Julian Kilker has us on the phone to 1953. We hear a crowd interacting and a voice over a P.A. system, a blast, a countdown, profanities—ghosts from the past playing into the telephone receiver he’s plugged into a device inside a vintage ammo box.
The recording was made at the nuclear detonation of “Annie” at the Nevada Test Site and directs viewers to a more current large-scale photograph of Mount Irish at dusk, the orange glow of the moon rising in one half of the sky, stars in the other. Illuminated text and numbers cut across the horizon line as if standing on it. They detail in typewriter font a partial transcript of the recording, and the common assumption is that the phrase was added in Photoshop. Instead, Kilker created it on location by running back and forth with a light stick and a 30-second exposure. “Think of a dot matrix printer,” he says. The documenter is documenting the documentation in real time by merging contemporary photography and data in images that, on closer inspection, reveal additional data through star trails or other artifacts appearing during long exposure.
Kilker is a UNLV professor whose research focuses on emerging technologies and social interactions, as well as exploring relationships between location and data. He considers cameras sophisticated data-collecting tools and looks at ways data can be measured visually. Every step of his work is disclosed. No secrets here, and the photographer wants it that way.
In Aesthetic Evidence: Place, Context and Process in the Southwest at Nevada Humanities Program Gallery, Kilker’s low-light photographs, mostly double images of the same object taken from different perspectives or at different times, ask viewers to slow down and put information in context. “You need to have some context to understand information,” he says. “It’s saying, look, there are stories behind this.”
“Flight Paths in Henderson” features time-lapse images of planes descending on McCarran. Layered in Photoshop, it reveals a plane slightly off course for a moment, an exception only noticeable by looking at all the information. Images from Kilker’s photo history project at Walking Box Ranch and the automobile graveyard at Zzyzx show his fascination with interactions between landscape and people.
Two works on Lake Mead illustrate his examination of how data sets age. One shows his GPS screen placing him directly in the lake. The other features his car on dry ground. Fold into that the wear and tear of photochemical prints versus the binary switch of digital files, having gone from readable to unreadable as technology advances and software changes. We see how Kilker pushes the edge with advances in photography and technology at a time when ever-upgraded sophistication is in the hands of mainstream consumers. Hoping to prompt dialogue, he shares his research techniques in video, audio and text throughout the exhibit. It’s worth slowing down for.
Aesthetic Evidence: Place, Context and Process in the Southwest Through January 28, Monday-Friday, 1-5 p.m. Nevada Humanities Program Gallery, 702-800-4670