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Beacons of Light Installation


All of the images were made by combining and rephotographing sandwiched negatives. The images are Polaroid transfers on watercolor paper, hung from aluminum brackets and lit from behind. The sole source of illumination in the installation comes from the low wattage bulbs behind each image. 

The final "great age of exploration" 1815-1914 was also the dawn of photography. The camera immediately became necessary equipment for an explorer, a means to communicate about these faraway places, these adventures. The explorer wanted to be photographed out in the landscape, as proof of his discoveries. Gathering images became a vicarious form of conquest. At the same time, gathering portraits also became a way to preserve the family, to create a family archive. Photography can be linked both with a reverence for science and a sentimental desire to represent the individual’s connection to family.

The word exploration is an English invention, which first appeared in 1823 in the Oxford English Dictionary as the “action of exploring foreign lands.”  There are less lofty words and phrases: voyages of discovery, travels, journeys, wanderings. The concept of exploration has always meant the geographical discovery of areas of the earth previously unknown to the explorer. This is not without its racial, colonial and Euro-centric conceits.

All explorers have one thing in common: to discover and explore one must leave home. Beacons of Light is inspired by early uses of photography, both in and out of the home.

Mary Ann McQuillan

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