes or the sea.” He makes patient use of the stars and the moon and whatever little light is there, in other words. And as we see in some of Herman’s images, even that light at times can become blinding.