Statement | Drawing the Moon

In the years 1894 and 1895, the city of Austin TX erected 31 so-called “moonlight towers”. These street lamps were popular across the United States at the end of the 19th Century, and because of their 165-foot elevation, were seen as an efficient source of light (and thereby public safety) in cities such as St Louis, Detroit and New Orleans. The height and luminance of the arc lamps not only cast a wide swath of light in urban areas that would be otherwise dark, but also remarkably mimicked the effect of  full-moon light, giving them their name. Today, 17 of Austin’s lights are still standing, the only remaining moonlight towers in America. Almost as soon as I moved away from Austin in 2015, I began traveling back to photograph the city as illuminated by this anomalous light source.

Made with a large format camera and printed in the traditional darkroom, these photographs contemplate light as both subject and medium, as I consider the ability of light to simultaneously describe and obscure. The exposure times last as long as an hour, giving me ample time to observe the quiet space of the city and its often-sleepy neighborhoods, to wonder about the small dramas taking place within its breathtakingly illuminated walls. It is often very late or early in the morning–the wind blows, lights turn on and off, there is no one on the street but me when I make these exposures. In the resulting photographs, I see the traces of a city which is changing so rapidly it sometimes no longer resembles itself. I see the hope and ambition of the people who made it modern so many years ago, and the persistent desire of its inhabitants to transform the night.