Jordan Sullivan, Remaining Light

JTF (just the facts): Published by Silas Finch in 2016 (here). Softcover, 82 pages, with 30 black and white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and excerpts from Eugene Ionesco’s novel The Hermit.  (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Like many young photographers trying to make a living, the Los Angeles-based photographer/writer Jordan Sullivan needed a day job to make ends meet. For three long years, his answer was an uninspiring and monotone office life that felt like a sad unavoidable routine, impossible to escape or change.

The proverbial fork in Sullivan’s forgettable road came when he decided to bring his camera to work. That single act changed everything for him. Suddenly, seen from a new vantage point, the place showed surprising signs of life, and through its darkness, he found the inspiration to document it. “After all, the real light inside all things stays hidden, and that’s the light that is worth hunting”. Sullivan’s most recent photobook Remaining Light is the compelling result of this effort to look more closely.

Sullivan’s office was located in downtown Los Angeles, and since he couldn’t afford a car (a true disadvantage in far flung LA), he had to walk to the office, passing every day through Skid Row. That one block is the home to one of the largest homeless populations in the United States, and walking through this area again and again, Sullivan had daily encounters with many less fortunate members of society. Remaining Light mixes images of Sullivan’s office building with photographs taken on Skid Row, finding hints of solitude, void, and loss in both places.

The photobook opens with a foggy black and white image capturing the disappearing silhouette of a person walking away – Sullivan’s subject is enveloped by overhanging darkness. This picture sets the haunting mood of the disconnected visual narrative. The next few photographs are taken inside the building, yet they are rather fragmentary and obscure – ghostly solarized metal structures and pipes that cover the ceiling, the out of focus leftovers of a fruit salad piled up haphazardly with a crushed 7-UP can and a stack of plates, a pile of cartons and boxes. Hiding more than revealing, these photographs immerse us in Sullivan’s unconscious world of fleeting observations and sensations.

Excerpts from The Hermit, the only novel by the absurdist playwright Eugène Ionesco, are sprinkled throughout the book, putting the visual narrative into a more existential context. These text fragments and quotes repeatedly raise the questions of solitude and the insignificance of human existence, matching the somber, searching mood of the photographs: “All we are, perhaps, is knots, ephemeral intersections of energies, forces, various and contradictory tendencies which only death unties”.

Light leaks and dark shadows dominate Sullivan’s aesthetic choices, creating a eerily haunting atmosphere that feels claustrophobic and clouded. Many of the photographs capture dark streets with an occasional stream of light coming from certain corners. There are hardly any people in the photographs, and the few obscure silhouettes that do appear only reinforce the sense of their absence. It seems that everyone is trying to pass this nowhere place as quickly as possible.

Remaining Light is exciting as a photobook; it creates the impression that not only were the photographs taken in the office building, but the book itself was produced using the available office supplies. The book is printed on a paper matching the standard A4 size used in many offices, and its plastic cover and strip binding are reminiscent of the report covers that can be found in almost any business environment. Graphite transfer endsheets add another office inspired touch to the design. All of the photographs appear on the right side page with a thin white border around them, occasionally broken by the short excerpts from Ionesco – the flow creates a distinct rhythm of interruptions and reverberations. Through all of these thoughtful design elements, the book’s form reinforces its narrative and its message.

In the end, Remaining Light is unexpectedly personal and intimate book, an inward looking journey, reflecting on life and its meaning. “This is a love letter to the death thoughts and the dead days that have haunted me for so long. This is a song for the hopeless, the whores, the addicts, the lost, the losers, the worthless, the desperate, the sick, and the dying – they are the light”.

Collector’s POV: Jordan Sullivan is represented by MAMA Gallery in Los Angeles (here). His work has no secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: Jordan Sullivan, Silas Finch

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