Work of the Week – “Christine: Figure and Light Study” by Stephen Dell

Monday, August 1, 2016

by Jason T. PerryChristine

Elegance is what I saw the first time I viewed Stephen Dell’s photograph Christine: Figure and Light Study. I hold my breath every time I study it because, although I know the image is forever frozen in time, I am still afraid it will go away.

Dell photographed this image in 1976 using infrared photography – a technique that lets infrared light pass through to the camera, but blocks all or most of the visible light spectrum. This is why Christine: Figure and Light Study looks surreal, and the black and whites appear to have so much depth.

I believe the photograph is appealing because of the image placement and how the lighting flows around it. Starting from the left Christine, the woman in the picture, is delicately posed kneeling on the floor. Whether Dell meant to symbolize prayer or meditation is unclear, but I see Christine embracing the surroundings around her. The floor is dirty and the paint on the door behind her is cracked, yet Christine is shown naked unbothered by it all. Beauty shown in grime.

The cracked paint makes her smooth silky skin shine through the photograph and because she is kneeling her body shows off curves. Christine’s only facial feature is a twirl of hair that spirals over her face right down to the floor. I believe the viewer can relate to a faceless person because they can place anyone from their lives inside of her.

The contrast from the ivory whites and greys from the left of the photo to the total blackout of the right is shocking. Dell’s talent with infrared black and white photography comes through as every shadow appears with great clarity. Everything in the photo is perfectly in place; I admire Dell because he must have spent thorough time planning out the image.

The passion that sums up Dell’s photography shows through in a quote from Mary Praytor Gallery.

“In 1974 I became enamored by photography when that first image appeared mysteriously in the developer tray… Even though that technology has changed, the thrill of capturing and “developing” an image has stayed strong through the years.”

Luckily the museum holds onto Dell’s mystery so Christine: Figure and Light Study can always be enjoyed.

Hold your breath.

Artwork above: Stephen Dell, Christine: Figure and Light Study , 1976, Photograph, Infrared, 8.13 x 13 inches, Gift of Mr. Joseph V. Cumin. Permanent Collection. 2003.05.03.91.