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From the series 'The Night Illuminates The Night' | © Rafael Y. Herman
From the series 'The Night Illuminates The Night' | © Rafael Y. Herman

Meet Rafael Y. Herman, the Parisian Artist Reinventing Photography

Picture of Jade Cuttle
Updated: 14 September 2017

Rafael Y. Herman is a revolutionary Israeli-Italian artist working in Paris. His dreamy, moonlit landscapes look like they’ve been photographed in the daylight. Yet he’s developed a unique process, allowing him to work in total darkness, exposing a hidden reality.

How does your artwork differ from traditional photography?

Photography is about light, but in few of my series I start to work in the night wrap up when it’s still dark. So, I don’t see the subject of my work. I’m interested in what’s beyond vision, researching the hidden reality. Every photo you take requires calculations of light, but when there’s no light there’s nothing to measure, there’s a contradiction. It’s a different approach of using the medium of photography. Jackson Pollock said that “technique is just a means at arriving at a statement”, that is the capacity i would keep for photography in my work.

From the series The Night Illuminates The Night | © Rafael Y. Herman

I don’t call my work photography but rather light sculptures. I’m using photography but this is just the medium. I’m not showing the night but showing a reality that is neither night nor day. It’s magical, you discover your own reality in a different way. This work is a way of dreaming.

What new technique have you invented?

I invented a way to calculate the exposure needed to work in the night, something that professional light meter devices can’t do in the dark. So, I had to find a technical solution, using a mathematical formula, to develop a new process.While for another series I developed a way to freeze the environment that the camera sees and move only the points of light, without moving everything in the frame around. I’m still using a classic camera; it’s all in the process of shooting.

From the series The Night Illuminates The Night | © Rafael Y. Herman

What is your approach to colour?

My work offers to show the original colour, the only time you can see it when it’s not conditioned by light. Every colour you see is conditioned by the type of light of the moment; an apple has a colour inside itself, for example. In a blue-lit room of white walls, the walls are still white but you’ll see blue. Are the walls white or blue at this point? I’m interested in what’s defining colour and reality. When you don’t see something it can be anything you want.

Installation view of exhibition The Night Illuminates The Night, MACRO Museum, 2017 | © Giorgio Benni

Why are you interested in ‘the psychology of vision’?

Everything we see is conditioned not just by light, but also by experience and knowledge. The brain has a strong influence on what we see, so if we don’t know about something then we might never see it. My work is trying to play not just with the visual world, but also trying to touch this very fragile border between seeing and not seeing.

From the series The Night Illuminates The Night | © Rafael Y. Herman

There’s a strange reality that can’t exist in the day. In the work with the poppies, look closely and you’ll see the poppies are closed – you’d never see this during the day. This is proof that it was photographed in the night. I’m not looking for proof, but it’s a clear way to show that we don’t see things we’re not familiar with. It seems like you’ve seen it before, but it doesn’t exist in our visual vocab.

Where do you think your work fits in with the broader history of art?

I’ve developed a dialogue with the old masters of history of art, in the sense that I’m not seeing the environment in which I am working. Often, they too didn’t see the subject. I enter into a dialogue with suspended reality, a dreamed reality that both does and doesn’t exist. 

Installation view of exhibition The Night Illuminates The Night, MACRO Museum, 2017 | © Giorgio Benni

In a similar way, it was normal to paint places without seeing them, but that’s to invent something that doesn’t correspond with reality, relying on imagination. Photography is mostly a way to mirror reality, there’s no way to cheat. I’m not working with digital or any post-production. It’s the only way to express reality without changing it.

Which artists have inspired you? Any particular art movement?

I’ve taken references from art history that work with energy, like Umberto Boccioni, the leader of the futurist movement. In his [Unique Forms of Continuity in Space] sculpture, you see a man walking. I’m exploring what’s expressed if the energy generated by the movement of the man is materialised.

Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space | Wikimedia Commons

There is a materialisation of energy, the same with light in Van Gogh’s Le café de nuit. Similarly, I look for the physical entity of unseen light, which is contrary to physics where photons have no mass. I’m exploring the materialisation of light.

 How has France and Israel influenced your work?

I consider my work with an expressionist tendency, where ideas are generated inside-out and less influenced by the surrounding. Nevertheless, everywhere I traveled or lived, some more and some less, stimulated and added experience that then, in a process of inner-melting-pot and distillation, comes out in my work, I believe. I love living in Montmartre and feel every day all the great artists that walked in these streets and gave them a special meaning.
My backyard is a most beautiful wild hidden forest of The Cite International des Arts of Montmartre, it’s my nest. I’m dreaming that one day paris could turn off its city lights for entire night to eliminate light contamination so I will revel my backyard hidden reality in a way that never seen before. Suspend my daily reality. We shall always dream.

The artist | © Rafael Y. Herman