Magic with the Moonlight
By John D. Adams
Magic with the Moonlight
His images are at once haunting, ethereal, empowering, beautiful, garish. . . His process pushes the boundaries of light and motion through a brilliant amalgam of 19th and 21st century photographic technologies. Photographer Alejandro Chaskielberg succeeds in bringing us something we have not seen before. And while many of us have been raised to fear those things that “go bump in the night,” Chaskielberg has embraced the darkness. And the results are astounding.
After nearly 200 years since the advent of photography, it is rare to see something truly new. Working only at night, Chaskielberg creates long-exposure pictures using only the moon and select light sources to change our perceptions of humanity, time, and space. “The first time I took a night picture I was struck by how different it looked. And I loved it,” says Chaskielberg, speaking from his home in South America.
Because he employs a 1960s, large format Sinar 4 x 5 camera, by necessity, his subjects undergo a physical transformation. “It is very difficult because people need to remain still for between 3 and 5 minutes… They aren’t able to see what’s happening around them so they have a very different presence,” explains Chaskielberg. “They are like 19th century images because people had to stand still.” And the darkness adds additional layers of physical and psychological changes. “They look at a certain spot and it is dark there. They don’t see what
I’m doing because we are working in the moonlight. Being outside, hearing the insects, the pale moonlight, these things make you very trusting of the people around you.”
Light through the darkness
Chaskielberg has traveled to some of the most devastated and impoverished places on Earth to make his pictures. And his work telegraphs the power of the human spirit refracted by the magic of moonlight. “I discovered that looking at my own work there was something I was capturing that was unique. It wasn’t just the color or the atmosphere, it’s a very powerful narrative element in the picture. I photograph people that live in very difficult conditions. However, I decided not to photograph that part of their stories. I decided to show them in a very respectful and powerful way.” And the way Chaskielberg employs light and color has a lot to do with his final images. “Working during the night you have a different kind of control over light and color. Depending on the light you use, the colors will change. If I shine a yellowish light on green, it becomes pale. Or if I add more blue light, the subjects become more vibrant. I mix the different elements that are there,” he says. “I don’t take the actual action, you stage that action and then shoot it at night.”
While some critics have called out Chaskielberg for “staging” his photographs, there is a technical necessity for his participants to remain completely still. And he often spends weeks on
location observing the locals and engaging with them until he has a better understanding of how they move or carry themselves. “Of course my work has been criticized because I do set up people and situations. But I trust that other people have different thoughts about my work. And that allows for people to open up a dialogue that goes beyond the image.”
It is tempting to simply marvel at the technical prowess Chaskielberg employs to make his photographs. But, like his pictures, once you get past the wonder, you sense a deeper intent. “I think besides the power of the images and the technique, the message is important. Every single human is important and has stories to tell. It’s important to me that my photography is not too conceptual. I trust that people who see my pictures can be moved emotionally beyond anything about the technical side of taking these pictures at night.
“These images are a window. This is not us looking at them, it is them looking at us. If you photograph them beautifully, powerfully, you begin to see that all people are just like you and me. And that’s the beginning of a possible change that we can do. At least a change in the way that we look at other people. And that’s a lot.”
Through “National Geographic” and other media sources, we have all seen pictures of exotic peoples and places bathed in sunlight. But with Chaskielberg nighttime images, we are forced to change our perceptions. The immediate draw is his use of colors or senses of movement, but then you are engaged by the people. It is this new way of looking at things which brings humanity to the pictures.