Catalog essay by Tara Kohn:
In that moment, the world dissolved, blanketed in the intensity of the light against the black sky. It is not the vast darkness that creates a dialogue between Roberto Bellini’s film and Dave Woody’s photographs but rather silvery threads of light. It is not the dark screen or the darkroom but the flickers that cut across the black to reveal images, elusive figures that suddenly emerge from shadow only to vanish again. Flashes. It was cold and quiet, three o’clock on a winter morning. The ground was blanketed in a thin layer of powdery snow, and the moon had risen high over the horizon. The crystals of snow glistened in the light, intensifying the moonbeams. We stood outside my house, paralyzed by the beauty of the night, by the cloudless sky full of stars, and by the cold as it bit our faces.
Even in the earliest stages of their creative process, Bellini and Woody were interested in using film and video to explore the conceptual and technical parallels of their work. I inhaled the scent of light and dark braided together. They struggled, however, in their search for a viable collaborative project. “One idea,” Roberto said as Woody sifted through a pile of portraits in the photography studio, “is to have a subject sit in front of Dave’s camera and in front of my lens at the same time. We’re not sure if it will work, but I think it would be really interesting if it would be possible to capture some kind of transformation on film…at the moment that the portrait is taken, as the subject’s self-consciousness melts away.” And I thought of you, the way you stared, intoxicated by the slices of light cutting into black.
“I’m not sure that there would be any visible change,” Woody said doubtfully as he looked up from his photographs. He thought for a moment. “But we also talked about using the video to turn the still camera into the subject.”
“That’s another idea that could work,” Bellini agreed. “I like the idea of using video to document an artistic process. I could film Dave as he works with the subject to create a portrait.”
“We also thought of the possibility of creating a film out of stills,” Woody said. “But I think our best bet so far may be to work separately. We are both really interested in the natural world, and we were thinking that we might come up with an interesting project if we go out into the same landscape at the same time and approach common subject matter in our own way. We would essentially create two very different works that are joined by time and place.” When I was lonely, Mama used to tell me look up, baby, look up. We all see the same moon.
Although these projects never came to fruition, their interest in exploring distinct visions of the same subject matter merged with their ideas about pushing the boundaries between the technical media of film and photography to become the underlying concept of their piece for the Making It Together exhibition. Your eyesight could be blurred by hours of unfamiliar raindrops where dry earth and salty water don’t merge. There is no lightning here. Bellini and Woody worked independently—in the thick darkness that divides us, I can’t find your gaze, your brooding eyes–but they are intertwined both in practice and in concept. Bellini’s film depends on the techniques of still photography, and Woody’s photographs, created weeks later and miles away, emulate the mood of the video. That night there were nerves wrapping around the holes in the air transmitting sparks in my open eyes at 3 AM.
Bellini shot his video footage in darkness intermittently interrupted by the flash of a still camera. And one night, the sky exploded in a flash of lightning, filling the sky with electricity and the low rumble of thunder. “The idea was interesting to us,” Bellini said, “because Woody used the same flash mechanism to produce his pictures.” Even as the photographic medium served as the technical foundation of Bellini’s video, the images in his film became a conceptual framework for Woody’s photographs. “I like the idea that the boundaries of what I photograph are inspired by what Roberto has videoed,” Woody added, “and that I’m taking those snippets of subject matter, that aesthetic look, and trying to find something analogous for myself.” Although the enigmatic silhouettes in his photographs are thought provoking in their own right, they appear as if they could be frames of Bellini’s film, by-products of the illuminated screen. I felt like plastic, bending and twisting, casting black shadows against black walls.
Although the work is comparable in tone and subject matter, the film and the photographs are temporally and spatially detached. Bellini’s film, created in Brazil, predates Woody’s images by nearly a month. I don’t believe in hierarchies and you define your world by them. We are. The same. “What interests me is the fact that the core conceit is work done by Roberto in video in a certain time and place that gets translated by me in another time and place,” Woody said of his Texas-made prints. That night in San Francisco, the water was hidden through layers of darkness except for the specks of moonlight that rippled through the waves, milky white against the black.
The relationship between Bellini’s video and Woody’s still photographs is challenging and multifaceted because their works are at once interdependent and independent. Guided by parallels in subject matter and ambiance, the viewer may assume that the pieces were created simultaneously even as she senses the disconnection between them, their disparate relationships to time and place. Hours before dawn, the white snow and the full moon lit the world as if it were the middle of the day. Ultimately, the artistic collaboration between Bellini and Woody is a contrast of light and dark, an exploration of opposition. In dark spaces, each artist worked alone to create images that are unified through flashes. Together, their work explores the isolation of darkness, the connective capacity of light, and the ambiguity of the shadows in between. The silence that infiltrates narrow space at the beginning and the end of each cyclical gasp, the hairline fracture between the mechanics of respiration and remembering why.